Can I Plant Annuals and Vegetables Together?

Can you plant annual flowers and vegetables in the same raised bed? Question from Diane or Newark, Ohio

Answer: Sure! In many cases, annuals can be beneficial to vegetables by warding off pests (click here to read about the protective power of marigolds) and/or attract pollinators. Compact flowers that will not compete for too much sunlight or water are best.  Here are some of my favorite flowers to plant in my vegetable garden for beauty, cut flowers, and to feed pollinators. These sun-lovers are all effortless to grow.

  1. Cosmos (dwarf): The pretty daisy flowers of these annuals are good for cutting and attract bees. Try the compact varieties Sonata Mix (2-feet high) or the fully double pink ‘Rose Bonbon‘ (2 to 3-feet high).
  2. Calendula: These cheerful yellow or orange daisies are grown as herbs as well as flowers because they have edible petals that can be used to make tea or soothing balms.
  3. Dahlias: There are hundreds of amazing dahlias to choose from and all make excellent cut flowers. Bees and butterflies also love them. Choose compact varieties for easier care. Check out Swan Island Dahlias to choose the best dahlia for your taste.
  4. Marigolds: I love tall marigolds in the vegetable garden. The large flowers look pretty through summer, and these Mexican natives just thrive in the heat. ‘Kee’s Orange’ is a brilliant variety with deepest orange flowers.
  5. Compact Sunflowers: There are loads of spectacular sunflowers for the garden, and all are very easy to grow from seed. I suggest choosing compact varieties because they won’t shade out vegetables or fall over in wind. (Click here to learn all about growing sunflowers.)
  6. Zinnias: Any tall or medium-sized zinnia will add color and cut flowers to your garden. Check out the new Zinnia ‘Zinderella Purple’ or  Zinnia ‘Queeny Orange Lime’. Both are beautiful and some of the easiest flowers that you can grow from seed.

Try adding any of these pretty annuals to your vegetable garden this season for functional color.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist



What Are the Best Vegetables for Cool Summers?

“What are the best vegetables for cool summer areas?” Question from Angie of Fort Bragg, California.

Answer: The classic cool-season vegetables are cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, and kale), root crops (turnips, beets, onions, and spring carrots), and greens (lettuce (see video below), spinach, arugula, and Swiss chard), but there are also typically warm-season vegetable varieties specially bred for cool-season growing. Here are some that you are less likely to know about. (Click here to learn more about growing cole crops)

Green Beans: Early-to-produce green beans are best for cool-summer areas. There are several varieties to choose from, including the flavorful heirloom bush bean ‘Bountiful’ and the early-to-produce pole bean ‘Fortex’. (Click here to read more about the best green beans for cool-summer growing.)

Corn: Likewise, there are fast-to-produce corn varieties bred for cooler climates, such as ‘Northern Xtra-Sweet Hybrid‘ and ‘Early Sunglow‘. These will produce sweet ears reliably and very quickly.

Cucumbers: ‘Early Fortune’ is a crisp, sweet cucumber for slicing and pickling that was bred in Michigan to bear quickly and thrive in cool weather. The English cucumber ‘Early Pride‘ is another good selection.

Squash and Zucchini: The best squash and zucchini for your growing needs are bush varieties that produce in as little as 45 days. Try the classic zucchini variety ‘Green Machine‘ or the beautiful yellow pattypan summer squash ‘Sunburst‘.

Tomatoes: The golden cherry tomato ‘Sungold‘ is an early producer with tomatoes that stay sweet and flavorful, even in cool weather. The red slicing tomato ‘New Girl‘ is another early producer to try that has the added bonus of good disease resistance. Finally, ‘Polbig‘ is a quality bush tomato with red fruits that was specially bred for cool-summer growing.

To get more tips for growing veggies in cooler climates, click here to read more about more cool-season vegetables for western gardens.

I hope that these tips help! Happy vegetable gardening.

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

When Do I Start My Garden Seeds?

“How early can I start seeds in lower Michigan? Question from William of Southgate, Michigan

Answer: It depends on whether you are growing, annuals, perennials, summer vegetables or spring vegetables. Here’s what I suggest for your USDA Hardiness Zone 6 planting area. (These suggestions may also apply to other gardeners, based on their own specific seasonal planting windows.)

Spring Vegetables: I recommend starting cool-season broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, Swiss chard, and spring onion seeds indoors as early as late January, or a month and a half before the spring soil can be worked. Arugula, beets, cilantro, spring carrots, peas, radishes, and turnips should all be starting in-ground as soon as the soil can be worked. Be sure to amend the soil well with compost, label rows, and cover newly planted seeds with a light layer of compost before watering them in. Keep them just moist and they should sprout as the soil gets warmer.

Summer Vegetables: Warm-season vegetables and herbs, like basil, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos, should be started indoors as early as the start of February, or three or more months before planting them outdoors. [Click here for an article about growing tomatoes from seed.] Fast-growing cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash can be planted indoors or out. I prefer starting outdoors in well-amended beds after the threat of frost has passed. Beans, corn, okra, and summer beets (click here for a beet-growing video) and carrots can be started by seed outdoors after the threat of frost has passed. (Click here to search for the average frost date in your area.)

Perennials: If growing any perennials from seed, start them as early as January. Once they are ready to plant in late spring, they should be large enough for outdoor planting. Keep in mind that many perennials won’t bloom first year from seed, while others will. [Click here to read an article about easy-to-start perennials that will bloom first year from seed.]

Annuals: Wait until February to start flowering annuals and March or April to start vining annuals, which often grow very quickly and can take over your indoor growing area. To learn more, watch the video below for annual seed-starting tips.

Happy seed starting!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

8 Garden Fruits and Vegetables for Weight Loss and Health

8 Garden Fruits and Vegetables for Weight Loss and Health

All veggies are naturally low calorie, but a few give an extra boost when it comes to weight loss. Some are extraordinarily filling while others have the perk of containing beneficial compounds that increase weight loss. Others are natural diuretics that increase water loss and reduce bloating. Broccoli, cucumbers, peppers, and melons are just a few tasty fruits and vegetables that provide an extra weight loss boost. If you grow them using organic methods, you have the added benefit of free fresh food that is natural and pesticide free.


Adorable little toddler girl with curly hair wearing a blue dress climbing a ladder picking fresh apples in a beautiful fruit garden on a sunny autumn day
Even small-space gardeners can grow their own apples.

You don’t need a lot of space to grow a dwarf or mid-sized apple tree and their bountiful fall fruits are sweet, nutritious, and filling. They also have a secret weapon when it comes to weight loss. Apples are high in polyphenols, compounds that have been shown to reduce body weight. In fact, obese people that ingested three apples a day exhibited significant weight loss (reference). Polyphenols have also shown to reduce the accumulation of “Bad Cholesterol” (LDL cholesterol and triglycerides) associated with heart disease and obesity (reference). So, eating an apple a day will truly keep the doctor away.

Plant apples in spring to give them time to set roots over summer. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil amended with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend, and keep them irrigated a month or two until they become established. [Learn more about planting fruit trees here.]


Beans are so easy to grow and so nutritious. (Image by Marian Keith)

Fresh beans are high in protein and fiber to help you feel full, and they regulate blood sugar. Even better, they contain alpha-amylase inhibitors, or starch blockers, that reduce the absorption of dietary starches by the body. That means that the more beans you eat, the less your body will take up starches that contribute to weight gain. 

Beans are one of the easiest veggies to grow. For smaller gardens, bush beans are recommended. Like most vegetables, they thrive in full sun and good garden soil. [Click here to read more about growing amazing beans in the garden.]


‘Arapaho’ blackberries pictured with chili peppers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Blackberries are sweet and delicious, but they also contain powerful antioxidants shown to reduce inflammation and prevent weight gain. Blackberries contain up to 87% of the antioxidant C3G. Research suggests that eating C3G-rich blackberries may be effective in preventing weight gain and inflammation (reference).

These effortless brambles are very easy to grow as long as you have full sun and good space with rich soil. The thornless variety ‘Arapaho‘ is vigorous, produces loads of berries, and has smooth branches for easy harvest.


Purple broccoli is beautiful and healthful. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Broccoli is filling, tastes great, and has all the right characteristics to help you lose pounds. This nutritional powerhouse is high in vitamins A and C as well as Calcium, and Protein. It is also remarkably high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids (reference). Diets rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids have been shown to reduce appetite in overweight people and help them lose weight. Broccoli has also been shown to help lower cholesterol and possibly reduce fat storage.

Broccoli is a garden vegetable that likes the cool weather of spring and fall. It requires space, full sun, and friable garden soil that’s rich in organic matter. [Click here to learn how to grow great broccoli!]


Cucumis sativus
Cucumbers reduce inflammation. (Image by Jessie Keith)

There are lots of different cucumber varieties that differ in flavor, quality, and texture, but all are high in water and low in calories. The cooling fruit is a demulcent, which means it reduces inflammation in mucous membranes, and the seeds contain natural diuretics, which induce water loss and reduce bloating.

Cucumber vines need a lot of space but can be trained on a fence or trellis. They require full sun and can withstand hot summer days, but they grow best in areas with more temperate summers. [Get tips on growing all types of cucumbers here.]


Ginger is very healthful and can be easily grown in pots.

Not only does fresh ginger taste great, but it offers a wealth of benefits related to weight loss and overall health. Ginger is high in antioxidants that have been shown to inhibit dietary fat absorption (reference). Ginger has also been shown to have a wealth of anti-inflammatory properties, in addition to many other health benefits.

It’s easy to grow pots of ginger indoors and on a summer patio with partial shade. Fill the pot with fertile, organic-rich soil that is moist but well-drained, such as Black Gold Natural and Organic Potting Mix. In the winter, bring your pot indoors as a house plant.  Harvest the growing rhizome pieces by digging and cutting them off as you need them.


Capsicum annuum 'Chervena Chushka'
Peppers are packed with vitamin C. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Hot and sweet peppers are low in calories, high in fiber, and packed with vitamin C. (One cup of fresh sweet peppers have 317% DV of vitamin C!). They have also been shown to have anti-obesity properties (reference). Slices make great low-calorie snacks that may help manage weight.

Heat and lots of sun are required to grow great peppers. Peppers are a must-grow vegetable because they are so expensive in the store yet so easy to cultivate. There are many varieties to choose from that come in many flavors, colors, shapes, and sizes. [Click here to learn how to grow great hot peppers.]


Citrullus lanatus 'Crimson Sweet'
Watermelons are high in lycopene. ( Image by Jessie Keith)

This sweet treat won’t hurt your waistline. The water-rich fruit is filling, delicious, and one cup contains only 46 calories! It is also a natural diuretic, so it can help reduce bloating. Red-fleshed varieties are also high in lycopene, a carotenoid believed to have cancer-fighting properties, as well as vitamins C and A.

Melons grow from rambling vines that can trail along the ground or be trained on a trellis. They need a lot of sun, space, and fertile soil. [Get melon-growing instructions here.]


Recipe: Authentic Pico de Gallo

fresh-tomato-salsa-300x225Feeling a little hot after harvesting your summer tomatoes and peppers?  Why not make this spicy, authentic pico de gallo recipe?  It’s fast, simple, and tastes great served with crunchy tortilla chips.


3-4 medium fresh tomatoes, finely diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 serrano pepper, finely chopped
1 lime, juiced
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 large pinch salt

(Wear gloves when preparing the pepper and don’t touch your eyes!)

After dicing and chopping, combine all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Season to taste. If the serrano makes your salsa too hot, add more tomatoes.  Set aside for one hour to allow the flavors to blend, and enjoy!

Mike Darcy’s Favorite Fall Trees and Flowers

This Stewartia pseudocamellia is in fall color.

The fall season is upon us and what a glorious time of year it is. As I walk around my neighborhood and drive around Portland, the many deciduous trees are turning brilliant shades of color. The more brilliant they are, the better.

Favorite Fall Trees

Stewartia pseudocamellia seed pods, L Foltz 2014
Stewartia pseudocamellia seed pods

Many maples are turning red, some are orange, and others are shades of yellow.  The Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) trees are turning golden yellow, and our summer annuals are telling us that their time is almost over.  Sometimes we can have a tree that gives us scarlet fall foliage as well as beautiful seed pods.  Stewartia pseudocamellia is just such a tree. Mine is planted in my front yard where it takes center stage.



Salvia splendens Saucy™ Red
Salvia splendens Saucy™ Red looks great well into fall.

Yet, there is still much color in the garden, not only from foliage but from flowers as well.  In my own garden, I am quite a Salvia fan and always willing to try new varieties.  This past spring I purchased Salvia splendens Saucy™ Red, and I was rather disappointed with it in summer.  It did not flower well compared to my Salvia guaranitica ‘Black & Blue’.  Well, I had a very pleasant surprise this September. Evidently, Saucy™ Red likes cooler weather, shorter day-length, or maybe both, because it burst into full bloom and has continued ever since.  It is mid-October, and the 7-foot-tall plant has burnished scarlet flowers on almost every stem. Sadly, the tender plants are only hardy to USDA Zones 9-10, so I will have to replant if I want to enjoy this Salvia again.

Impatiens tinctoria

Impatiens tinctoria
Impatiens tinctoria is an unusual garden flower that looks great in fall.

Another new garden flower this year is the 8-foot-tall, large-flowered, Impatiens tinctoria, which comes from the rain forests of East Africa.  I had first seen it growing in a friend’s garden three years ago and was surprised to learn that it is a winter hardy perennial, surviving USDA Zones 7-11.  This is my second year to grow it, and I learned that it likes grows best in shade with protection from the hot afternoon sun. In the spring, I worked lots of humus into the soil around it and mixed in Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil. Today my plants are over 6 feet tall and blooming with a flower that does not look anything like a garden impatiens.  These flowers are fragrant at night and attract much attention from garden visitors.

Cover Crops

Now is the time of year to put the summer vegetable garden to bed.  The tomatoes are finished, as well as the beans, squash, peppers, etc.  Once these plants are removed, it is an ideal time to prepare the soil for next season.  Mix Black Gold® Garden Soil 0.05 – 0.02 -0.05 into the beds and plant a cover crop. Cover crops are broadcast legumes, or grasses such as buckwheat, that are planted to cover the garden in winter and are tilled under in spring.

BG_GRDNSOIL_1CF-FRONTLegumes are plants in the Pea Family (Fabaceae) and include clovers and vetches. With the help of symbiotic bacteria called Rhizobium, they “fix” nitrogen from the air back into the soil, making it available to other plants.  Thus, by planting a cover crop, you increase the nitrogen level of your soil while also protecting your beds from erosion and aggressive winter weeds. The added organic matter from the spring-tilled cover crop with also benefit your garden soil.

We always get some “sunny windows” during this season.  These windows give us a wonderful opportunity to get out in the garden and do fall chores.  Fall is also a great time to “edit” your garden.  We all have plants that have gotten too big, are in the wrong place, or maybe we are tired of them.  Walk around your garden with a note pad and make notes on garden editing that you can do throughout winter.  But, most importantly, enjoy the season and its many colors.

Rehab Raised Beds Inside and Out

Raised-bed hoops and row covers can help you protect crops from harsh growing conditions and winter cold.

Second gardens are always better than first gardens.  When those first gardens were your raised beds, then maybe it’s time to raise the bar.  Bigger, better, and more prolific are garden characteristics that all gardeners want, so perhaps it’s time to rehab and expand in preparation for next year’s summer garden.

So many raised beds were at first experimental or created with the kids as a family project without long-term planning and smart design.  That’s why they often don’t last as long as they should.  Earth-to-wood contact (something forbidden in house building) introduces wood rot and invites pests, such as termites. You need to know what you are doing to get more life from your raised bed.

Choosing the Best Raised Bed Building Materials

Redwood ties are naturally rot resistant and great for raised bed building.

Early on, wooden railroad tie beds [read more about railroad tie beds] became popular and kept the rot problem at bay, but ties are made from heavily treated wood. They contain dangerous heavy metals and creosote, which can leach into the soil and be taken up by edible plants. Pressure treated wood has the same problem. It is treated with fungicides and other compounds to reduce rot that can leach into the soil.

Untreated woods are not all the same. Many break down fast, resulting in short-lived raised beds. If you want long-lasting beds, avoid soft or rustic reclaimed woods certain to rot quickly. Instead, choose long-lasting red cedar or redwood. Both decompose slowly and are the most recommended for beautiful frames that resist rot. Trex, and other polymer/wood alternatives, also last forever and look great. All of the rot-resistant options are initially more expensive but worth it if you plan to garden for years.

Rehabbing Your Raised Bed

Just Coir creates a good organic base layer for raised bed gardens.

If you already have raised beds made with fast-to-decompose wood, you may already be experiencing the unfortunate and very common results. They are rotting, bowing, or breaking open at the seams due to decomposing edges weakened by the weight of soil, plants, and mulch.  This means it is either time to rebuild or refurbish the frames.

Moreover, if you have had your beds for a while, the soil will be low and in need of replacement. Like all garden beds, soil volume falls as microbes consume the fine humus, and nutrients are depleted by garden plants. Poor garden soil will produce poor garden plants.

Fall is the best time to replenish raised bed soil and fix repairs. Take advantage of the fabulous fall weather to replace all rotting or bowing boards or edges, and revive sad, tired soil.  Here’s the five-step process in a nutshell:

  1. Remove existing soil, if it’s degraded to mostly woody matter and perlite.  Stockpile the old soil material for future use as summer mulch, or layer it into the compost heap.
  2. Inspect the newly exposed sidewalls by stabbing questionable spots with a screwdriver.  If the metal penetrates the wood,  then there’s rot, and they need to be replaced.  Also, check and reinforce loose corners.
  3. Make repairs to sidewalls using Trex or long-lasting, untreated wood boards. Consider adding more height if you would like to grow plants with deeper root systems. Not only should you use strong, quality wood, but investing in heavy hardware will add to the longevity of your beds. Choose heavy wood screws tightened with an electric screwdriver to keep beds from loosening with the seasonal shrink and swell of the wood.
  4. Replace the soil in stages.  Black Gold Just Coir creates a 100% organic matter barrier that holds water and repels root-knot nematodes.  The heart of the raised bed should contain a rich mix of local topsoil amended with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend and a soilless potting mix, such as Black Gold Natural and Organic Potting Soil. The combination depends on the quality of your local soil; great topsoil requires fewer amendments. In general, an even mix of 2 parts topsoil to 1 part compost and 1 part soilless potting mix will yield great results. If drought is a problem in your area, adding a mulching layer of Black Gold Just Coir or Garden Compost Blend will reduce surface water loss.
  5. Add an all-purpose fertilizer, at the manufacturer’s prescribed application, to help drive explosive growth.

Irrigate and Sow

Inline drip tubing that invisibly waters your garden without ugly surface tubes and emitters.

Gently water your raised beds to allow them to settle and marry over the winter months.  If you don’t already have it, drip irrigation is highly recommended for effortless raised bed gardening.  Try soaker hoses or buried underground inline drip tubing that invisibly waters your garden without ugly surface tubes and emitters.  If you want to expand next year, put in a new bed close to the old one and share the irrigation.

While watering your rehabbed raised beds, throw in some seeds for beets, radishes, turnips, and other root crops that germinate at temps down to 40 degrees F.  The addition of row covers will protect cool-season crops well into winter.  Harvest the leaves, eat the sweet roots, and enjoy long winter yields as your refreshed raised beds do all of the work for you.

Late-Summer Vegetables to Grow From Seed Sowing

Late-summer and fall vegetables grown from seed.

It’s absolutely counterintuitive to plant anything in August or September, but intuition is not always right.  Go against your instincts, and sow cool-season seeds right now.  Do it soon, and you’ll get your fall and winter garden started just in time.

Starting Fall Vegetables

If you’re a beginner and have never grown food outside the strict summer garden, now is your chance to give it a try.  Sowing now takes advantage of the natural transition toward ever shortening day length and cooler temperatures.  In the hot Southwest, frost holds off until later in the season, so a fall garden can often feed a family deep into the winter.

Drip irrigation is a great way to keep seedlings well watered.
Drip irrigation is a great way to keep seedlings well watered.

Though the summer food plants are in decline, many are still producing. Once a plant stops or dies, take it out promptly, and start sowing leaf and root crops like kale, carrots, beets, and chard. All of them can be sown directly into garden soil in late summer when it is warm enough to stimulate germination. The transition will be more gradual than spring planting because soil is prepared incrementally as space is freed up by plant removal.  For example, after an aged squash dies back or mildews, simply take it out and sow cool-season seeds in its place.

Earthworm Castings are high in nitrogen and great for feeding fall greens.

Sowing Fall Seeds

Every time you take out a dying summer plant, prep the soil before sowing because that soil has consumed much of its spring fertilizer and amendments.  Lots of rich humus is needed to drive leaf- and stem-producing edibles.  This requires amending the area to about six inches deep with a claw or fork to open the ground, then generously working in Black Gold Garden Compost.  Don’t compact the soil, leave it fluffy so the seeds settle down into the moisture-retentive humus.  Lightly cover seed with compost or sprinkle Black Gold Earthworm Castings on top of freshly sown seeds to introduce fresh microbes and micronutrients.  (Fall seedlings can also be started indoors. Click here to learn how.)

The biggest challenge in getting the fall garden started is keeping the seedbeds adequately moist.  An old method uses burlap laid right over the sown seedbed and pegged down on the corners.  Water is applied right through the burlap which prevents dislodging the soil particles and acts like a mulch to keep the seed bed from drying out in the sun.  Burlap is moved only after the little green shoots appear.  A heat wave at this stage may require little burlap shade structures to shelter the seedlings until they harden off to direct sun. Drip irrigation is a great way to keep plants well irrigated once seedlings have popped up from the ground and the burlap is removed.

Choose Leafy Greens

Don’t overlook the ability to sow cool-season leafy vegetable seeds everywhere you can.  Sow beets in the window boxes, colorful Bright Lights chard on the patio, but make sure you leave plenty of room for Dinosaur, or ‘Lacinato’, kale.  This big burly kale from Italy takes more heat

and cold than any other.  Though rather bold looking, it’s great eating because the best-tasting leaves are the old ones!

Cut-and-come-again lettuce is the perfect cool-season crop for fall and winter gardens.
Cut-and-come-again lettuce is the perfect cool-season crop for fall and winter gardens.

Keep in mind that nitrogen is important to any plant that produces an edible stem or leaf.  Puny growth is often due to nitrogen depletion.  Slow growth may not happen all at once, but you may see a reduction in plant size by late fall or early winter.  Concentrated liquid fish fertilizer is the best organic nitrogen source for the long fall and winter growing season in the West.