Author: Rob Shoffner
Even though it’s still mid July and you’re just starting to harvest your summer garden, it’s time to start planning your fall garden.
Check out the best seed varieties below and make sure to find your Average First Frost to determine when it’s best to plant them in your region. To find the AFF in your area, click here and enter your zip code.
Here’s a full list of Beanstalk Seeds fall garden seed varieties:
In mid April, Eli and I planted Red Norlund potatoes that we got from Kansas City Community Gardens. We planted 60 potato seeds/wedges with hopes of improving on our past production.
I planted Red Norlund potatoes last year that I got from a local gardening store and my bounty was decent, but it was nothing to write home about. They were small we were only able to harvest 2 or 3 potatoes per plant.
This year was a different story altogether.
After 8 weeks in the ground, this year’s harvest was plentiful and the potatoes were much bigger than last year. Most plants yielded 4 or 5 potatoes each!
Quick recap: When I planted the potatoes in April, I placed each potato seed/wedge every 6 inches apart in the row with sprouts facing upright. Each row was about a 18 inches apart from each other and after they grew about 6 inches, I put dirt around the bases of each plant to create mounds that the potatoes could grow into.
As each plant continued to grow in height, I would continue to add dirt to the mounds until they stopped growing in height.
After a couple of weeks of no additional growth, the leaves started to turn yellow and wither which is a sign that it’s time to harvest.
I grabbed Eli and told him it was time to dig potatoes and we grabbed the shovels and bug spray and went to work.
The best part of the whole harvest was Eli’s enthusiasm to dig up potatoes. Eli has always liked to dig in dirt so asking him to help dig up potatoes was the easiest chore I’ve ever asked him to do.
He was more than willing to dig and his face lit up every time we found a potato in the sea of dirt.
All in all, we harvested around 250 potatoes that we plan to mash and bake for ourselves and to give away to family. Eli was excited to give a bag to Grandma who was visiting for the weekend.
Now that the potatoes are gone from prime garden real estate, I plan on planting pumpkins in their spot so I can have a pumpkin patch with Beanstalk Seeds Small Sugar Pumpkin seeds for Eli’s friends to visit during the Halloween season.
After a couple of weeks of watering and weeding, it was time for Eli and I to harvest the first batch veggies from our children’s garden and I can safely say round one was a success!
Prior to the harvest, I was concerned that we didn’t thin the radishes enough and that we didn’t protect the lettuce from all the critters roaming in our backyard. But thankfully the radishes were abundant and the lettuce was untouched by critters so there was no need for concern.
Speaking of critters, on the afternoon we harvested radishes, we caught some special guests hanging out in the garden. A family of foxes were feasting on our mulberry tree as we walked out to begin our harvest.
We’ve had foxes in our neighborhood for years but it’s been awhile since we’ve seen them so it was a nice unexpected treat to see them again for both of us. One kit spotted us and stared us down for a good 2 or 3 minutes before running away with the rest of them which provided a little extra entertainment for Eli.
Aside from the bounty that we picked, what I found most successful was the fact that my son got a kick out of harvesting. He showed genuine interest in the process and even said: “We’re like farmers picking our crops!”
Next up to harvest: beets, dragon tongue beans, cucumber, swiss chard, potatoes, and nasturtium flowers.
This week, my garden assistant Eli is staying with his Grandma so I decided to take a break from doing much in our home garden until he gets back. In the meantime, I took the opportunity to check out a couple of harvest parties at schoolyard gardens in the Kansas City area.
The Schoolyard Gardens program at Kansas City Community Gardens is one of, if not the best, programs in the nation for schoolyard gardens. The SYG staff plants gardens at over 200 gardens all over the Kansas City Metro area by providing seeds, plants, technical assistance and basic garden knowledge to teachers and students.
And as you could probably guess, the seeds that SYG uses are Beanstalk Seeds!
One of the reasons KCCG decided to start selling Beanstalk Seeds to the public is because of the success of growing these seeds at school gardens. These seeds are so reliable and easy-to-grow that they’re ideal for parents who want to start gardens with their kids in their own backyards but don’t have a lot of gardening experience.
Thanks to the reliability of these seeds, the SYG staff can leave the gardens to the teachers and students without much concern that the classes won’t have anything to harvest, much like the garden in the following photo that shows the garden with an abundance of KCCG’s 30th Anniversary Lettuce Blend:
For the SYG harvest parties, I went to the Lafayette Academy and Burke Elementary schools in Kansas City, MO. Both parties consisted of gardens maintained by 5th grade classes.
If you’ve ever been around a group of 5th graders, you’d know that they possess a wealth of energy that they can hardly contain, especially when they’re outdoors and when school is about to get out for the summer.
The harvest parties were a bit chaotic, but in a good way. Only one or two kids from each party seemed disinterested while the overwhelming majority of the students had a blast picking and sampling their veggies. You could tell the process had an impact on them and that they were learning a new skill in growing food.
If you’re a parent and you’re reading this, I highly recommend to urge your kid’s school to start a schoolyard garden. The whole process will give your child a new understanding of where food comes from and will help them value the importance of nutritious food. If you live in the KC area, contact the Schoolyard Garden staff and they can get you started.
I work for Beanstalk Seeds and Kansas City Community Gardens and as you could probably guess, I work with a lot of experienced gardeners. And ever since day one at my job, these gardeners have been big advocates for raised bed gardens.
I would learn from my co-workers that raised beds provide ideal growing conditions because they drain better than ground plots, they’re easy to fill with good soil, they warm up quicker than the soil in a ground plot, and they provide a better infrastructure for your garden by providing paths to walk and mow.
When I decided to plant a children’s garden this year, I decided to go with a ground plot and hold off on raised beds until next year in order to compare each method.
After just a couple of weeks, I’m starting to see the disadvantages of using a ground plot instead of a raised bed.
The biggest problem is that my ground plot is full of weeds that would be easier to contain had I built a raised garden. Even though I tilled my ground plot and it looked like I got all the clover weeds, they came back with a vengeance after just a week and now I spend a lot of time crawling in between my rows of veggies pulling weeds.
A raised bed would not only prevent a lot of those weeds from coming back, but it would also allow a better path for me to pull the few weeds that find their way into the bed. This would’ve saved me a lot of time and stress on my 41-year-old back and knees as I tediously crawled through each row pulling weeds. It got so bad, that I had to bust out the tiller to re-till the weeds in between rows.
Raised gardens also help prevent your kids from walking on the garden, thus keeping their dirty shoes from stomping on seedlings and damaging the soil. I had to remind Eli numerous times where the paths were in our ground plot which was a bit of a challenge seeing how kindergartner’s tend to forget what you told them 5 minutes ago.
The good news is that my veggies all seem to be growing well in my ground plot so far but next year, I will definitely be using raised beds.
To download, Beanstalk Seeds Raised Bed guide, click here.
If the weather conditions in your town are still a bit cold and your planting calendar hasn’t gone beyond your Average Last Frost (ALF) date, a good way to get a head start on your garden is by starting seeds in peat pellets.
Even if the weather is warm enough to start your garden, peat pellets are a fun activity for your kids. For whatever reason, there’s something very appealing to kids about peat pellets. I think it’s because of the way they start as little pellets and grow in the water, much like those expandable water toys you’ll find in grocery store quarter machines that only actually work half of the time.
It’s also extremely easy so your kids can basically do every step and it doesn’t take long.
Another advantage of planting in a peat pellet over a little container is that the roots can grow right out and don’t get root-bound. Some of the seed varieties that do well in peat pellets include peas, gourds, cucumbers, pumpkins, vining flowers, sunflowers, or zinnias. For this article, my gardening assistant, Eli, and I will try out Dragon Tongue Beans.
Here’s how it’s done:
1. Gather Supplies
All you need to get started is a bowl that can hold a couple of inches of water, some paper dixie ups, seeds, and peat pellets. You can find peat pellets at any gardening store and most hardware stores.
And, of course, Beanstalk Seeds offers them in our gift baskets.
2. Soak the Peat Pellets
As I mentioned earlier, the peat pellets come in flat spheres that feel like a smooth pebble. They are made up of peat moss and some form of fertilizer mixed with lime. An extremely light netting holds all the materials together while the pellet expands in the water.
Fill up your bowl with a couple of inches a water and place your pellets in the water and let soak for 5 or 10 minutes until they expand. Once they expand, the transform from a flat sphere to more of an upright cylinder. This shape allows you to easily place the peat pellet in a dixie cup with the hole-side facing up. The side with the hole is where you’ll plant your seeds.
3. Plant Your Seed
Once your peat pellets have been placed in a dixie cup, it’s time to plant your seeds. Have your kids use their fingers to dig a little hole about 1/2 – 1 inch deep in the peat pellet and place the seeds in the hole.
In this example, we’re planting Dragon Tongue Beans seeds which are as big as an actual bean so we only planted one seed per peat pellet. If you’re planting smaller seeds like flower seeds, you can put a couple of seeds in each peat pellet and thin the weaker seedling out if they both sprout.
Once the seed has been placed in the pellet, pinch a little bit of the peat over the seed to cover it and then add a little bit of water to each peat pellet.
4. Place By Window and Watch Them Grow
After each peat pellet was seeded and watered, you can place the dixie cups in a plastic container or tupperware in case they start leaking water and place it by a window. Add a little bit of water each day until they sprout and once they get a couple of inches in height, it’s time to put them in the ground.
When that time comes, you can plant the whole peat pellet into the ground, not just the seedling, and there’s no need to remove the netting that keeps the pellet in tact.
For our garden, we’re going to plant Dragon Tongue Beans directly into the ground with and without using peat pellets. We’ll re-visit this topic when our Dragon Tongues begin to sprout in our peat pellets and ready to be planted in our garden.
For Day One of planting our new garden, it was time to plant the potatoes, onions, Bright Lights Swiss Chard, Rainbow Blend Carrots, Easter Egg Radishes, Cherry Belle Radishes, Red & Golden Beets, and the KCCG 30th Anniversary Blend Lettuce.
However, first things first…we needed to till our garden area.
Our area was overrun by clovers and grass so we bought an electric tiller by Greenworks for around $200. It doesn’t provide the same power as a gas-powered tiller but it got the job done after going over the same stretch a few times. If you don’t want to spend money on a tiller, you can rent tillers from most home improvement stores.
We have a lot of tilling to be done and decided to bite the bullet and buy our own so we didn’t have to feel we had to get it done in a 3 or 4 hour window. The trick to tilling is making sure the soil is dry enough to till. You do not want to till muddy soil. If you till soil that is too wet, you create boulders in your garden and will ruin your soil.
To figure out if your soil is dry enough, do the “Chocolate Cake Test”. Have your kids scoop up a handful of your soil in their hands. If it sticks together like a lump of clay, your soil is too wet to till. If your soil crumbles like a piece of chocolate cake then you can till.
My son and gardening partner, Eli, is only 6 years old so he is too young to run the tiller so in order to include him in the process, I had him rake the tilled weeds away while I did the tilling.
It wasn’t hard to convince Eli to dig trenches for the seeds.
One of his favorite things to do is digging holes in the backyard with his toy construction trucks so he was more than willing to grab a hand shovel and a spade to help out with the trenches.
For the potatoes, we dug a trenches about 6 inches deep and for the onions, we dug trenches about one inch deep.
For the Bright Lights Swiss Chard, Rainbow Blend Carrots, Easter Egg Radishes, Cherry Belle Radishes, Red & Golden Beets, and the KCCG 30th Anniversary Blend Lettuce, we dug trenches ranging from a 1/4 to a 1/2 inch.
Quick Potato Tips
If you plan on growing potatoes, you should cut up your potatoes in halves or thirds so that each wedge has 2-3 sprouts. Let them dry for at least one day before putting them into the ground.
This allows the potatoes to dry and develop a protective scab layer that prevents rot and disease transmission. We cut up our potatoes and let them dry on a newspaper on our counter for 3 days before planting.
Once we dug our trenches, it was time to plant the seeds!
For the potatoes, we planted each potato seed about a foot apart in rows that were about two feet apart with the sprouts facing up and covered them in dirt. Once the potato plants sprout out of the ground and grow to about 6 inches, we’ll start piling more dirt on them to eventually form small mounds around each plant until it’s time to harvest.
For the onions, we planted each onion seed about 6 inches apart in rows that are one foot apart. You’ll want to plant onions about 1 inch deep so that their roots are well covered with soil but the top of the plant’s neck is not buried too deeply. Onion bulbs naturally push towards the surface as they grow and it’s good to have the top of the bulbs exposed to the sun.
I planted the carrots, beets, radishes, and lettuce in their own rows and we spaced them according to the instructions on the pack label. These seeds are small so it was a bit of a challenge to pick out each seed and get it spaced perfectly but you can always thin out the seedlings that clump together when they sprout out of the ground.
Once the seeds were all planted on day one, I had Eli write the varieties on the markers and place them by their rows.
Next up, we’ll plant the flowers, cucumbers, and we’ll use peat pellets to start our Dragon Tongue Beans!
I Grew This!
Welcome to the first installment of the “I Grew This” Beanstalk Seeds blog!
My name is Rob Shoffner and I’m the Media Coordinator / Website Manager for Beanstalk Seeds and Kansas City Community Gardens. This blog will document my successes and failures at growing a children’s garden with my 6 year-old son, Eli (pictured above).
I’ve been working for Beanstalk Seeds & KCCG for a little over a year and I consider myself a casual gardener. In the past, I’ve been able to grow potatoes, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach and radishes with moderate success. Now, after a year under my belt working with professional gardeners, I decided to use Beanstalk Seeds this spring to create a children’s garden with my son to hopefully teach him how to grow his own garden.
What Are Beanstalk Seeds?
With so many indoor distractions like video games and mobile devices, it’s a challenge for parents to get kids to play outside. And I’m not innocent when it comes to putting my son in front of a screen. His favorite show, Paw Patrol on Nick Jr., is a quick and easy babysitter for 22 minutes when I need to get something done. But I’m hoping to find better balance between tv and the outdoors.
KCCG launched Beanstalk Seeds a year ago with the intent to encourage parents like myself to grow gardens with their kids. They can teach them a valuable skill in growing their own food while getting them outdoors at the same time.
Three years ago, my wife and I moved to Overland Park, Kansas and bought a half-acre plot with a great space for a garden with direct sunlight.
Although it’s recommended to add compost or fertilizer to the soil, I decided to just use the existing soil to see how well the seeds will grow for this year’s garden. When this garden is done for the year, I’ll add compost and fertilizer to the soil and compare this year’s garden with next year’s garden to see how much difference it makes.
It is also recommended to build raised beds for gardens but again, I decided to hold off on that this year and just plant straight into the ground. I’ll build raised beds for next year’s garden and will again compare the differences.
For this year’s garden, I’m using one of our “Jack’s Magical Seed Bags” called “Plant A Rainbow”, which includes Bright Lights Swiss Chard, Easter Egg Radishes, Rainbow Blend Carrots, Dragon Tongue Bush Beans, Red & Golden Blend Beets, Benary’s Giant Zinnias, Whirlybird Mix Nasturtium, and Autumn Beauty Sunflowers.
We put together this selection of seeds because of all the vibrant colors displayed in each variety with hopes to capture the imagination of kids.
I’m also planting cucumber, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lettuce, and strawberries which I will also cover in my articles with tips and lessons learned.
I grew up in the 80s before iPads and the internet and kids in those days really had no choice but to spend most days playing outside. I have a lot of fond memories of those days and I’d like to see my son have a similar memories instead of spending most of his time in front of a screen, which doesn’t provide any real experiences or memories.
The real challenge will be to make my son WANT to go outside. So far, he has shown interest in gardening so hopefully I can maintain and maybe even boost that interest as the garden grows. Even if I don’t grow a plentiful bounty of fruits and veggies, I will still consider this a success if I can keep my son’s interest from day one until we harvest.
Wish me luck and stay tuned…
Even though it’s the middle of the summer and you’re probably just starting to harvest from your summer garden, it’s time to start your fall garden!
To get your garden ready, head over to our article on the best practices for a successful fall garden.
Additionally, you’ll need to figure out the Average First Frost (AFF) in your region so you’ll know when to plant your seeds. To find the AFF in your area, click here and enter your zip code.
Here is a full list of fall garden specialty seed varieties that we recommend and the dates to plant them for your fall garden:
Second Chance To Harvest!
Did you miss your chance to plant spring crops because of rain or cold weather? Or maybe you planted but your garden was overtaken by weeds? Don’t worry, because you have another chance to grow and harvest by planting a fall garden!
There are a lot of good reasons to plant a fall garden: a long harvest period; lots of produce to stock your freezer for winter; higher quality crops because of the cooler temps at harvest time; and pests tend to be less of a nuisance. In the Midwest, the main planting season for fall gardens generally runs from July 20 through the month of August. Please consult the fall planting calendar for the best planting dates for the individual crops.
Successful fall gardening requires the reversal of some of our spring vegetable gardening practices. Instead of snow or late frosts during the first few weeks of tender growth, your plants are faced with high heat and drying winds. Therefore, you have to nurse your plants through the hot weather until the cooler days of autumn bring some relief. Successful fall gardening requires the appropriate methods of: mulching, watering, plant selection, and time of planting.
1. Mulching / Ground Prep
Mulching your garden is important for a variety of reasons. Not only does it keep the weeds away, mulch also acts as a temperature and moisture buffer for the soil, moderating the extremes.
The best mulch to use is straw, cotton burr compost, leaf mulch, or glass clippings. Wood chip mulch isn’t a good option because it ties up nitrogen in the soil that your plants need to grow.
Before you lay down your mulch, however, you’ll need to prepare the ground. First, remove any plant residue such as weeds or old crops. Then, loosen the soil using a tiller, garden fork or hand cultivator. If the soil is hard from excessive summer heat, water before turning the soil.
When your plants are young, only mulch to the first leaf. As the plants get bigger, increase the depth of the mulch until it keeps weeds subdued and the soil damp. Do not mulch the area where you planted seeds. Wait until these crops have grown to at least 4″ before you mulch.
Using proper watering methods is imperative to a successful fall garden. Newly planted seeds have to stay moist in order to germinate. This means that you may need to water your garden 1-2 times a day when you first plant.
Use a hose or watering can with a fine mist setting so that you don’t flood the seeds or create a crust on the soil. After seeds have sprouted and plants are 2″ or taller, switch to watering deeper, less often.
Normally your garden needs 1” to 1.5” of water per week in the summer. Try to apply this in 2 waterings per week, which will encourage deeper root growth, making the plant hardier and more drought resistant. A final point on watering is that natural rainfall should not be relied on to provide the water for your garden. You may get lucky and have consistent, sufficient rainfall, but you will most likely not get rainfall at the proper time and the plant’s growth will not be optimal.
A good rule of thumb is that younger plants need more frequent and shallow watering while older plants need less frequent and deeper watering.
3. Plant Selection
Many of the same “cool season” crops that you planted in spring, can be planted again for fall. Long-season, hot weather loving plants, like okra, melons and pumpkin, will not have enough time to produce a harvest if planted now.
You may try peas, summer squash, green beans and even some short-season corn with varying success. You may end up with a great harvest if the weather is right and the frost is not early.
If possible, do not plant your fall crops in the same place you planted them this spring. Rotating crops reduces the risk of a disease being passed on. Since vegetables are not all in the same family, they are susceptible and immune to different diseases and pests. Therefore, plant you beans where you had your cabbage, your spinach where you had your potatoes, you cabbage where you had your early sweet corn, and so on.
Here’s a full list of dependable fall crops:
4. Timing of Planting
There are proper times for planting all vegetables. Some vegetables are more flexible in their requirements than others. The first thing you should do is find out when your Average Last Frost (ALF) date is.
Next, check the extended forecast and try to pick a time when temps are below 90 degrees. If that’s not going to happen, go ahead and plant your seeds and transplants by the first week of August.
Take extra care of transplants and even place them in partial shade if extreme heat is in the forecast. Note that some quicker-growing seeds, such as lettuce, radishes and spinach can wait to be planted until temps cool down a little. Longer-growing crops such as peas, carrots, broccoli and cabbage will need to be planted on time in order to get a harvest, even if its hot outside.