Tag Archives: vegetable gardening

Fall and winter gardens

by Sharon Dent

Fall is approaching and it will soon be planting time for fall and winter gardens. Greens of all types are nutritious and versatile and great candidates for your garden. I plant greens in my flower beds. A border of spinach in a winter flower bed adds unexpected green during brown months.



Greens can be used in salads, steamed, sauteed and in a wide range of recipes. One of my favorites is ham stuffed with spinach. Another is a kale and peach smoothie.

Cauliflower likes growing in cool temperatures and moist atmospheres. Plant in late summer for a late fall harvest. Cauliflower needs magnesium and without providing it, expect your heads to be stunted. Watch the acidity of the soil too; cauliflower needs to grow in neutral to slightly alkaline soil.

Among the easy-to-grow greens are kale, Swiss chard, spinach, collards, mustard, tender greens, and turnip greens. My family eats the leaves from the cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts plants too. Also delicious are arugula, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, and a wide range of lettuces.

Bok choy
Bok Choy is a favorite that likes a cool growing season but a sunny growing site. For baby bok choy, harvest from the time of planting might be 45 days, but it will take 60 days for a fully mature plant. So in Hot Springs, it is best to plant seeds in mid-August.

Greens are best suited for cool weather growing. They like consistent moisture, and insufficient water will inhibit growth. Cabbage worms and slugs sometimes attack your crops. Pluck them off, or use Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) to get rid of the pests.

Plant cabbage from mid-August to mid-September. I use plants rather that seeds.

Keep the growing areas free of competing weeds.  Applying mulch helps discourage weeds and preserve moisture in the soil.

Carrots must be grown in deep, sandy loam, or the carrots will be deformed.
It is ideal to plant when night temperatures are 55 degrees and daytime temperatures are 75 degrees.
Beets like to be planted in late August to early September. It takes 60-70 days for them to mature. They must be planted in loose, sandy loam which means lots of soil amendment in Hot Springs, and it needs to be 18 inches deep or more. Beets can survive frost and light freezing temperatures.  Detroit Reds are my favorite and I especially like eating the tops as greens. Remember when planting that it is best to plant seeds as beets do not transplant easily.

Let me know your favorite greens and recipes for using them.

The Importance of Sunlight

by Sharon Dent

Having a successful, high-producing vegetable garden is dependent on locating it at the best angle in relation to the sun. The ideal spot for a year-round garden is a sunny, south-facing, gently sloping space with deep, rich, loamy soil, protected from strong winds, and with a good, close-by water source.


Most vegetable plants need eight hours of full sun. Rarely is this ideal situation possible, but we are fortunate to have good levels of sunlight in the Hot Springs area. Our rocky, clay soil, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. It needs so much amendment that most local gardeners resort to raised beds and containers and such.


Sun requirements vary by plant type by roughly four hours. Fruiting plants such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash need the most light — eight hours and more. Root crops like potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, radishes, beets and turnips can get by with five to six hours of sunlight. Leafy plants like lettuce, kale and spinach, can make it with only four to five hours. The leafy vegetables can thrive with more than five hours of sun if the area is shady or slightly filtered. That is true of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, garlic, onions, and green peas.

March to September has the most sun and the longest days. That is why most of our produce is grown during this period. October to February has the shortest days, and the sun tracks lower in the sky. This latter fact has an important impact on the selection of a garden site, particularly if there will be a winter garden.

It is important to be cautious about the impact of tall trees, as they block the sun’s path even in winter. That is true of buildings and other structures too.


When the day length drops to less than ten hours, most growth grinds to a halt. If a winter garden is to be successful, planting should be done between August and mid-September so that plants will mature by early December. To repeat, plants need to be mature when the days have less than ten hours of sunlight. Some plants like cabbage will be fine overwintering where they are planted. The same goes for turnips allowing for harvesting throughout the winter.


For people who want to harvest and eat from their gardens almost all year round, cool weather plants can be planted again in early spring, February and March. Examples are snap and sugar peas, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.


Although my yard has more shade than is optimal for vegetable gardening, I still manage to overcome some of the obstacles. I garden in large pots that can be placed on the front patio for good sun. I use my small backyard garden for crops that can get along on five to six hours of sun, and I mix vegetables like okra in sunny flower beds. I am conflicted because I need to cut down four or five trees to get more sunlight on the garden plot in the backyard. If I cut the trees down, it would have an adverse effect on my shade garden in the nearby woods, though. Consequently, the trees will stay. Life is full of compromises, so I live with an attractive, but less than optimal producing vegetable garden.


Straw Bale Gardening

by Sharon Dent

Hot Springs and the vicinity are known for rocky soil.  We laughingly say the best shovel to use here is a pick ax. Most gardeners that I know, opt to build raised or elevated beds filled with imported soil to overcome the situation.

A straw bale garden between a driveway and a fence

There is another option: straw bale gardens. Lynn Harris who lives within shouting distance to downtown Hot Springs is trying straw bale gardening. She is a long time gardener without much space on her urban lot. She added straw bales along the backyard driveway abutting the property line. This created a narrow linear garden. She has harvested herbs, peppers tomatoes and more.

Straw bale garden later in season

She got an early start in the spring, first identifying the sunny spot to use and wetting the bales down for several consecutive days. The moist bales heat up and so a few more steps were needed to cool and condition the bales before planting. Over the next 6 days, she continued to water but introduced fertilizer as well

Note: Either liquid fertilizer or ammonia sulfate will work. When using ammonia sulfate sprinkle about ½ cup on each bale each day of the conditioning period. 

She kept the bales moist for the next four days and measured the temperature inside the bales.  She planted when the temperature was equal to that of the outside temperature.

Close up of straw bale garden Close up of straw bale garden

Close up of straw bale garden

I also tried straw bale gardening this summer of 2015 for the first time. I got a later start than Lynn and placed a dozen bales one or two high next to our vegetable garden in the backyard. I was inspired by Lynn to try it.


The literature I read suggested planting herbs and shorter plants such as lettuce and spinach. By the time I got started, it was too late for cool weather plants. I will try those in October.

I planted a few tomatoes and herbs. The basil especially liked the environment. I also planted squash, watermelon, and cantaloupe, but they were not as successful as the tomatoes. I think it was because I did not fertilize every two weeks after planting as recommended in the literature. Nor did I water enough during July.


Here are a few tips:

  •  Put newspaper or cardboard under the bales to choke out weeds.
  • When placing and/or stacking the bales, turn them on their narrow side and face the cut straw side up rather than the side with the folded straw. It will be much easier to cut the holes for planting.
  • The holes should be about twice the size of the root ball of the plants. Add a high quality planting soil in the holes, and plant seeds or seedlings.