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Cabbage – Here and There – Beijing


Chinese cabbage in Beijing

Cabbage. Such an ordinary vegetable. We don’t give it much thought. We shred it into a salad, dress it into coleslaw, or boil it up with corned beef, but there are many types of cabbage in the world, and many ways of serving it up. Think of corned beef and cabbage!

            I began thinking about cabbage this week when, while sorting through some old photographs, my husband and I found a few shots of the ai guo bai cai harvest in Beijing in the fall of 1989. I had been working at Women of China Magazine since April, but every day still brought new understandings of daily life. That was a time before ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics’ took hold. At that time the government controlled the farms, the stores, workplaces and housing. In 1989 there was a huge cabbage crop. What is grown must be eaten – or at least sold. Therefore the government decreed that every household must buy 40 kilograms (more than 80 pounds) of bai cai, Chinese cabbage to us.

            Trucks brought the cabbage into the city from outlying farms. Then blue-suited white capped workers, often women, unloaded the cabbage on street corners, and in front of the state stores. Every night the TV news talked about the sale of ai guo bai cai, literally ‘love country’ cabbage, or patriotic cabbage.

Chinese cabbage Courtesy National Garden Bureau

            Chinese cabbage, as most of us know, is not like the hard green heads that keep well, and are so familiar in sauerkraut and coleslaw. Chinese cabbage has looser, more elongated heads. It is not a cabbage that Chinese workers enjoyed stacking up in the hallways of their cold Beijing apartments. Nor did they enjoy eating their way through all that cabbage. I should note at this point that Beijing is a desert city. It is very dry. Also, Chinese apartments at the time were very cold in the winter. Even though these cabbages are not the storage cabbages that we are familiar with, they kept fairly well. The outer leaves would dry out and protect the inner leaves. They would be removed when it was time to prepare the fresh inner leaves for cooking.

            On the rare occasions when I worked a full day in the office with my colleagues I got to see the lunches that were provided by the work unit canteen. Workers brought their own metal bowls which they carried downstairs to be filled with a big helping of rice topped with some vegetable. That fall the rice was topped watery cabbage. This sort of meal was not considered suitable for a foreigner, so I was sent down the street to eat at the newly opened McDonalds.

            Barrel headed Chinese cabbage and other asian greens like pak choi and tatsoi have become more popular and more common in the U.S. since we were in Beijing so long ago. Catalogs like Johnny’s Selected Seeds and the Kitazawa Seed Company offer a range of Chinese cabbage and other asian greens.

Cabbage courtesy National Garden Bureau

            All cabbages, Chinese and American, are cool weather crops. You can plant early in the spring for summer eating, and a mid-summer crop for fall storage. They are all heavy feeders and need a fertile, humusy soil with a pH of pH 6.5 to 7. Regular even waterings are essential for good cabbage development. Cabbages are susceptible to club root and bacterial soft root disease, soil borne diseases. This means you should rotate your cabbage beds with non-brassicas, in a five or six year rotation. Also look for disease resistant seeds. Bilko, a 12 inch tall, dark green Chinese cabbage from Johnny’s is resistant to both club root and fusarium yellows.

            You are more likely to find cabbage starts of the more familiar greed and red cabbages at garden centers in the spring, but seeds are available for many asian greens that can be ready to harvest in as little as three weeks.

            The Kitizawa catalog lists 21 varieties of pak choi. Some have the typical dark green leaves with crisp white stems., other have reddish, or yellow-green leaves. They have a slight mustardy flavor and are used in many Chinese dishes from soup to noodle dishes to stir-fries. The Chinese also pickle the coarser leaves. Pickling is an important and traditional method of food preservation in China.

            We are very aware of the changes in China since we were there, but at the time it was unheard of for vegetables to be eaten raw. We assume this was a cultural habit because the Chinese traditionally used ‘night soil’ or cleanings from outhouses and such as fertilizer on farms. Even in 1989 we occasionally saw a man on a bicycle hauling his ‘honey pots’ filled with night soil from the city out to the nearby farms.

            Locally, we can buy asian greens like mizuna, tatsoi, and komatsuna which are often used in salad mixes, but can also be grown for another couple of weeks for cooking. Pak choi seeds are including in the Botanical Interests Seeds Savory Mix of microgreens that I have growing in our guest room. More on that another day.

            Cabbage is a nutritious vegetable that provides a big helping of vitamins, minerals and fiber. I cannot speak to the value of the cabbage boiled up the way I saw it served from the Women of China canteen, but I can say that growing cabbage, Chinese or American, and gently cooking it will give us all a big nutritional boost.

Between the Rows           February 15, 2014

New Flowers for 2014

Achillea ‘King Edward’


Is it too early to talk about new flowers for 2014?  NO! By tomorrow afternoon Punxatawny Phil will have told us whether we can count on an early spring. I have heard a rumor that he may very well do so.  Maybe. I already know that it is still light at 5:30  in the evening. Spring seems like a real possibility and it is time to pay serious attention to the plant catalogs piling up since before Christmas.

            Everyone has favorite seeds and plants, but this week I will talk about what’s NEW! in the flower garden and next week I’ll talk about what is NEW! in the edible garden.

             Bluestone Perennials is offering a new Achillea (yarrow) named ‘King Edward.’ This unusual yarrow is only six inches tall with pale daisy-like flowers. It makes a spreading groundcover in a sunny site and is suitable for rock gardens. Considering the dry recent summers it is good to know this is heat and drought resistant. 

I was also taken by the tall Astilbe ‘Purple Candles.’ I prefer the taller astilbes and this is three to four feet tall with decidedly purple spikes of bloom and bronzy foliage. It is hardy, likes some shade, is tolerant of a wet site, and does not appeal to deer. It blooms a bit later than most other astilbes which is another benefit. Astilbes are beautiful and easy – at any height and in any color.


Astilbe ‘Purple Candles’

Plant Delights Nursery is offering Brunnera ‘Alexander’s Great’ for the first time this year. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ has become more and more popular because of its silvery leaves, delicate early spring blue flowers and its willingness to bloom in the shade. ‘Alexander’s Great’ is similar but bigger, filling containers and making a dramatic accent in shady borders. A good, humusy soil and adequate water will make this stunner thrive.

Echinaceas, cone flowers, used to be only a purply-pink or white. Now they come in a whole array of colors from deep red ‘Hot Lava” to white ‘Vanilla Cupcake’ with its high center cone. “Aloha’ has soft melony-orange petals around an orange cone, as well as fragrance. It is wonderful that this hardy, drought resistant, deer resistant, butterfly attractor now comes in so many colors and forms.

Heucherella ‘Dayglow Pink’ isn’t really brand new, but I cannot resist including a lovely plant with delicately branched pink flowers held 16 inches above green foliage with dark markings. Heucherellas are a cross between heucheras or coral bells, and tiarella, or foam flower. The flowers owe a lot to their foamy tiarella lineage. They bloom in June and July, in full sun or part shade.


Double TAke Orange Storm Quince courtesy Proven Winners

Quince ‘Scarlet Storm’ is a small shrub, not a perennial, but because it is small, three to four feet tall with an equal spread, and thornless it would work very well in a border providing rich early spring bloom. The double red blossoms resemble a camellia, which I think makes it special. And don’t forget, no thorns.

Annuals are vital to keeping a garden in bloom all season. Perennials have their own bloom season of three to six weeks, but annuals bloom until frost, and you can buy them as starts at the garden center.

I love Renee’s Seeds and this year she has a new nasturtium mix, ‘Aloha Mix’ that gives you a whole range of pinks and yellow blossoms in one seed envelope. I have been planting nasturtiums as a transition between the vegetables in my early Front Garden, and the Daylily Bank. The ‘Aloha Mix’ will echo the shades of many of my daylilies. In addition, the leaves and flowers are both edible, and they attract pollinators.

Renee is also very aware that many people have limited space to garden, but still need to keep their hands in the dirt. She offers numerous plants that do well in containers. Her ‘Junior’ sunflower is a pollen-free, dwarf branching sunflower which makes any large container into a super bouquet. Flower stalks are about two and a half feet tall. On the other hand, if you have room she suggests ‘Sunzilla’ a sunflower variety that can grow to 16 feet. Have you always longed to grow a giant plant?

It always pays to look at the All-America Seed Selections. All-America Selections “is an independent, non-profit organization that tests new varieties then introduces only the best garden performers as AAS Winners.” These flowers and vegetables have been tested all over the country for dependability over the widest area. Last year I bought Angelonia starts. This is a wonderful annual in shades of rich plum and lavender as well as white. They are sometimes called summer snapdragons, and that is a fair description of the many small flowers on one to two foot stems. This year AAS has named Angelonia Serenita Pink a national winner. It is even drought tolerant. You are sure to find the seeds or starts at garden centers.

It seems there is always a new petunia every year. AAS is offering ‘African Sunset’ a brilliant orange color that I can well imagine as the sky darkens over the veldt. This is a self cleaning plant which means no dead-heading. A plant that does not need deadheading is perfect for a hanging planter, as well as in the border. I had to laugh; the AAS website says this is a great plant if orange is one of your school colors. Any Princetonias in your family?

Next week I’ll talk about new edibles.

 Between the Rows   February 1, 2014

Spring Planted Bulbs for Summer Bloom

Gloriosa 'Rothschildiana' courtesy of Brent and Beck's Bulbs

The last planting season of the year is late fall when gardeners are racing to get in all the crocus, daffodil, scilla, snowdrop and tulip bulbs in the ground so they can look forward to an early spring full of color. But fall is not the only bulb planting season. There is a whole array of bulbs that need to be planted in the spring to bloom gloriously and often exotically in the summer.

Many summer blooming bulbs are native to tropical places that have a long hot growing season. Many will be happy in a container, while others are more commonly grown in the ground, but for the most part they are not winter hardy in our climate and cannot overwinter outside.

I have just ordered a Gloriosa ‘Rothschildiana’ from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. Sometimes called a climbing lily, this unusual lily will grow to a height of about six feet and its tendrils need some kind of trellis or support to latch on to. The crimson flower itself has strongly reflexed slim petals, curving back from a green center with long graceful ‘eyelash’ pistils and stamens. Some gardeners have described this vining plant as looking as if it is covered with butterflies when it is in bloom mid to late summer.

Rothschildiana can be grown in a container or in well drained soil. It needs full sun, and since it is a tropical plant it is wise to place it where it will not only get bright sunlight, but where heat will collect and it will be protected from wind. The vital thing to remember with any container planting is that it must be kept watered, probably every single day, and they must get regular fertilization, often every other week with a half strength solution.

Crocosmia, also known as montbretia or sword lily grows from corms that are native to South Africa. Lucifer is the variety most seen in our area because it is hardy to zone 5 or minus 10 degrees. However, in zone 5 it should be heavily mulched for the winter. Lucifer is a dramatic plant with its strappy, iris-like foliage, and brilliant scarlet flowers on two to three foot arching stems. They are not only stunning in the garden, they work well as cut flowers and have a long life in a vase. New corms may take two years to bloom, but a large clump is a magnificent sight. It is a plant that gets lots of attention on the Bridge of Flowers.

Crocosmia 'Lucifer'

Crocosmia and the Gloriosa lily are both pest resistant. Rodents will not turn these bulbs and corms into lunch.

I love Oriental lilies with their recurved petals, but all lilies are beautiful. Gaining in popularity are what some are calling pot lilies, compact plants that do well in a container. B&D Lilies offer several of these smaller lilies including After Eight, a fragrant garnet-red lily with white banding that resembles some of the Stargazer lilies. It only grows to about 18 inches tall. B&D recommends at least a gallon potting soil for each bulb and warns that potting soils with fertilizer included must be avoided. Too much nitrogen will not help lilies and can hinder blooming. They also recommend using a rose fertilizer during the growing season, which is to say a fertilizer that has more phosphorous than nitrogen or potassium.

Rodolpha is pure white lily, similar to the magnificent Casa Blanca, but it will only grow to two feet, so it will be happy in a container, or in the front of a garden border.

Lilies love the sun, but they are hardy to zone 4 so they have no trouble coming through our winters. Even here in Heath.

Caladium 'White Queen' courtesy of Brent and Becky's Bulbs

Of course not all bulbs or corms or tubers produce beautiful flowers. Caladiums are big showy foliage plants that like the shade. Caladium foliage is prized because of its unusual colors and patterns. Moonlight is nearly white, lighting up a shady spot. White Queen is equally pale but vividly veined in red. Candididum Sr. has white leaves but the veins are green. Some foliage is wine red with dark green margins, some is green splotched with red. Not many plants can boast of foliage that comes in a full range of white, green, red and pink. A selection of cultivars will be available at local garden centers in the spring, but catalogs like Brent and Becky’s Bulbs will give a larger selection of bulbs that you can start early indoors.

I was interested that although caladiums like cool shade, they need warm soil to begin growing. Gardeners are advised to start them indoors in small pots that can be kept on a heat mat.

Caladiums do well in containers by themselves, or in a mixed planting with other annuals or perennials. They are also useful in cut flower arrangements, their handsome foliage showing off blooms to best advantage.

There are other familiar summer blooming bulbs and tubers. The Swan Island Dahlias catalog give a hint of the size and variety of dahlias. There are dwarf plants and small blossoms and large plants that will need staking to support stems that carry many blossoms. Dahlias are wonderful because the more they are cut for bouquets, the more they will bloom. Sun and well drained soil are the main requirements. Like lilies, dahlias do not like fertilizer with a lot of nitrogen.

Summer blooming bulbs can add color to your sunny garden and to your shade garden. The only difficulty is making choices among the hundreds of cultivars available.

Between the Rows  January 21, 2012

New Goals For the New Year

“What news? What news?” was often the cry when E. F. Benson’s delightfully pretentious Lucia met her neighbor Georgie coming across the Riseholm village green in “Queen Lucia,” the first of several books about the life in an English village before WWII.

When I return from Saturday morning rounds in my own rural village my husband always wants to know what news I bring home.

“What’s new?” is our inevitable query of neighbors at local gatherings.

The desire to be in the know, aware of the latest news and rumors, trends and fashions seems to be built into our genes. Right now, as we stand at the cusp of a new year, we gardeners are already being bombarded with catalogs promising the newest horticultural offerings, latest achievements in hybridizing and the dandiest new gadgets.

I’ve been doing a tiny survey to find out if any of the people I know make new year’s resolutions anymore. No one I asked admitted to doing such a thing, but several said they set themselves goals for the year, for their business, in their domestic life, and their social life. Some said they liked getting close to a goal – and then setting a new stretch goal. I think many gardeners will greet the new year with one or two new goals, and maybe even stretch a little further.

When I opened my Johnny’s catalog I was instantly launched into a suggested goal, “Create a season-long planting program (to) ensure a continuous supply, make efficient use of space and effectively schedule planting times.” That is a noble goal and one I set myself every year, but rarely manage to carry out to any great degree. This is a new year, however, and it is a goal I can commit to. Once again.

With all the talk about the eating local trend, and growing your own vegetables, even if you don’t own a piece of land, those with a deck might set a goal of learning to grow vegetables in containers. Cherry tomatoes are easy to grow in containers, and many lettuces can be harvested in the baby stage after only about 30 days. Renee’s Garden offers a new variety of zucchini that is suitable for container growing. Growing herbs in containers will save cooks a lot of money over the summer and fall. How much do you spend on parsley alone every season?

Every catalog will tout their new varieties. Johnny’s has a whole new vegetable for farmers that they are calling “Flower Sprouts,”  a cross between Brussels sprouts and kale. The mildly flavored rosette-like sprouts the color of Red Russian kale grow on stalks like Brussels sprouts. I hope some of the local farms grow will grow this.

Some catalogs like the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) are offering newly available old varieties. Many hybrids are suitable for the home gardener because they have been bred for disease resistance, but many are also bred to ripen all at once and be less fragile, both qualities that are important for commercial growers whose crops have to be up to the rigors of long distance transportation, but not are not as concerned with flavor.

Mantilia from SSE is a new old butterhead that has won taste testing competitions and is “mild, tender and sweet.”  I love butterhead lettuces.

Heirloom seeds also help keep the gene pool robust and abundantly diverse. We never know what stresses or changing conditions will arise, affecting plant growth and thus our food supply. Scientists cannot make useful hybrids if they don’t have a large healthy gene pool at their disposal.

Bluestone Perennials touts their new use of biodegradable pots on their catalog cover, along with 120 new items. Their new pots are made of coir, coconut husk fibers. These fibrous pots allow for better air exchange which fosters good root growth. Since these pots go directly into the soil, there is no transplant shock. Actually, these coir pots appeared last year and I can attest to the benefits.

Bluestone has many familiar and unusual flowers on offer. I remember when Echinacea, coneflower, came in a dusky pink or white, but now there are pinks, gold orange and green; some, like ‘Milkshake,’ have large shaggy centers and recurved petals.

Then there are always new projects. Sometimes that is a planting project like a blueberry patch. Sometimes it is a new structure from a trellis to hold cukes or melons, and sometimes a garden shed. My garden shed has changed my life. Now my tools and supplies are organized and accessible.

We are planning a new fence around the vegetable garden which includes a small raspberry and black raspberry patch. This past year I had as much trouble from rabbits as from deer, but we hope a new fence around the whole area will solve the problem. I am even hoping for a nice gate.

As the year turns, and you turn to your garden catalogs, what new things do you hope for in 2012?  New plants? A new planting bed – ornamental or vegetal? Do you need a new tool – or a new tool sharpener? What new project are you considering?

Whatever new directions you take in your garden this year I wish you every success, and every pleasure. ###

Between the Rows  December 31, 2011

Is It Spring?

I got my first 2011 catalog today! Totally Tomatoes offers 34 (count ’em) pages of tomato varieties – and then we begin on the peppers. Sixteen pages of peppers, from sweet to hot, big and small, round and curly, then on to a couple of pages of cukes and other veggies, plus an array of tomato growing and preserving equipment.  Cook books, too.

Have your gotten your first catalog yet?

Rose Season Begins


Applejack was one of the first roses we planted at the End of the Road. It is the first rose to greet people as they come up to the Annual Rose Viewing, and the last to leave its image in their rear view mirrors.

Applejack is one of Griffith Bucks hybrids. Buck attended Iowa State University after serving in WWII and went on to teach there, and hybridize roses that were hardy and disease resistant. Last summer I added another Buck rose.

Carefree Beauty

Carefree Beauty produced huge blooms, even though the plant stayed quite small. I can’t wait to see what it will do this year. Carefree Beauty is also an EarthKind rose which means it has been tested to be hardy and disease resistant, the kind of rose that does not need fussing, spraying or dusting with poison.

This morning I ordered two more Buck roses from Chamblee Rose Nursery.

Hawkeye Belle is a lovely pale pink that will become a fairly large shrub with large blooms. It is a repeat bloomer.  It is hardy in Zone 4 and is described as being fragrant. One of its parents is the Queen Elizabeth rose which makes me very happy. I love Queen Elizabeth, but she never lasts very long on my hill. Too tender.

Quietness is said to be extremely fragrant, is a repeat bloomer, and about the same size as Hawkeye Belle. It is hardy to Zone 5.

I have other rose nurseries listed in the links column. I will buy a couple of other roses, but so far I haven’t decided which.  They will have to be hardy and disease resistant, that much I know.  The rose season has begun.

Achillea for Me-a

Achillea "The Pearl"

I’m starting to make up my list of Plants to Buy for the spring, and I got stopped right at the first page of the Bluestone Perennials catalog. A is for Achillea or yarrow. I already have “The Pearl” in my garden and I love it. It is pretty in the garden and useful in bouquets.  I have another pink yarrow, but I don’t know the name.

When I first started gardening I was only familiar with the dense deep sulphur yellow Coronation Gold yarrow that is useful in dried arrangements, and the gentler yellow Moonshine. Now Bluestone shows 13 varieties, shades of pink, red, yellow, and white. Coronation Gold and Moonshine are still there, but I think I will go for Paprika.

Achillea "Paprika"

I saw this achillea in a friend’s garden and I knew on the spot that I had to add this. I love the brilliant color, so different from other colors in my garden.  Achilleas are hardy and dependable plants, requiring little care. Just the kind of plant I like!

And Bluestone is a dependable catalong nursery. And no, I didn’t get paid to say that. I’ve bought perennials from Bluestone for years. They sell three smaller plants for little more than some nurseries charge for one. For instance, I can order 3 Paprikas for $14.95, while a single plant at White Flower Farm costs $11.95. I can happily wait for an extra season for the plant to gain that generous size.

The Old is New

Between the concern about GMO seeds and a difficult economy, gardeners are more and more interested in seed saving. The Seed Savers Exchange has been around for years and is now celebrating 35 years of helping people find and continue growing heirloom, open pollinated seed for hundreds of vegetables and flowers

Kent and Diane Ott Whealy founded the SSE and you needed to be a member to get seeds (and they were free) from the owner of the seed. I knew that the Whealy’s were eventually able to start growing heirloom vegetables and flowers for seed, but I was surprised by the colorful, glossy catalog that arrived in my mailbox – so different from the plain listing with descriptions of plants I got many years ago.

You can now order from this beautiful catalog with items like Long Island Cheese squash for pies, Rat Tail radishes (you don’t eat the roots), Opalka paste tomatoes, as well as Snail Flowers grown by Thomas Jefferson. Hundreds more are in the catalog and online at the Seed Savers Exchange website.

If you become a member you will get a 10% discount on catalog seeds, a quarterly magazine and many other benefits.

The Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company was the brainchild of 17 year old Jere Gettle. This company is celebrating its first dozen years with a gorgeous catalog with heirloom seeds from all parts of the world. There are Russian tomatoes like Black Prince from Irtusk, an Australian Butter squash, and melons from America, Asia, Europe and Africa.  It’s like taking a trip around the world in vegetables.

Baker Creek offers flowers, too, Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate, Sweet Williams, and Purple Passion cuphea! So much love in the garden.

This is a company that has grown to include a seed store in Petaluma, California, festivals, and blogs. Logon to the Baker Creek website for information about all their projects.

Both companies offer books, and other items.  Here it is, not even Christmas, and the gifts of catalogs and dreams are already arriving.