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    Save the Date: Perennial Plant Society’s 30th Plant Sale is April 4, 2020, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the new Expo 3 Building at The Fairgrounds Nashville. Here’s where you can find the newest varieties of perennials, shrubs, vines and annuals from local growers, along with long-time, never-fail favorites, ready for spring planting. Learn more at the PPS website.

     

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Kale for cool-season gardens – and a seed giveaway!

Kale 'Wild Garden Frills'

Kale ‘Wild Garden Frills’

I’ve never grown kale, but I want to try it in my kitchen garden this year. Is it better to start with seeds or transplants? When is the best time to plant it?

'Darkibor' kale

‘Darkibor’ kale

Kale has become a culinary star for its flavor and its reputation as a nutrient-dense superfood. Fortunately, it’s a vegetable that’s easy to grow. It’s also one of those early-season garden favorites that thrives in cooler weather, so you can plan to begin planting it in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked (in Middle Tennessee — USDA Hardiness Zone 7a, where The Garden Bench calls home — that could be late February or early March). It’s even better as a fall crop. Plant it again in late summer to grow and harvest into winter.

You can plant transplants, but it’s just as easy to sow seed directly in the prepared garden bed. Like most vegetables, kale grows best in full sun. Plant it in loamy soil that you may amend with high-nitrogen fertilizer. Sow in rows, or broadcast the seed over the area, spacing the seeds an inch or two apart. Cover with about ¼ inch of soil and keep the soil moist as the seed germinates. The seed company Renee’s Garden provides a video about planting kale that you can watch here. You can also grow kale in containers.

Portuguese 'Tronchuda Beira' kale.

Portuguese ‘Tronchuda Beira’ kale.

Thin seedlings as they begin to sprout; you can use the small, tender leaves in salads. Harvest by cutting the outside leaves of a plant as they get large enough to use; the crown of the plant will continue to grow.

Kale is a member of the same family as cabbage, broccoli and other Brassicas, and as such may need protection from cabbage worms and cabbage loopers. Row covers can keep adult insects from laying eggs on the plants as they grow.

There are several varieties of kale – smooth and curly leaf types, large, sturdy leaves and smaller, tender leaves, dark green, light green and purple-green varieties. (Ornamental kale, usually sold in fall to enhance landscapes with its frilly, brightly colored leaves, is edible but not as tasty as the leaves grown for culinary use.) There are dwarf varieties suitable for small plots and containers.

Seed giveaway – grow kale!

'Tuscan Baby Leaf' kale.

‘Tuscan Baby Leaf’ kale.

Growers at the seed company Renee’s Garden are introducing Tuscan Baby Leaf kale for 2015, a milder, more tender kale that is good to use for salads and stirfry. Owner Renee Shepherd has offered two packets of the seeds for readers of The Garden Bench.

Leave a comment at the end of this post about your favorite ways to use kale (in stirfry? Salads? Soup? Smoothies?), or just say “I want to grow kale!”). Respond by 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27, 2015 and your name will go into a drawing to win a packet of Tuscan Baby Leaf kale seeds, just in time for spring planting.

 

Stinkbugs, harlequin bugs plague late-summer gardens

There are flat, brightly colored bugs all over my cabbage and broccoli plants right now. What are they? Are they harmful? How can I get rid of them?
Harlequin bug copy

What you see plaguing your plants are, no doubt, harlequin bugs, and yes, they are harmful to your plants in the brassica family – broccoli, greens, cabbage turnips and kale. This time of year, the bugs you see are probably the adults. They use piercing mouth parts to extract the juices from all parts of the plants, and heavy infestations can cause severe damage – you may see discolored spots on the plants. The leaves of young plants may wilt and die, and mature plants will become stunted.

Getting rid of them can be a challenge. Toxic Free NC, A website devoted to non-toxic solutions to pest problems, suggests removing them by hand if there are only a few (drop them into a bucket of soapy water), or if there are large numbers and you are willing to sacrifice the plants they have damaged, trap them in large garbage bags, seal the bags and let them bake in the sun for a few days.

It’s always good to encourage the natural predators of damaging insects to visit the garden. Praying mantises eat harlequin bugs and other stinkbugs, so if you see them around, don’t shoo them off. There are parasitic flies and wasps that are among stinkbugs’ natural predators, and birds, spiders and toads also enjoy them as a food source.

As a last resort, Toxic Free NC suggests insecticides that are approved for organic farms, such as rotenone, pyrethrin, Neem oil and insecticidal soap. Note that these products can be harmful, so be sure to follow label directions and use as little as possible. These insecticides can also kill the bugs you want to keep, so spray only in the morning or late evening when those insects may be less active. Insecticides are most effective on the pests in the younger larval or nymph stages. The adult bugs are resistant to sprays.

To prevent the bugs from finding your plants in the first place, Toxic Free NC suggests using lightweight floating row covers over your brassica crops, making sure the edges are weighted so the bugs can’t get to the plants. It also helps to control weeds in the garden, as stinkbugs are attracted by weedy areas in or near the garden, they advise.

Garden with greens

I don’t care for turnips, but I love turnip greens and I’d like to grow them myself this fall. When is it time to plant them?
GreensThe time to begin planting turnip greens – and many other kitchen crops that thrive in cool weather – is now! Prepare a bed in full sun with well-drained, fertile soil. You can sow the seeds in rows about 1½ feet apart and cover with about ½ inch of fine soil, or you can broadcast the seeds over a prepared bed. August heat in some areas can be brutal on fall plantings, so for all summer-sown fall vegetables, keep the soil moist while seeds germinate. Thin the plants when they grow to about 2 inches tall.

Among the fast-growing, greens-only varieties are All Top, Alamo, Seven Top, Shogoin and Topper.

Don’t stop with turnip greens! Mustard greens, spinach, collards and kale are among the other types of hearty greens you can try. For a longer harvest, sow in successive plantings two weeks apart.

And don’t give up on turnips just yet. My favorite way to enjoy them is drizzled with olive oil and roasted with a variety of other root and winter vegetables. One secret is to harvest turnips while they’re still small, when they seem to have a milder flavor.

Here’s a recipe adapted from a Bon Appétit magazine recipe at Epicurious.com:
Roasted Root Vegetables
Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch pieces
Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut into ½-inch pieces
Beets, trimmed but not peeled, scrubbed, cut into ½-inch pieces
Medium red onion, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 turnip, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
Garlic cloves, peeled
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Oil a large rimmed baking sheet. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to coat the olive oil. Spread vegetables evenly on a prepared baking dish and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast vegetables until tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour, 15 minutes.

August in the garden: Find more about this month’s garden tasks in my August Garden Calendar and Garden Events and Tips at Tennessean.com.