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U is for Umbelliferae

Vegetable Literacy by Madison

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

U is for Umbelliferae. Umbelliferae is the family of plants that includes carrots, cilantro/coriander/ dill,  lovage, parsley, parsnips and Queen Anne’s Lace. As well as a few others. I hadn’t thought about the range of this family until I read Vegetable Literacy, a wonderfully informative horticultural book – and cook book filled with delicious recipes.

The name Umbelliferae refers to the type of flower form – umbel.

queen-annes-lace-7-18.jpg (600×366)

I wrote about Queen Anne’s Lace here  and identified it as Daucus carota, or wild carrot. You would understand the wild carrot part if you ever sniffed a Queen Anne’s Lace root. Daucus is a genus within the larger umbelliferae kingdom. The taxonomy rules go from Kindgdom, to Phylum to Class to Series to Family to Genus to Species. There are about 3,700 species in the  Umbelliferae Kingdom.

Dill

Dill

You can see the similarity between the Queen Anne’s Lace Flower and this dill flower starting to go to seed.

To see who else is trying to post every day on the A to Z Challenge click here.

How to Start Seeds Indoors

Seed starting supplies

Seed starting supplies

It is easy and fun to start seeds indoors. Seeds are just magical – tiny bits of stuff that can turn into a delicious fruit or vegetable or gorgeous flower with only the help of a little soil, sun and rain. That magic is available to us all. All of us can plant seeds, and wave our magic wands to keep ourselves busy while we watch the magic show produced by Mother Earth, Father Sun and Sister Rain.

The first thing we need to know is the likely date of the last frost. We used to think this date was Memorial Day, but weather is unpredictable. These days we might calculate an earlier date.

I plant most of my seeds directly in the garden. Some vegetables are very hardy and can be planted in April. Lettuce is a cool weather crop that can be planted as soon as soil can be worked. Lettuce loves temperatures of about 60 degrees.

One of the most dependable ways to determine when you can plant outdoors is to test the temperature of the soil, not only the temperature of the air. If soil temperature is 45 degrees lettuces will germinate and grow. The Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog lists the most optimum soil temperatures for the different crops. A soil thermometer costs approximately $13.

However, many gardeners like to start seeds indoors. This doesn’t require much work or equipment. Starting your own herbs, tomatoes and peppers, or cosmos and zinnias can give you a headstart on the season, lots of plants, and some fun. Seeds can usually be started indoors between four to six weeks before you expect to plant them outdoors. By mid-May you can plant nearly everything outdoors, especially if you use row covers for the most tender.

To begin you need containers for sterile soilless seed starting mix. This can be the plastic foam containers that various food products come in if they will hold a couple of inches of seed starting mix. They would need to have drainage holes put in the bottom. You can also make pots out of recycled newspapers.  I do not recommend egg cartons or egg shells because as cute as they might be, they do not hold enough soil to stay moist very long. Seeds need constant moisture to germinate.

For a small investment you can buy a plastic tray and plastic cell flats or peat pots. This arrangement will allow you to water your seeds from below which is the easiest and best way.

If you buy and use small peat pots keep them in a tray and make sure you use enough water to soak the peat pots otherwise the pot itself will wick water away from the seed. Seedlings started in peat pots will not need transplanting. The whole pot just gets put in the ground – after you have removed all the extra seedlings, leaving only one.

You can mix your own seed starting mix. You’ll need one third, sphagnum peat moss, one third finished compost, and one third vermiculite. A light mix makes it easier for seeds to grow. Do not use garden soil.

Dampen your planting mix. I use large cell flats so that I do not have to transplant seedlings twice. I fill each cell with damp mix, put two or three seeds in each cell and cover lightly with more mix. I keep my flats in a tray and put water in the tray every day which will be absorbed by osmosis into the cells. You want the soil mix to be consistently damp, not waterlogged or you may get damping off fungus which will kill your seedlings.

You can also buy a clear plastic cover for your tray. This will make a little greenhouse, slow down evaporation and warm the planting mix. When the seeds begin to germinate prop the cover up slightly so there is some air circulation. Once the seedling is fully germinated remove the cover.

Different seeds have different germination schedules. Seed packets usually tell you how long you’ll have to wait to see the emergence of a tiny shoot. Nowadays, you can buy electric heated seed starting mats, which will help germination, but these are not vital. If you do use a heat mat, the flats should be removed from the mat once the seedling has germinated.

Seedlings in front of a Heath window

Seedlings in front of a Heath window

Seedlings also need light. You can put your flats in front of a sunny window. Once the seeds have germinated you will need to keep turning the flats because the seedlings will always be leaning toward the sun.

You can also use grow lights. I use both methods because the little grow light I inherited will only accommodate a few flats.

Your carefully tended seedlings can grow happily in this nursery for four to six weeks, depending on the crop. When there is no danger of frost prepare them for planting.

You can’t take your seedlings directly out of the house and plant them outside. They need to be hardened off. Spring breezes and direct sun are too much for the tender seedlings to tolerate. Every day, for a week or two, bring them outdoors in a protected spot for a while, increasing the time a little more each day.

If you want to transplant your hardened off seedlings into the soil as soon as possible, you can use row covers set over wire hoops. These permeable lightweight covers capture warmth and protect plants from wind and light frost. They will also protect plants from some pests.

Spring weather is exciting. Gardeners need to temper their excitement. Our weather is so unpredictable these days that it is hard to think of a schedule for seed starting and transplanting. The gardener needs to consider the needs of the particular plant and his particular site and climate.

Happy planting.

Between the Rows   March 19, 2016

 

 

 

Root Cellars and Root Vegetables

Root vegetables

Root vegetables at Green Fields Coop

Our Thanksgiving table will include  root vegetables like Yukon Gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, beets, parsnips and carrots.

Even the Pilgrims might have had some of these vegetables at the first Thanksgiving. Root vegetables were an important part of the food supply in Europe before canning and freezing were available. Root vegetables were harvested in the fall and stored for winter use without preserving them in some way, like pickling or drying.

When I was a child living on a Vermont farm I remember the bins filled with sand and carrots in the basement. There was also a root cellar dug into a hill beyond the house for potatoes. Added to my aunt’s canning, producing scores of jars of vegetables and fruit, she and my uncle managed to provide their family with a good measure of their family’s diet.

I even kept some carrots and beets in the basement of our Heath house in our early days there. However, a root cellar required more management skills and time than I possessed.  Last year the Heath Agricultural Society held a well attended Cellars and Cave tour, giving visitors from across the valley a look at what is entailed in operating a root cellar. Some cellars were used for vegetables, some for cheese, and some for homemade hard cider.

The cellars varied in complexity from what was essentially a large insulated closet in the garage for storing apples, onions and potatoes, to a more elaborate walled off corner of a basement that included a window and a flexible duct that made it possible to adjust airflow and temperature. Setting up a site with fairly consistent or adjustable chill and humidity is essential for a root cellar.

Those who are planning to try and keep vegetables and fruit like apples through even a part of the winter must begin by choosing vegetable varieties and apples that are most amenable to storage. For example, the McIntosh apple harvest is usually over in October, but the apples will only keep well through December. Other apples like the old New England Baldwin apple and newer varieties like Fuji will keep through the winter. Many of the old winter keepers are now more available than they were in the recent past.    The same is true for vegetables. Kennebec and Katahdin are among the list of good potatoes for storage, as Danvers and Scarlet Keeper are good storage carrots. Most catalogs will tell you which particular varieties will store well into the winter.

Root Cellaring: The Simple No-Processing Way to Store Fruits and Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Buble is a comprehensive book for those who are interested in storing some of their winter harvest. They give information about choosing specific crops, storage requirements, and the many ways of building a root cellar. My copy dates back to 1979, not long before we set up our first bins. Root Cellaring is still available and still a functional tool.

Most of us are happy to have a summer garden, enjoying freshly picked lettuce and tomatoes, as well as green beans, summer squash and peas of many varieties. Others of us will enjoy the challenge and satisfaction of setting up a root cellar, and eating our own root crops or other keepers like cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

I spoke to Dave Jackson at the 100 acre Enterprise Farm in Whately about how he keeps root crops. He says he uses a large walk in cooler. During the good weather the cooler keeps his summer vegetables fresh before they are packed up into CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares. In the winter he uses the cooler for vegetable storage, getting as much value as possible out of the farm’s infrastructure. When I was the Buckland Librarian I bought apples from the Scott Orchard, saw their enormous cooling room and got my first understanding of the way orchardists handle their harvest. Vegetable farmers have the same need.

Jackson agreed that local consumers are looking for more local food over a longer season. He said local farmers have found a variety of ways of keeping root crops available, from the basic old-fashioned root cellar to cooling rooms and solar power. All cold storage options need to keep a consistent cold temperature, usually between 36 to 45 degrees, depending on the crop.

Jackson also gave me a tip, in case I ever take up root cellaring again. He said apples should never be stored with carrots. I knew that apples produce ethylene gas that might cause other fruits to ripen more quickly, but I did not know that the ethylene gas might change the flavor of other fruits – or vegetables. I guess that is why our refrigerator produce drawers are marked to keep fruits and vegetables separate.

Greenfield’s farmer’s market used to be in business from May through October. Happily for us, local farmers have worked to meet our desire for more local food over a longer season. I attended the first Wintermarket in February of 2008. At this year’s second winter farmer’s market  I bought squash, parsnips, beets and carrots  and look forward to the next markets in December, January, February and March!

I see the growth of farmer’s markets, CSA farms, and roadside stands giving us a growing and stronger local food security. That is something to be thankful for.

Between the Rows   November 28, 2015

Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier

Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier

Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of all Time by Craig LeHoullier

Tomatoes are the most popular fruit in the world. First grown by the Aztecs and Incas around 700 AD, they spread to Europe in the late 16th century and are now grown all around the world.

There aren’t too many tomatoes used in dishes at your local Chinese restaurant, so it may come as a surprise that China grows and consumes more tomatoes than any other country. Still it is not so surprising when you consider that China is home to at least 18% of the world’s population. India with 17% of the world’s population runs a close second in tomato consumption, while the United States with only about 4% of the world’s population, is third on the list by eating 11 million metric tonnes of tomatoes to China’s 34 million metric tonnes. That is a lot of tomatoes! Those population percentages suggest a lot about what changes are likely over the next decades, not only with tomatoes.

In our country the vast amount of tomatoes are grown in California and Florida which means many of these tomatoes are grown to withstand hundreds and even thousands of miles of shipping. Some are grown to ripen all at once to make harvesting more efficient for food companies like Heinz and companies that can tomatoes in various forms. And yet we all long for flavorful sun ripened tomatoes to eat off the vine on a summer afternoon – which means that a lot of us grow tomatoes in the backyard. Fortunately, with the rise of local farms and farmer’s markets, it is easier to get those fresh grown tomatoes even if we don’t have yards.

Craig LeHoullier, tomato aficionado extraordinaire, has grown over 1,200 tomato varieties over 30 years and has now written Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time (Storey Publishing $19.95). This is a book about the history of tomatoes, and the delights of heirloom tomatoes. He does admit “To be fair, with the exception of Moreton, Supersteak, Early Cascade, Big Girl and Ultra Sweet, the hybrids did very well in terms of yield and flavor. However none of the hybrids were superior to the best of the open-pollinated varieties – Nepal, Brandywine, Anna Russian, and Polish, to name but a few of the superb heirlooms that I tested.”

Epic Tomatoes is just chock-full of amazing historical facts including the famous public tomato consumption event staged by Robert Gibbon Johnson, a leading citizen of Salem, New Jersey in 1820. Because they are members of the nightshade family tomatoes were generally considered poisonous at that time, so hundreds of people came from miles around to witness this startling event. “The story goes that when Johnson bit into a tomato some onlookers fainted, and with Johnson suffering no ill effects, the tomato industry in America began.”  However tomatoes did not really become popular until after the Civil War.

History is fascinating, but LeHoullier goes on to give information about his favorite varieties which include Tiger Tom, Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom, the now more familiar Brandywine and the encouraging Mortgage Lifter. The book would be fun to read if only for the names of these historic and delicious tomatoes: Kellogg’s Breakfast, Stump of the World, Rosella Purple, Mexico Midget, Giant Syrian, Black from Tula, Green Zebra, Black Prince, Hugh’s German Johnson, and Gregori’s Altai.

All this information is as delicious as a sun warmed Cherokee Purple, one of my own favorites, but LeHoullier has practical advice and instruction to offer new and experienced gardeners. When do you plant seeds indoors? What’s the best planting mix? There is full information about caring for seedlings indoors and when to plant them outdoors. He also gives advice on buying transplants and even the new grafted transplants. He thinks the jury is still out on the benefits of grafting, but that the idea is promising.

Cat faced tomato

Cat Face afflicted tomato – Now I know what cat face looks like

Chapter 9: Troubleshooting Diseases , Pests and Other Problems was particularly fascinating and useful. Clear photographs make it easy to identify the problems that can occur, with causes, and control. I had heard the term cat-face but never knew what it meant. Now I do. Cat-face causes brown corky folds at the blossom end of a tomato that usually afflicts beefsteak tomato varieties. I have grown cat-faced tomatoes.

It is easier to find heirloom tomato seeds, and even transplants, than it used to be. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com) offers dozens of varieties from green, to yellow, pink, red and purple as well as paste tomatoes, cherry and plum. Local garden centers also offer an array of these heirloom seedlings.  How to choose from so many? LeHoullier provides a list of 250 recommendations, across the various spectrums, listing size, season and flavor.

In spite of the discouraging snow cover around our house, it is time to start gardening. It is time to start planting tomato seeds indoors. It is time to start visualizing fresh picked tomatoes eaten on the way from the garden to the house. With juice running down your arm. LeHoullier has definitely put me in the mood.

I do not expect to have a vegetable garden this year, but I was given a couple of fabric Smart Pots to test, and I plan to Smart Pot up some small heirloom tomatoes. Expect to hear more about Smart Pots, and my heirloom tomato adventures.

Between the Rows   April 11, 2015

A Plethora of Peas – From Snaps to Sweet

Peas

Peas

There are peas that need to be shelled, peas that only need to be snapped, peas named snow, and sweet peas that can be smelled. There are pea plants that are small, and many that are tall. There is a pea for every taste, and every eye and nose. Peas are one of the first vegetables that can be planted in the spring. What more could one ask of a humble legume?

All peas prefer a fairly neutral soil with a pH of 6-7.5.  If your soil is more acid give it a helping of lime or wood ash before planting. Peas love cold weather and once germinated can even survive a light kiss of frost. There is a tradition of planting peas on St. Patrick’s day, but in our region I think planting them a month later is more realistic. Still it is good to remember that peas like the cold and can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked.

Most of the peas that end up on our dinner plate have to be shelled. Laxton’s Progress No 9, so named because of its (often) 9 peas in the pod, is an old variety with  short, hardy and productive vines. Tall Telephone peas are another old variety, but these are tall, obviously, and have been popular ever since they were introduced in 1881. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds specializes in tasty old varieties of peas – and every other kind of vegetable.

Strike is a new variety that can be harvested in only 49 days. The two foot vines can be grown with or without support. Maxigolt is another newer variety, with tall vines ready for harvest in 62 days. It is rated as having excellent flavor.

I like fresh shelling peas, but I love sugar snaps. I rarely get to cook these edible podded peas because I snack on them while I am working in the garden, or I can’t resist eating them on the walk from the garden to the house. If I am lucky I have a few to throw in the salad.

Even without the sugar in its name, the edible podded Snap Pea is sweet and has been called the most flavorful snap pea. The tall vines need a support and ripen in 62 days, bearing over a long period. It handles warm weather better than other peas.  Sugar Daddy is a stringless open-pollinated sugar snap with 30 inch vines and good disease resistance. High Mowing Seeds up in Vermont offers these peas and others.

Snow peas, also called Chinese pea pods because they are so familiar in Chinese cooking, have flat pods with tiny peas inside. I have grown Oregon Giant snow peas, but this year I am intrigued by Golden Sweet snow peas. They need a trellis and produce yellow pea pods. I always like peas and beans that are not green. So much easier to see when picking. Snow peas can be eaten raw or cooked quickly in a stir fry.

I was fascinated by the sidebar box in Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog that promotes their new Petite Snap-Greens. These are best harvested at 6-8 inches for their early edible tendrils to be used as a garnish, but they can be grown to full maturity.

More than a garnish are peas like Dwarf Grey Sugar Pea which can be grown as a micro-green. The pea shoots can be harvested after only 10 days for your salad.  Feisty is a type of shell pea that produces lots of tendrils and few leaves. The tendrils are used as garnishes.

Shell, sugar and snow peas are all delicious, and flowering sweet peas are beautiful and fragrant. Renee’s Garden Seeds specializes in a large array of sweet peas, varying in depth of color, in intensity of fragrance and in bloom season.

Sweet peas have been hybridized for nearly two centuries, and in many cases some of the fragrance has been lost. Renee lists Original Cupani, with its deep maroon and lavender blossoms as one of the earliest and most fragrant varieties, as is Painted Lady in shades of red and pink. Jewels of Albion with blossoms in shades of blue and mauve and Queen of Night with flowers in a bouquet of shades of pink, blue and maroon are also particularly fragrant. Blue Celeste has large frilly blossoms of pastel blue and also has good fragrance.

Most sweet peas have tall vines and need a trellis for support, as well as rich well drained soil. Renee recommends nicking each seed with a nail clipper to make it easier for the seed to absorb water and begin to germinate. What peas will you be planting this spring?

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Winter Farmer's Market

Winter Farmer’s Market

Next Saturday, March 7 is the final Winter Farmer’s Market of the season. After that its spring. Kind of. And we’ll soon be shopping at the  regular Farmer’s Market.

Between the Rows   February 21, 2015

Greenfield’s Winter Fare – February 21, 2015

Winter Farmers Market

Winter Farmers Market

Greenfield’s Winter Fare is more than a Farmer’s Market. Last month I attended the first  Winter Farmers Market of the year, held at the Greenfield Middle School. I came home with two heavy bags full of apples, winter squash, watermelon radish, golden beets, bread and frozen ground lamb.  And wonderful bread from El Jardin bakery.  Walking into that space was like walking into Ali Baba’s cave full of jewels. A little brighter, but with so much wealth spread out before us – and all local. Greenfield’s Winter Fare is more.

On Saturday, February 21 I will be at the 8th Annual Greenfield Winter Fare which started the whole Winter Farmers Market project rolling. Now Winter Fare is more than the Market, although the vendors will be there in force with vegetables, meat, fruit, honey, cheese and bread, etcetera. There will be the Soup Cafe which opens at 11 am and workshops – and visiting  because everyone will be there. At 1 pm there will be a Barter Fair led by the Valley Food Swap, swapping home-grown or home-made food.

Workshops:

10 am  – Secrets of Winter Garden by Daniel Botkin of Laughing Dog Farm

11 am  – Seven Class Culinary Herbs: Harvest, Cultivation and Medicinal Use with Jade Alicandro Mace of Milk & Honey Herbs

Noon – Simple Dairy Ferments, with Aaron Falbel, fermentation enthusiast

For other events during the week click here.

It seems to me that the success of Greenfield’s Winter Fare and the Farmer’s Markets is one measure of our community’s interest in good food, and the health of our environment. In the last few years the number of CSA  (Community Supported Agriculture) farms and other small farms has grown as has the number of farmstands and farmers markets. The Community Development Corp has a busy food processing kitchen available to entrepreneurs to make their products.   CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)  is helping farmers with business training and marketing; and Greenfield Community College has instituted a course in Farm and Food Systems. That is a rich bouquet of services to farmers, and those who enjoy good, healthy food.

Will you be shopping at this year’s Winter Fare?  I will.

Winter Fare 2013

Winter Fare 2013

Watermelon or Beauty Heart Radish- beautiful either way

Beauty Heart or Watermelon radish

Beauty Heart Radish

Watermelon or Beauty Heart radish? At the farmer’s market on Saturday I  bought Watermelon radish. However, I first met this radish in China where the Chinese name was translated as Beauty Heart, so much prettier than Red Meat Radish which is the way it is sold by some seed companies. I love Beauty Heart, but I can easily live with Watermelon Radish.  When my Chinese colleagues first served me this radish in a pickled salad I insisted it must be a turnip and that we had run into a translating problem. I was wrong. This radish is a type of daikon radish (which doesn’t look like a cherry belle radish either), but all are members of the brassica family.

Beauty Heart or Watermelon radishes range in size from golf ball to baseball size and have a mild flavor. The Chinese do a lot of pickling and my favorites were pickled lotus root, garlic and, of course, Beauty Heart radish.

A simple pickling recipe:

eniugh thinly sliced beauty heart radish that can be covered by

1 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
pinch of red pepper flakes.
Place in a jar and refrigerate for a couple of days and enjoy.

 

 

What’s New for 2015

Grafted TomTato from Terratorial Seeds

Grafted TomTato from Terratorial Seeds

What’s new for 2015? In just five days we’ll have entered a new year where unimagined things may happen. How much of 2014 did you forsee on January 1, 2014? I’ll bet lots of the unimagined entered your life, and I hope that much was positive and joyful.

You know that there will be many banners of NEW in the nursery and seed catalogs that are starting to fill our mailboxes. Perhaps the most unimagined new plant I have seen – so far – is the Ketchup ‘n Fries TomTato being offered by the Territorial Seed Company. I had just gotten used to the idea of grafted tomatoes that promise to give us delicious tomatoes earlier in the season, but now there is a grafted TomTato. Territorial says, “Extensive trials and careful selection of both the tomato scion and potato rootstock cultivars were required to achieve properly staggered maturity. This enables the plant to focus its energy first on yielding hundreds of sweet, tangy, and early glistening red cherry tomatoes, before maturing up to 4 ½ pounds of fine, thin-skinned, all-purpose white potatoes in the late season.”  Wow!

I never imagined such a thing as a TomTato, but you can be sure that I want to try it. That is the joy of gardening. All kinds of experiments, including the weird and wonderful, can be tried with very little investment.

Other vegetable catalogs will have new varieties. Johnny’s Selected Seeds is offering a new carrot, Nutri-red. These coral-red carrots “are best cooked to deepen the color and improve the texture.” It is not often that cooking deepens the color of carrots. Johnny says that the strong carrot flavor makes it excellent for stews.

Renee’s Garden Seeds also has a new carrot. This one, Purple Sun, is a rich purple color, but a sweet flavor. It will probably fade a bit when cooked, but it is also good eaten raw.

Renee has paid a lot of attention to gardeners who have limited space. One of her new window box tomatoes is Litt’l Bites Cherry that produces early cascades of fruit on plants just 20 inches wide and 12 inches tall.

Botanical Interests has its own new carrot, Atomic Red. “When you steam, roast, or stir-fry them, the contrast between the brilliant, deep red outer layer and orange core intensifies.”

Botanical Interests is also offering a number of seeds on seed tapes. For example there is a packet of three lettuces, Waldman’s Green, Little Gem Romaine and Tom Thumb butterhead, on three 6-foot seed tapes. These cost more, but if you don’t like working with tiny seeds this might work very happily for you.

Even the Seed Savers Exchange whose mission is preserving old varieties of vegetables and flowers has NEW offerings for 2015. I liked the Holmes’ Royal Red radishes. These were introduced in 1899 but are now very rare and will only be sold while the limited supplies last. This radish has a beautiful color, shape and delicious flavor. Shop quick for this one.

While it is not a flower bunny tails grass is a fun ornamental annual that Seed Savers is selling. This low growing grass with its soft beige seed heads is pretty in the garden and also useful in flower arrangements. Sometimes it will self seed, but it is not invasive.

Needless to say there are new flowers, too. The brilliantly colored osteospermum Blue Eyed Beauty is a showstopper. I became aware of the osteospermum family  because they are used generously on the Bridge of Flowers in a range of colors. They bloom all season long and are a great front of the border plant.

Akila Daisy White is an osteospermum in a very different mood. It is a serene white around a small pale yellow eye. You may not find seeds for these plants, but osteospermums are easy to find at garden centers.

The National Garden Bureau has named this the Year of the Coleus. The coleus has become more and more popular as people become more interested in foliage in the garden. Nowadays when you go to the garden center in the spring you will find a large array of these plants with colors ranging from lime green to deep burgundy red. Marquee Box Office Bronze is a new shade this spring, a deep rich bronze. Lime Sprite, another new introduction, has that lime green border around a burgundy heart. So many plants require sun, but coleus is happy to have shade.

Burpee Seed’s new nasturtium is a 100 year old variety renamed Phoenix. The unusual split petals are in shades of glowing red-orange. Like other nasturtiums they are edible and cheerful in the front of the border.

Another larger Burpee nasturtium, Summer Gown, is perfect for containers and hanging baskets with its busy growth and deep burgundy/purple blossoms that shade more blue over the course of the summer.

High Mowing Organic Seeds has a new mix of one of my favorite flowers – zinnias. County Fair Blend mix has warm tones of coral-peach, gold, and scarlet blossoms. They will produce more flowers as you cut them for bouquets. Disease resistant.  Zinnias make great cut flowers over a long season.

It’s fun to try something new every year. Something new in the garden is sure to bring new beauty or new flavor into your life.

Be ready for the unimagined.

Between the Rows   December 27, 2014

 

Last Minute Trio of Gift Books for You or a Friend

We are not slaves to the calendar at our house. If you cannot buy any of these gift books for delivery before Christmas, who cares? I still want to remind you of three different types of books that would make great gifts.

Groundbreaking Food Gardens by Nicki Jabbour

Groundbreaking Food Gardens by Nicki Jabbour

Groundbreaking Food Gardens (Storey $19.95) by Niki Jabbour will indeed give you 73 plans that will change the way you garden. If you have limited space or no land at all you can grow a container garden, or you can think about the ways to limit your garden ambitions. I’ve  always said no matter how small my plot of land I would need to have a salad garden, and an herb garden. Niki collects advice and designs from a range of skilled gardeners all across the country. I was intrigued by Amy Stewart’s cocktail garden. Amy’s earlier book, the Drunken Botantist gave information about all the different plants that have been used to make a whole barroom of supplies.This book certainly looks at gardens from every angle.  Do you live in a town or city? Check out Theresa Loe’s Urban Homestead. Do you have land for a garden like Jennifer Bartley’s American potager, or is your garden space limited and containers are your only planting plots? See what Renee Shepherd and Beth Benjamin can grow in containers. Do you want to preserve your harvest? Daniel Gasteiger has a plan for a canner’s garden.

The 20-30 Something Garden Guide by Dee Nash

The 20-30 Something Garden Guide by Dee Nash

The 20-30 Something Garden Guide (St. Lynn’s Press $17.95) by Dee Nash is divided into three main sections that first take the gardener into a container garden, and all the basic information about potting soil, garden soil, fertilizers, watering, and bugs. Let it be known that Nash’s own garden is organic. In addition to providing herself with healthy food and beautiful flowers, she is determined to do her part in supporting the natural world with its pollinators and other bugs, good and bad. She also takes the gardener into the second and third years of gardening, as knowledge and experience grow. Learning to be a gardener is no different from learning math – you learn to count, then add, then multiply. Knowledge and interest build on each other and pretty soon you are learning the difference between open pollinated plants or hybrids or GMOs. We may start out thinking utilitarian thoughts about fresh food, but soon, we are appreciating the beauty of our vegetable plants and thinking about making the vegetable garden prettier. With Nash as our guide our perspective of the values of the garden are always shifting and enlarging. Are you a new(ish) gardener? Is there a new gardener in your family? This book is full of information and inspiration. You can also get more of that information and inspiration on Dee’s blog reddirtramblings.com

Sometimes we want to leave the garden, wash up and sit in the shade with a book that concentrates on the romance of the garden. In

Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside

Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside

my case that would be the romance of the rose. Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venitian Countryside (Knopf 26.95) is Andrea di Robilant’s quest for the name of a rose that grew on his family’s former estate near Venice. His journey took him from the wild overgrown park on the estate that had left his family decades before, to Eleanora Garlant and her rose garden, the largest in Italy with 1500 roses, as well as tales of his great-great-great-great grandmother Lucia with her love and knowledge of roses, the Empress Josephine and the histories of many individual roses. My own reaction to roses, especially those on my Rose Walk  is very similar to di Robilant’s in Signora Galant’s garden. “When I saw the ‘Empress Josephine’ spread out against Eleanora’s corner pergola, I inevitably conjured up the real Josephine. And so it was with the other roses arrayed around it. I was no longer simply walking along a path looking at the roses on display, I had stepped into a crowded, lively room filled with roses that were looking at me.”

Books are one of my favorites gifts. I love to get them and I love to give them.  I am never alone or lonely when I have a book, and this has been true my whole life.  And a garden book can take me into someone else’s garden for a pleasureable and informative visit. It can even take me adventuring across  the Venetian countryside to admire the roses.

And for those who want to have more roses, I can suggest a bonus of The Roses at the End of the Road, our story of life in the countryside among the roses. The December Sale continues. For more information click here.

Indoor Kitchen Gardening by Elizabeth Millard

Indoor Kitchen Gardening by Elizabeth Millard

Indoor Kitchen Gardening by Elizabeth Millard

When I first started reading Elizabeth Millard’s new book, Indoor Kitchen Gardening: Turn Your Home Into a Year-Round Vegetable Garden, ($24.99) I had some idea about growing herbs and sprouts indoors during the winter, but I wasn’t so sure about tomatoes.

For that reason I dashed right past all the basic information about getting started to the back of the book, past microgreens and herbs, past the potatoes! and straight to  tomatoes. Millard acknowledges that growing tomatoes, which we all know love sun and warmth, indoors is a challenge, but she shows that it can be done. The first trick is to choose cherry tomatoes or other small tomato varieties. The second trick is to prepare yourself to imitate a bee ready to pollinate your tomatoes. This is a great project and would have a super payoff when you serve family or friends a salad in February and say, ” Aren’t these tomatoes good? I grew them myself.”

Having satisfied myself that I am not ready to grow tomatoes this year, I went back and read the book from the beginning. It is always wise to learn about basics first. I didn’t mean to scare you off with tales of tomato – and potato – harvests in the house, because Millard gives great advice for those more familiar indoor crops. Sprouts and microgreens and herbs are simpler ways to begin gardening indoors because those crops give you a lot of nutrition in tiny packages, and flavor. I liked the list of possible sprouts beyond mung bean and alfalfa. Broccoli, fenugreek, dill, daikon radish  and kale. Growing pea shoots, sunflower and corn shoots would put you right up there in the high echelons of foodies.

Millard’s style is chatty and she shares her own experiences and preferences. She also includes  troubleshooting tips in each section so you can diagnose droopiness, discoloring, and mold. The photographs are clear, appealing and instructive. Millard’s own garden and CSA farm, Bossy Acres, is in Minnesota.

The New York Times interviewed Millard and the Chicago Tribune named this one of the best garden books of 2014. Many of us are looking for local food, and it doesn’t get any more local than the kitchen counter. The book is available at bookstores, and at Amazon.com  where there is also a kindle edition for $11.99. This is a useful book for a novice gardener, but also for an experienced gardener who is ready to branch out in new direction.