Tag: sakata

Celosia spicata

Can you tell me the name of the plant that was seen growing around the teacup bird feed featured in your show P. Allen Smith Gardens? The plants had a reddish plume-like bloom and seeded themselves yearly.

The plant in question is Celosia spicata. This is indeed a delightful plant. It produces cylindrical flower spikes that resemble wheat – hence the common name wheat celosia.

Aside from C. spicata there are 2 common groups of celosia: C. cristata, also known as cockscomb, and C. plumosa. C. cristata celosia produces a crested bloom and C. plumosa celosia blooms are fluffy and plume-like.

Celosia is an annual that is easily grown from seed, which makes it a great seed saving and pass along plant.

You can sow celosia seeds directly in the garden in late spring or early summer after the soil has warmed up and the last frost date has passed. If need be, you can start the seeds indoors 4 to 5 weeks ahead of time. However, celosia resents being transplanted so extra care is required when moving the young seedlings to their permanent home outdoors.

Celosia grows best in full sun and soil that is humus rich. While these plants can be somewhat drought tolerant, they prefer consistent moisture and suffer if allowed to wilt.

For better flowering, pinch back the first few blooms that appear. This will promote more branching of the stems, which means more flowers.

Celosia is a great flower for drying. Simply bundle 5 to 10 stems with a rubber band and hang upside down in a cool, dry room with good ventilation. Be sure to place a piece of newspaper under the bundles to collect the falling seeds.

What Causes a Tomato to Crack?

What causes tomatoes to burst while growing?

Tomatoes can burst or crack when the plants go through a dry spell and then receive excessive moisture. The water causes the fruit to expand faster than the outer skin can grow so it splits. These cracks often radiate or encircle the stem.

It’s pretty easy to prevent your tomatoes from cracking. Just give them consistent moisture, especially when the fruits are forming. A layer of mulch will help keep the soil evenly moist.

You can also try varieties that are breed to be less prone to cracking. A few crack resistant tomatoes include Cherry’s Delight, Creole FA, Mountain Pride VFF, Marglobe, Peron and Red Calabash.

Cracked tomatoes are edible. They don’t keep very long and should be eaten quickly, but that’s not much of a problem for a homegrown tomato, is it?


How to Treat Blossom End Rot

Every year I try to grow tomatoes with little success. The undersides always turn flat and black. A neighbor told me they had blossom end rot. What causes this problem and how can I prevent it?

Blossom end rot is a deficiency of calcium. The problem starts at the bottom of the tomato as a pale, brown spot that turns black and flattens the bottom of the fruit making it look most unappetizing. It’s certainly no tomato I would want to eat. We’ve all heard the old adage, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." There are several things you can do to prevent blossom end rot from destroying your tomatoes.

Planting. When you plant your tomatoes add a few crushed eggshells to the planting hole. This will add calcium to the soil.

Watering. Another condition that seems to contribute to blossom end rot is irregular levels of moisture in the soil. Tomato plants take in nutrients, including calcium, through moisture. Inconsistent watering deprives them of these nutrients. So water regularly, every 4 to 7 days is usually sufficient. During droughts or if you are gardening in containers you may need to water every day. To prevent leaf diseases, water the soil, not the leaves, keeping the foliage as dry as possible. To keep the soil consistently moist, cover it with a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch. You’ll find this also helps keep weeds down. Keep the mulch away from the stem of the plant.

Spraying. Now these are things you can do for your plants at the time of planting or when they are young. Once the plants mature a bit and actually set fruit, another thing you can do is spray them with liquid calcium. This is readily available at garden centers and nurseries. Just follow the directions on the label and spray it directly on the plants.

6 Squashes to Grow this Winter

One aspect of the changing seasons that I really enjoy is that each one brings its own specialties from the vegetable garden. I always look forward to creating meals made with fruits and vegetables that capture the essence of a season. In spring, I enjoy peas, lettuce and spinach and in summer it’s peaches, tomatoes and peppers. Food is just so much better when prepared with fresh ingredients.

One of my favorite autumn vegetables is squash, not the summer variety but the thick skinned types like acorn, butternut and spaghetti. These are also known as autumn or winter squash because they mature late in the season and can be stored for several months.

This year I am growing several varieties of winter squash. When friends visit the garden they ask me what I’m going to do with all that squash. Little do they know that baskets of squash will soon be appearing on their doorstep. Here at the onset of fall, I have 6 types of squash that are ready to be harvested.

Hi Beta Gold Spaghetti

Table King Bush Acorn

Waltham Butternut

Hi Beta Gold Spaghetti – Hi-Beta Gold has rich orange flesh, which makes it an excellent source of nutrients, especially the natural antioxidant beta-carotene. It is also a source of fiber, folic acid, vitamins C and minerals.

Table King Bush Acorn – This acorn squash is a bush type, which means that it takes up less room in the garden. Plants bear lots of 6-inch-long, 5-inch-wide fruits with small seed cavities and moist, golden flesh. It can be stored for several months and is one of the best for baking.

Waltham Butternut – This is an All-American Selection, which means it has been awarded for its superior for home garden performance. It has a sweet, dry, orange-colored flesh. It’s great for baking and pies and is high in vitamin A.

Sweet Meat

Golden Hubbard


Sweet Meat – I selected this one for its unique appearance. It is squat like a Cinderella pumpkin with a gray outer skin. The flesh is yellow-orange, firm and sweet. It’s a rampant grower, so you will need plenty of space to accommodate this vine, but the fruits are large – 8 to 10 inches. I’ve really enjoyed growing it.

Golden Hubbard – This is another variety that needs room to grow, but you will be rewarded with lots of 10 pound, lemon-shaped fruits. The exterior is orange with tan stripes. I find it has a nice, sweet flavor when cut into chunks and baked or steamed.

Delicata – If you are short on space, try Delicata. It is very prolific, but the vines are short. I love the ivory cream skin with dark green stripes. It has a rich, sweet potato like flavor.

If you are growing winter squash in your garden, wait until the fruit has matured to harvest. You should be able to press into the skin with your fingernail and not leave an indentation. Select fruits that are blemish free and firm. Gently remove any dirt and set the squash in a warm, sunny location to cure. It usually takes just a few days for the skin to harden and any scratches to seal.

If stored correctly, many varieties of winter squash can last for several months. Acorn squash will keep through Thanksgiving, while butternut can be expected to last all winter. For the best results select an area to store your winter squash that stays cool and dark like a cellar or pantry. Line your shelves or tabletop with newspaper and place the squash on the paper with about 2 inches breathing room between each one. It is a good idea to check on them every week or two to make sure that none are going bad. Those that are blemish free to begin with will last the longest.

In addition to being tasty and long lasting, winter squash qualify as health food. They are loaded with iron, riboflavin and vitamins A and C. In fact, winter squash have more of these than their summer cousins like yellow crookneck and zucchini squash.

Good to Know: Squash Categories

Squash can be divided into 3 categories – summer, autumn and winter. Summer squashes are those types eaten when the fruit is immature and the skin tender, while winter squashes are those types that are allowed to mature and ripen on the vine before being harvested. Autumn squashes are also eaten after they have matured, but they do not store as long as winter squashes. Most of us are familiar with summer squashes such as crook neck and zucchini. Acorn squash is classified as an autumn squash and butternut is a winter squash. Pumpkins actually occur in all 3 categories.

Sowing Spinach Seeds for Fall Harvest

Although it is still hot outside, the calendar tells me that fall is just a few weeks away and it’s time to do my first task of the season – sowing spinach seeds. Spinach is one of my favorite cool weather vegetables and to get a good stand it’s important to sow early – just before the heat breaks.

I live in the mid-South, but gardeners in other areas of the country can grow a fall crop of spinach too. It needs 45 days to mature before the first frost date in your area and with the use of cold frames or frost blankets it’s possible to push past this date as well.

Spinach seeds can be sown in rows directly into the beds. In containers, broadcast the seeds over the entire soil surface. Cover them with a thin layer of soil about ½-inch deep and water. Then keep the bed consistently moist. If the plants are slow to grow or the leaves are too pale, feed them with a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen following the directions on the package.

When ready to harvest either cut the entire plant off at the ground, or pick outer leaves that are dark green in color and about 3 to 6 inches long. Wash and store spinach in an air tight container in the refrigerator. It will keep for about a week.

This year I’m trying a variety called Bloomsdale Longstanding. I grew this in my spring garden with excellent results. It is a heat tolerant spinach that kept producing well after the temperatures started to warm up. I had such a good crop that I decided to try it again this fall. This variety produces dark green, thick and heavily crinkled leaves that are perfect for pairing with apples, using in sautés or wilted salads.

When and How to Harvest Pumpkins

For the first time, I planted pumpkins. They are a beautiful orange color, but how do I know when they are ripe enough to pick?

Pumpkins are ready to harvest when they have reached the desired color and the rind is hard. You can test its readiness by jabbing your fingernail against the outer skin, or rind. It should be strong enough to resist puncture. Also, you can tell a pumpkin is ripe if you hear a hollow sound when you thump on it.

Pumpkins are usually ready to harvest by mid-fall and you definitely want to bring them in before the first frost or when night temperatures are expected to drop down into the 40s for an extended period of time.

When harvesting, use a sharp knife to cut the pumpkin from the vine, leaving about 2 inches of stem. Handle carefully to avoid any nicks or bruises that will accelerate decay.

You can increase the shelf life by curing your pumpkins before storing them. The procedure is simple. Gently clean the pumpkins by brushing off any excess dirt and then place them in an area with a temperature of about 80 to 85 degrees F with 75 to 80 percent relative humidity for 7 to 10 days.

After they have been cured keep your pumpkins in a cool location (about 50 to 60 degrees F), out of direct sunlight with plenty of good air circulation. Stored this way, they should last up to 3 months.

How to Grow Spring Peas

One of the great events in my spring vegetable garden is when the garden peas are ready for picking. These peas are one of my favorite treats, but because of my region’s hot summer climate (mid-South, Zone 8) I can only grow them in the spring. Of course, this limitation just adds to their desirability.

There are actually 3 types of peas that I grow in spring – English or shell peas, snow peas and sugar snap peas. English peas are the type you shell, sugar snaps and snow peas have an edible pod.

I sow the seeds directly in the garden about 6 weeks before the last frost date, which is usually around mid to late February in central Arkansas where I live. I wait until the soil is workable and warms to about 45 degrees F. If the soil is too cool or damp the seeds will pout and not germinate. A few weeks later I’ll follow up with potted plants to extend the harvest season. Unless you have extremely poor sandy soil, peas will probably be okay without much fertilizer as they grow because the plants are able to “fix” nitrogen from the air to feed themselves.

Peas will tolerate a frost but the blooms and young pods are susceptible to freezing temperatures. If a late frost is in the forecast, cover the plants overnight.

Some varieties stay compact and don’t need a trellis. These are an excellent choice for containers and small space gardens. Others that mature into a large vine need support. It doesn’t take much; a simple teepee made from discarded branches will do the trick.

Growing Micro and Baby Greens Indoors

Because lettuce and other salad greens germinate so quickly, it’s easy to grow a salad garden inside on a sunny windowsill. What I like to do is grow a mix of “baby greens,” which means I harvest the leaves before the plant matures. I mix these baby greens in with store bought lettuce for a flavorful salad or snip off a few leaves to top off sandwiches.

Growing baby salad greens and micro greens couldn’t be easier. Simply sow the seeds in sterile potting soil, cover them with a dusting of soil and keep the seeds moist by lightly misting them with water daily. Keep the pots in a warm location until they begin to sprout and then move them to a sunny window. If the plants look spindly or anemic, they need more light. The baby salad greens may require as much as 12 hours of light for healthy growth. A grow light is an easy remedy for this problem. Hang the lights about 6 to 12 inches above the plants.

Baby Lettuce Greens
Micro greens are ready to harvest in about 14 days. Clip the seedlings off close to the soil. Baby salad greens will be ready in about 3 to 4 weeks. Trim them off at the base, starting with the outside leaves first.

Good to Know

Good Choices for Baby Greens: Lettuce, arugula, basil, spinach, chard, red mustard

Good Choices for Micro Greens: Radish, broccoli, lettuce, mustard greens, peas, sunflowers


For more information about growing edibles indoors, read my article here.

Almighty Kale

After years of being the vegetable no one knew what to do with kale has finally made its way to America’s kitchens. The recognition of its incredible health benefits has given cooks reason to find ways to prepare kale and as it turns out those preparations are plentiful.

You can add kale to soups, toss it with pasta or mix it into a frittata. You can make kale chips by baking the leaves in the oven. Or simply serve it sautéedwith a little vinaigrette, apples and nuts.

When you include kale in your diet you’ll get a load of iron, vitamins A and C, and calcium. It also contains beta carotene, antioxidants, potassium and fiber.

This nutritious green is readily available at farmer’s markets in spring and fall, but kale is so easy to grow you can have a supply right outside your kitchen door.

There are two common edible types of kale – curly and dinosaur (aka Lacinato). Because of the attractive foliage, either will serve double duty as an edible and ornamental. I like to plant kale in a container with winter annuals such as pansies and violas. For a splash of purple check out ‘Redbor’. Flowering kales, called so because they are so showy, are also available. These types are pretty in the garden, but the bitter flavor makes them inedible.

Dwarf Blue Curled Vates Kale

You can plant kale in early spring, about 3 to 5 weeks before the last frost date or 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost date in fall. Fall planting is ideal because the plants will mature as the weather cools, which makes the flavor extra sweet. If you live in a climate where winter temperatures stay above 20 degrees F you’ll be able to grow kale into spring. Use a frost blanket during times of severe cold.

Ornamental kale arranged with ivy, licorice plant, liriope and variegate euonymous.

Similar to collards very fertile soil is ideal to encourage rapid growth and tender leaves. Work nitrogen-rich amendments such as blood meal, cottonseed meal, or composted manure into the ground before planting. For fast growth and lots of tender leaves use a liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks.

Kale reaches full size in 60 days, but you can harvest any time the leaves are big enough to eat. Cut outer leaves so that center can continue growing.

How to Grow Carrots

As with any vegetable, a carrot tastes best when it is fresh from the garden. Unlike most grocery store varieties, home grown carrots are sweet and crisp.

Carrots originated in Afghanistan and were purple, not orange. Throughout the Middle Ages carrots available in Europe were red, purple, yellow, orange or white. Over time breeders worked to phase out carrots in colors other than orange to increase the beta-carotene, which is associated with orange and yellow colors in food. In addition to beta-carotene carrots are an excellent source of fiber, thiamine and riboflavin.

Growing carrots is fairly simple. Sow them in early spring, after the soil warms, to mid-summer and then again in late summer to early fall. They seem to grow best during times of warm, sunny days and cool nights.

To achieve the best results, choose a variety of carrot that is suited to your soil. There are 4 major types, Nantes, Chantenay, Danver and Imperator. Danvers are good for heavy soils, while Nantes (the sweetest tasting) do well in raised beds or sandy soils. Chantenays are probably the most widely grown carrot. Their thick shoulders and short form make them ideal for shallow or heavy soils. Imperator carrots are long and slender. Plant these if you have deep, light soil.

Carrots are a natural for eating in the fall and winter since root vegetables can be stored easily, even in the ground if the soil doesn’t freeze. I really like the way fresh carrots look with their green tops. But if you’re going to store them, remove the green foliage because moisture escapes through the foliage taking water out of the carrot itself. This is particularly true of the small baby varieties.