Friday, December 19, 2008

Dude, where's my garden?

For Seattle, the snow in the last 24 hours has been quite intense. Nothing can be done now if potted plants got left out, or if tender plants weren't covered.

I'm guilty of "weather forecast denial." Snow was forecasted for Wed, school was cancelled, and we got a little freezing rain. Snow? Yeah right! So when they were talking about snow on Thurs, I remained skeptical. The week before they said Friday and through the weekend. It didn't show up until Saturday night.

Everything will be fine, right? Snow is insulating!

But, when I woke up on Thursday morning, wondering how I would get up the hill to work, I was made a believer. I guess it snowed. The forecasters were right. About five inches later, it finally tapered off.

This is the perfect time to start looking at your garden (from the inside with cocoa) since at this time you can really see its structure. You may also see the plants that are not going to survive the cold. It may take a few months to see what truly will survive. Just keep in mind a dead plant is a great excuse to go shopping for at least one new replacement!

Armchair gardening is in full swing right now. I have the Raintree catalogue and Seeds of Change just showed up in the mail this week. If I can't garden outside, I can at least dream of the harvest of fresh veggies I'll have in the summer.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Lemon Verbena

I have fond memories of lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) from my first gardening internship at Filoli Gardens in Woodside, California. When I was there, a 4 foot shrub stood outside the northwest corner of the tea house. Brushing past it would release a fantastic calming scent similiar to lemongrass, but not as biting. The thin, light-green leaves in whorls of three (hence the species name) make up the airy branches. In late summer tiny sprays of white flowers graced their ends.

I'm lucky I saved some issues of Kitchen Gardener after a post-college paper purge. This little gem of a magazine by Tauton's when out of print in 2000. Boy was I bummed when an issue of Fine Gardening showed up in my mailbox instead.

One issue I still have features lemon verbena complete with recipes. I made the lemon verbena pound cake for a friend's birthday party and it was a hit. It's all about the fancy bundt pan I have--it can make a mix-cake from a box look elegant!

A bird's eye view of the cake.

You can take any pound cake recipe and add a couple tablespoons of lemon juice and zest to give it a lemon flavor. Before you pour the batter into the buttered bundt pan, take fresh lemon verbena leaves and arrange them in a pattern in the pan. The butter will help them stick to the sides.

Once the cake is baked, cooled, and transferred to a plate, you can make a sauce with more fresh lemon verbena leaves, sugar, butter, a touch of flour, and lemon juice. Strain out the leaves before pouring over the cake. Voila! A beautiful and refreshing dessert that will chase your winter blues away.

With the finishing touches--birthday candles!

Late fall is a good time to make this cake because it coincides with you bringing in your lemon verbena plant and taking a few cuttings. Unless you live in a more mild climate, you don't want your plant to take a hit by that first frost of the season.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Hard Economic Times--Grow Your Own!

Politics aren't a regular theme here, but 'tis the season with the election four days away.

When this country was faced with crisis, and the economy was failing, we were told to go shopping. It will help business.

With the tumultuous ride our economy has been through in the last month, and experts saying the worse is yet to come, what should we do? GDP is at a 40 year low. Should we go shopping?

No. We should start planting.

The reality is food is not getting any cheaper. I don't want to say it's getting any safer either, but it's best to know where exactly your food comes from. What better way than to plant a garden with easy-to-care-for veggies that you can grow organically?

I read an article recently that complained about how difficult it is to raise one's own vegetables. Really? I'm surprised. I was pretty busy this summer (as you can tell from the lack of posts) with our remodel, and yet I managed to have a fine turn out of radishes, beets, Purple Cherokee and Lady Bug tomatoes, Swiss chard, celery, fava beans, onions, a couple eggplant and a couple carrots, mini yellow and red peppers, and San Marzano sauce tomatoes. I have a constant supply of rosemary, oregano, cilantro, mini basil, chives, thyme, lemon verbena, and the ubiquitous mint.

Now, it wasn't enough where I had to start canning for the winter. But my yields were high enough that I could pass up the $3.99/lb tomatoes at the farmers' market every week. I think each tomato weighed around a pound, so that would add up fast.

Many of you may ask, "Where do I start? It seems all so over whelming!"

Herbs. Fresh herbs are much tastier than dried. And, have you ever bought fresh herbs at the store? Cha-ching! A small plastic container will run you at least $3. And by the time you get them home, they've lost their taste. You could buy then at the farmers' market in season, but wouldn't you prefer the easy access from your garden or balcony?

Herbs are the easiest thing to start with, and no space is too small for a few pots of the ones you most frequently use. Try thyme and oregano. Once you're successful with those two, add rosemary and mint. If you have the space, you can grow them in the ground in quick draining soil. I would keep the mint in a pot or else it will take over. Check the bottom of the pot at least once a season to make sure it's not fully rooting itself from the drain hole.

Felling adventurous in planting out your first true crop? I would start with Swiss chard. This crop has never failed me and takes a lot of abuse. I even transplanted one that was at least a foot tall in the middle of summer and it looks great. 'Bright Lights' has a vibrant assortment of colors so there is no need to plant other annuals for a little punch. They don't have to be planted in rows like a formal vegetable garden. Stick them next to your perennials and shrubs that take full sun. And they do well with minimal fertilizer. I spread compost out in the spring and call it good; never giving them a liquid feed. That method goes for my entire garden. A packet of seeds will cost you close to, or less, than the one organic bunch at Whole Foods or PCC. One will give you chard from late spring through fall. The other lasts maybe two meals.
No excuses. You have plently of time to start planning. The weather is getting cooler, the rain a little more frequent. I suspect those seed catalogs will start showing up any day now!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Happy Kitchen Garden Day!

August 24th was International Kitchen Garden Day. How did I celebrate? Well, it was pretty low-key considering we were triple-booked with get-togethers.

We were running late, but I managed to make a detour to the veggie garden on our way out. Eldon asked what I was doing as I bolted in the opposite direction.

I grabbed a few of our Walla Walla onions to share at our friend's barbecue. They went perfectly with our brats.

I plunked them down on the counter when we arrived and announced that they came from my garden. My friend stared at me in disbelief, and then realized I wasn't kidding.

"I guess people do grow things themselves!"

I cut her some slack since she lives aboard a boat, and she's my friend. I spared her the fact that it was Kitchen Garden Day.

Despite the pouring rain and the coldest spring on record (supposedly), I made the most out of the day; enjoying the small harvest from my garden.

An early look at the Walla Wallas.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Wow! The weather cooperated and everything has doubled in size overnight. The number of blooms on the tomato plants promises a great harvest. My pepper plants are covered in mini bells.

This is the first year I have grown shungiku, the edible chrysanthemum. While I really like the blooms, the rest of the plant looks ratty. I think the trick is to keep harvesting the stems and blooms. One plant gets afternoon shade and stays more compact. It looks less weedy than the plants that are in full sun all day. Other than that, the sunny flowers are an inch in diameter and most have creamy yellow tips on the ray flowers and a golden orange center. I have some that are completely orange. My guess is that they must cross with other daisy-like flowers lending itself to the variation.

I'm still unsure how to use the shungiku in my cooking. I'm making a curry tonight. Maybe I'll slip in a few leaves and see how it turns out. Any suggestions you may have would be great!

My Italian sage has filled out its pot. I made muffins last week with blueberry and sage. The recipe I used called for too much sage. They tasted soapy like when you use too much lavender in a recipe. A little goes a long way. It could be the leaves I picked were too old, or I waited too long to use them. Next time I'll try using just one tablespoon and the younger leaves from the plant. Try adding it to your next batch of blueberry muffins or even pancakes. If you harvest them way in advance before adding them to the mix, place them in a little vase to keep them fresh.

The radishes got away from me this year. I tried the French Breakfast type which are beautiful for showing them off in an hors d’oeuvres tray. A friend of mine whipped sweet cream butter, sea salt, and herbs; transfered the mixture into a pastry bag and pipped it onto havled radishes. Voila! Fancy yet so easy. Make sure to trim off the ends with a knife so your radishes don't run away from you. I suggest using the 'Pistou' basil since it requires minimum chopping.

And speaking of 'Pistou' basil--it is such a cute addition to my garden this year. I'd actually like to call it "Boxwood Basil" since they look like miniature boxwood. They're much tastier. Line these cuties up along the edge of your raised beds to give a finished look to your veggie plot. Don't worry, it won't look too formal.

I caught a bumblebee sleeping on one of my plants the other day.

I better get back to the mayhem in my garden. I'm crossing my fingers so that everyone will have red tomatoes this year!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Lessons Learned

Now that the weather is finally cooperating, it's time for a reality check and re-evaluate what does not work for this Pacific Northwest veggie garden.

Remember the Thai Red Roselle I had major zonal denial, yet such high hopes for? Well, they didn't make it past 3 inches tall. Even in the warmest spots, they did not enjoy the wet cool spring.

Sometimes, a crop goes missing in the whole shuffle of sowing and transplanting. I cannot find the pepino melons. They're completely gone--vanished. It's possible I mixed them up with the eggplant and gave them away as I handed over a tray of nasturtiums. I do remember them germinating and getting transplanted, but after that, who knows!

And speaking of eggplant, it will be interesting to see if they do decide to do anything. Last week I read they do not like nights below 55 degrees which we have had a ton of. Just now are we maintaining night temperatures above 50. Eggplant will stall out and remain stunted. They looked promising when I set them out in May and had at least four to five leaves each. Some are now holding their own against the slugs and have more leaves, but it's been an uphill battle.

The cucumbers were just an experiment, but I don't have enough to pollinate the girls with the boys. The seed was super old which may be why I have weak plants.

Ironically, I have one fennel plant out of the entire batch that is hanging on. Why is it that when you're not trying to grow fennel, it's everywhere. But, once you decide to plant it and cultivate it, the entire crop fails? I had great germination, but the survival rate has been dismal.

We all know what poor plants look like under such conditions, so I didn't bother taking any photos.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Summer Solstice

Happy Summer Solstice!

Did we think that summer would ever arrive? It's finally here. The warm weather is most welcome by me and my veggies that have had a miserable spring. It was as though winter weather continued through spring.

The weather is making it difficult to stay inside and update everyone with what is going on in the garden. I'll make it short so we can all get back to enjoying the sunshine!

So far, the Swiss chard is producing new leaves, tomatoes are taller, radishes are ready for harvesting, onions are swelling, and edible chrysanthemum is oh-so-tall and flowering. The celery is thicker, and the eggplant is starting to take a turn for the better finally. And the fava beans are climbing high!

Here is one of the views of my garden. Notice the freshly painted blue planter boxes in the background.

Okay! Get back out there, soak up the sun, and fight that morning glory!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I love to surprise my friends by tossing flowers into my salads. I recently did this to the salad mix I received in my Stoney Plains Organic Farm CSA subscription.

People are used to eating red, yellow, and orange nasturtiums. But, blue starry flowers sprinkled amongst the greens catches them off guard.

"What are those?! Can we really eat them?!"

"Yes. And, they taste so wonderfully fresh almost like cucumbers!"

The flowers are delicate. I pluck the whole flower from the stem and separate the fuzzy sepals from the blue petals. The sepals are underneath the petals, also called a calyx as an entire unit. Here is a photo showing these different parts of the flower: the corolla (petal unit) and calyx (sepal unit). A little botany terminology never hurts!

The petals will easily fall off as you're gathering them for your summertime salad. Since the calyx's texture is too fuzzy for some, I only add the petals. If they aren't separating for you, just add the whole thing. Don't worry since the salad dressing will most likely mask the texture. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


I know it's late in the season for acquiring a rhubarb plant. But there I was, at the West Seattle Farmers' Market, wandering around and I spotted it in a 4" pot at Langley Fine Gardens. It was so cute with several small leaves and a lot of potential. Where it would be planted was already visualized in my garden. I gave the man $3--a bargain!--and took my new crop home.

Here it is in the ground with my Walla Walla onions in the background.

Cute, eh?

I sacrificed a few primroses to make room for the rhubarb. Who wants to eat primroses anyway? Some may argue the same for rhubarb, but I like it. Especially at this time of year when local fresh fruit is hard to find. The apple supply has been looking pretty grim since April. But I haven't had enough heat for cherries.

I've made crisps and sauces this season using the rhubarb from the Columbia City Farmers' Market. The recipe I recently used was from the first edition of edibleSEATTLE. It calls for ground ginger for the topping and the filling. I prefer using fresh ginger for the sauce. The more intense flavor means I don't need any for the topping. All you need is some peeled ginger and a Microplane. If you don't have a Microplane, the small holes (not the nutmeg grater) on your box grater will work just fine.

Rhubarb sauce is easy and quick, and you don't have to make a crisp. I made a sauce last night with rhubarb, ginger, strawberries, butter, and brown sugar. I threw it all in a pan on medium high heat until the rhubarb was tender. You can swirl it into your ice cream or even oatmeal for breakfast. Enjoy!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Radishes, Beets, and Carrots

There's no better way to welcome spring than by dining in the garden. It's even better when you can invite your guests to help plant seeds.

I'll admit I've been carrying around the same 4 packets of seeds for a couple of weeks. The fennel was finally planted early last week, but the radish, beet, and carrot seeds were still in their packets until Sunday.

Part of my problem I'm going to blame on the weather. Now I know I can plant these when the "danger of frost has passed" as it says on the seed packet. But won't they have a better chance of germinating if I wait a little longer? It was still feeling chilly out there last week so why push it?

The other part was letting go of last year's chard. They were starting to bolt and twist into some crazy looking stalks. I usually don't get too attached to my plants, but then Eldon noted how cool they looked. I had a little patch of Dr. Seuss in my garden. I held on.

When I made this lunch date with my friends, we were expecting rain and planned on indoor crafts. The sun was shining and the garden was warm--the perfect time to sow seeds so out went the chard. Unfortunately, I didn't take their photos. It was time to get to work.

I have a few rows of crops scattered here and there--my fava beans are in rows along the bamboo trellis as are the sweet peas, and I have rows of well spaced Walla Walla onions. But rows can be extremely boring. I drew out my plan on a piece of paper, and decided the seeds would be sown in crescents. The radishes, sown by Teresa, are in the longest one. There are two smaller crescents of beets; I sowed one and Kerstin the other. Sarah sowed the carrots in a swirl between the two.

As we planted, we talked about the increase in food prices, and how it may be the catalyst for people to start growing their own fruits and veggies. I know it's difficult for many to take up part of their yard or balcony and dedicate it to urban farming. But maybe it will make us at least think about reconnecting with our land no matter how big or small.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bud Break

Last year we planted three apple trees, two of which are Nittany. We discovered this variety on a chilly fall afternoon on Orcas Island. The burgundy red apples are tart yet sweet and crisp. Eldon decided on the spot we needed an orchard of Nittanys.

Now that we have our own house, it was time for our own apple trees. The compromise was three trees instead of an orchard. Apples do not self-pollinate. You need a 'pollinizer' to cross-pollinate with. This chart helped us figure out a companion tree for the Nittanys. We chose one Honecrisp.

Since our garden is small, the perfect solution to growing fruit trees is to espalier. The art of espalier allows trees to be trained against a wall or along a fence. There are many different patterns including cordon, candelabra, fan, and Belgian fence. Given our fence design and that I'm a beginner, I decided the cordon style would be the most manageable, but ours will be four to five tiers.

Over Memorial Day Weekend last year, we removed the dying arborvitae hedge that never had a chance since they were still balled and burlapped. The mystery of their death had been solved. A post and wire fence took its place in the front yard. Once those holes were dug and filled, more were dug for the trees. A light rain helped water in the new plantings.

Then came the hard part. It was time to head back the tree to the lowest wire. These trees were at least four feet tall. I couldn't do it, even though the planting instructions told me to do so immediately after planting. I made excuses not to: it was too late in the season; I didn't want to shock them; They may be burned in the south-west exposure. When they broke dormancy and started blooming, I felt it really was too late to head them back. And they provided a small screen between us and our new neighbors. They liked the new fence--what a relief!

Now, almost a year ago, I knew their time was coming. Off with their heads! I mustered up enough courage and headed them back at the end of March. All I could do now is wait and hope that the trees would be okay.

This type of pruning goes against everything I've been taught in school and in the field. Heading cuts are never encouraged, but when you're practicing espalier, no problem! To cover my bases, I attended Kristan Johnson's espalier lecture at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. He's from the Western Washington Fruit Research Foundation and what he said was exactly what all the books and the Internet said to do.

Holding my breath, I lopped the tops off each tree. I checked on the buds' progress weekly. Most of the lower branches had already been pruned at the nursery. Part of me didn't believe that I'd get a new leader and two side branches let alone a few buds breaking. My friends and neighbors asked me what I'm doing and if the trees were taller before. I start to second guess myself all over again, but I explain my plan for these trees.

Sure enough, they leafed out nicely. I wasn't expecting flowers, but I did have one on the southern-most Nittany. This is the same tree in the previous photo.

Eldon and I were careful to install the posts into concrete making sure each post was level. I wasn't careful though how taught the lower wires were. I unknowingly cranked them too tightly. After settling with the winter wet, the posts were pulled inward. To counteract this, we used copper pipe at the very top of the fence and we loosened the wire below. It adds a finished touch and ties in with the copper caps on each post.

(Thanks for your help, cousin Eamon!)

It will be awhile before the trees reach the top. Once they do, I will wrap the copper so it doesn't interfere with the tree branches. We'll see how the pipe resists the pull of the wire next year after another season of wind, rain, and snow.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Spring has Sprung

I almost resigned myself to not having a fava been crop this year. The weather seems to be playing tricks on all of us the last couple of weeks. One day we have temps nearing 70, and then we have what seems to be a freezing cold night.

But just a few days ago, like magic, a row of seedlings poked their heads above the soil. They were probably waiting until the soil was just the right temperature. I thinned out a few where they seemed a bit crowded, and my bamboo poles are all in place.

My chives have started to bloom. The beautiful purple blossoms will add a tasty and colorful surprise to the salad mixes I am getting in my CSA box from Full Circle Farm. I would love to grow lettuce at home, but my slug problem is too unbearable. Instead of trying to battle it out against these slimy beings, I'll have someone else grow it for me.

I left my Bright Lights Swiss Chard in the ground this winter. It keeps a little color going in the garden while everything else is dormant. I don't use it much in my cooking during this time. If I did, there would be very little leaves on the plants to keep going with the little photosynthesis that may happen in the dead of winter. They more or less stall out until a couple of months ago. Now, with the warmer days, my chard has lots of lush leave and is starting to bolt. I snagged a few leaves for lunch yesterday.

Like lettuce, once it bolts, it supposedly becomes bitter and inedible. I took a chance and cooked it up anyway. Plus, I wanted to see how it compared with the chard I received from my Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box. I took a large clove of garlic and sauteed it in olive oil. Once the garlic was golden, I added the chard, a sprinkling of kosher salt, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, and some chopped walnuts. I removed it from the heat once the chard wilted but was still bright in color.

The chard was nutty without being too bitter. I have to say it was better than the chard from my CSA box. Maybe I'm being a little unfair since my garden-grown chard was cooked less than 5 minutes after it was picked. Though, a good argument to grow your own wherever you can.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Evidence of Nasturtium and Sweet Peas!

This time of year, I get a little impatient with two things: the emerging veggies and the weather.

I am watching the blank spaces of soil I know have seeds underneath them. The fava beans should be showing some sign of life by now, but there is nothing. I am a little worried a busy squirrel has ran off with a stash of my beans. There are small foot prints near where I poked them through the ground.

It's also possible that they're just slow. The seed packet claims that I will have germination in 7-12 days. It's been 22 days since planting. My patience wears thin.

On the other hand, my nasturtiums and sweet peas have emerged. Like a watched pot never boils, it may very well be that a blank patch of soil will never sprout. I hadn't hovered over them for a week, and here they are.

This little nasturtium sprout is too cute.

I finally have two sweet pea shoots.

Now for the weather. I am in total denial about the looming snow forecast for this weekend. Of course, Mother Nature needs to remind us we're not past the "frost-free date" yet. I have always been told that this date for Seattle is April 20. Checking the Farmer's Almanac online, it says March 24 is our last frost date and we have a growing season of 232 days. This seems quite generous for our area.

At least I haven't started planting my tomato and eggplant starts. I know better than that. I hope the little ones brave enough to break through the soil will make it.

But, then again, it's not going to snow, right?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

"Window Shopping" at City People's

I've been looking for a ground cover to plant underneath my fig tree. The area stays quite shady and a bit dry since the fig steals most of the water. I was thinking of Omphaloides nitida, or "navelwort," so I took a trip to City People's. Plus, I was in the neighborhood so my trip was inevitable.

I found the straight species in a 1-gallon size and the cultivar 'Starry Eyes' that has a white stripes on the petals. Both seemed a bit on the pricey side for me so I decided to think it over. It started to rain as I ducked into the store.

Before I knew it, there I was, looking at the seed racks. I scooped up three packets of Renee's Garden seed: Cerinthe major purpurescens (honeywort), Italian sage, and Thai Chiles Duo. Scroll down within each link to find more info and photos on each one from Renee.

I'm such a sucker! But, I have plans for each one of these. The honeywort will be a great filler in the front garden, and it's a hardy perennial. I just passed a neighbor's yard the other day and they already have plants about to bloom.

The Italian sage will be great in the front garden as well, and my friend just gave me some pots she isn't using anymore. It will look great next to my potted oregano and mint.

The Thai Chile Duo I'm hoping will stay small, but fruit like crazy. I want to make a center piece for my outdoor table this summer for all those 'al fresco' dinners I'm looking forward to.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Onion Sprouts with a Side of Snow

I've become a sprout watcher. I can't help but check the garden every day or every other day for little green things poking their heads up through the soil.

Late last week I noticed that I just might have some Walla Walla onions this season!

Aren't they cute? I also checked the planter boxes for sprouts. I know the nasturtiums aren't germinating yet. I checked them anyway, of course. I did find a few of the French green beans unfurling in there.

Can you see them? I counted three so far. They aren't green yet.

And then there are the snow showers that have graced our first lovely week of spring. Yes, it is beautiful to watch large flakes fall from the sky and accumulate here and there. My wool winter coat emerged from the closet again. Really--I'm done with winter. I'm ready for sunny skies and warm days. Here for us in Seattle "warm" means "50 and above." Not too much to ask for, right? Meanwhile in Southern California, there has been a "cold snap" which means the temperature dropped to 65. Moving on.

I'm wondering where my sweet peas are. I haven't seen any sign of them yet. I set a handful of seeds aside to soak and start in little pots to transplant out. The 'Blue Reflections' I planted last year never even sprouted! So I'm determined this year to have the 'Matucana' fragrant beauties grace my garden.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Planter Boxes and Digging Fork

Until recently, I've been a garden purist. You either have plants growing straight out of the ground, or you stick them in terracotta pots and group them here and there around the paths. I wasn't a fan of planter boxes and cutsy pots mounted on fences.

But my garden is small. And those pots along the path can look like clutter if you're not careful. It was time to "go vertical."

The previous owners of the house had two planter boxes mounted on the fence. One was hidden behind our palm tree, and the other was by itself further down looking rather lonely. I moved the hidden one closer to the lonely one and voila! I now have more planting space.

The box on the left was planted with Nasturtium 'Alaska Mix' and the one on the right was planted with the "haricot verts" that were collected a couple of seasons ago. The nasturtiums will cascade nicely over the box. I'm hoping the bush beans will do the same. It depends on how "bushy" they are!

My other task of the day was planting out the fava beans. I overheard someone on the radio say that fava beans are a "cult vegetable, especially in California." Hmmm...I'm not exactly sure what is meant by that, but I am a native Californian and I do love fava beans. They're great in risotto or pureed with salt, pepper and lemon juice for a yummy spread on bread or crackers with pesto.

I just acquired a digging fork to loosen up my soil a bit. My puppy that likes to tromp through the garden from time to time, and I'm not that light-footed myself. The tines on the fork have the perfect spacing for planting out the fava beans. I poked the fork down into the soil an inch or two along the fence. I then placed a large bean in each hole. I don't lose my place while I'm planting. Once each hole contains a bean, I go back, cover up the holes, and water. Super easy! I'm sure I'm not the first one to figure this out.

This sure beats getting out the dandelion weeder and drawing lines around my beds. Not bad for an hour's work in the garden. I'm now dreaming of large pods filled with creamy fava beans.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Eat the Sky--Seattle Tilth's 30th Anniversary

With a title like "Eat the Sky" for Seattle Tilth's 30th Anniversary celebration, I was looking forward to an evening of inspiration and a lot of talking about veggie gardens. Anna Lappe' spoke more about the politics of food and how conventional food production leads to climate change.

Let me back up here. Frances Moore Lappe' wrote Diet for a Small Planet. Anna is her daughter and follows the same theme as her mom writing about social change, globalization, and the politics of food. The two have co-written Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet. Anna's most recent book is Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen which combines the issues behind industrial agriculture and seasonal menus from chef Bryant Terry.

There was talk of abandoned lots and crumbling baseball diamonds being converted into veggie gardens. But there was a lot more about the beef industry, the grocery industry, and biofuel production requiring more fossil fuels along with all the tweakings of statistics to make these sound better than they actually are. I felt like everyone there knew this already. It reminded me of Alice Water's bringing the concept of slow food to California cuisine--a concept that is over 30 years old. Not that it's passe', but it's not revolutionary as it was in the 1970s.

What really made me stop and think this evening was City Councilmember Richard Conlin promoting the Food System Sustainability and Security Resolution. It made me think more about Seattle's growth and how our city is becoming more dense. More high rises and condos are being built. Although I am not opposed to high- density living, it does mean less space for one's own garden. P-Patches, community gardens, and parks will be more important than ever for the quality of our lives. In my neighborhood, the Columbia City Farmer's Market has one more year in its current location. In 2010, they will start building condos where the Columbia Shopping Plaza now stands. I heard on the last day of the market last fall, they were still looking for a new location. If our market disappears, the closest market by car will be West Seattle. By bus, it's Capitol Hill. Both are inconvenient for anyone who lives in the south end.

I'll definitely be writing to my Councilmembers about this, and I'll participate in the Friends of the Columbia City Farmer's Market. Meanwhile, I count myself super lucky that I have a little spot in Seattle where I can grow my own organic food.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

More Seeds Into the Ground!

That tricky sun is making me think we're further into the growing season than we actually are. The biting wind was a constant reminder today that it is only March!

Still, I didn't let that stop me from sowing more seeds in the garden today. I raised a trellis for the 'Matucana' Sweet Peas. They will make a striking contrast against the yellow studio. I am a little behind I'm afraid since you're supposed to plant them as soon as the ground is "workable," or no longer frozen. I stuck a handful's worth of seed along the base of it.

Then I sowed the old beet seeds here and there around the euphorbia, forget-me-nots, daffodils, and violas. I don't have high hopes for these. If I get a few microgreens out of them I'll be happy.

I also carved out a spot for my white-flowering rosemary. It will eventually replace the cascading rosemary that isn't so cascading anymore. The flowers and leaves are a little too washed out in color. I like either white or a vibrant blue flower with dark green leaves. The cascading rosemary is starting to get a little too woody with old age so out it goes.

Don't be too hasty in shedding those layers and planting the tomatoes. We've got a few months to go!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

First Seeds Sown

To celebrate the beginning of Daylight Saving Time, I planted the first seeds for this year's veggies: Walla Walla Onions.

A friend collected "haricot vert" seeds from a few plants I gave him a couple years ago. These are those mystery French beans. Either they are truly French green beans, or they are just plain ol' green beans and the seeds were bought in France. I think the latter is more likely.

I forgot about these seeds until I did my seed inventory last month. I do remember my friend asking me if they were "bush beans" meaning that they don't climb like Jack's Beanstalk. They are more bushy and don't need support. I admitted I didn't know since I had planted them my P-Patch and had to abandon it soon after that.

When we moved into our house, I noticed someone mounted planter boxes to the fence. I'm still not that crazy about them. One of them I can't even see because it's behind a short palm tree. The one that is more visible I decided would be the perfect place for trying out the bush beans. I'm hoping they'll cascade over the box.

I'm not even sure if the seeds are still viable. If they don't germinate, I haven't committed myself to setting aside valuable space in the garden for them. I'll just plant something else in the box instead if it doesn't work out. But I'm hoping they will!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Weeds...Glorious Weeds!

At this time of year, weeds are novel. One of the first signs of spring. As daffodils and tulips emerge from the ground, so do shot weed, dandelion, and spurge to name a select few.

The sun actually feels warm as I putter around the garden. It's been several months since I've been able to saunter and see what's going on in my garden. In the winter, it's usually a mad dash to get out, take care of a few pressing tasks, and rush back inside before my fingers fall off! Today I didn't even need to wear liners under my gloves. This last week of sunny days has been luxurious. Forecasts threatened rain, but we managed just a misting here and there.

Early in the season, I don't mind filling up my bucket with weeds. The ground isn't frozen any more. The friable earth gives way to my dandelion weeder as I pluck these green culprits from the ground.

So for now, I don't mind the weeds. I have time to get everything ready for spring planting.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Seed Stash

Admit it. I know you have one. Those seed packets you've saved over the years thinking that you'll plant them next year. Maybe you have a small paper bag in the basement or refrigerator.

I just found a packet of forget-me-nots in my sock drawer. How did that get there?

Seed packets accumulate just like any other clutter around the house. Somehow, I feel less guilty about not cleaning out my seed stash. I could grow something from these seeds. You can grow anything from dust and paper clutter except maybe more dust.

But, being the responsible gardener that I am--or at least try to be--I am going through my seed stash right now. With you!

Packet #1 Haricot verts (green beans in French) collected in fall 2006 from a friend who collected them off a few vines I gave him that summer. We concluded these may actually be Bush Beans. I have a planter box that is mounted to the fence that these can go in. Definitely worth a shot.

Packet #2 Cucumbers from 2005. No idea where I got these. They still look good. Worth a try? Sure!

Packet #3 San Marzano tomatoes. These I grew in the summer of 2005 and 2006. I bought the seed in Venice, Italy from a florist. There aren't any nurseries in Venice like we have here. Instead, you find racks of seed packets outside flower shops. I've been rationing out the seed. They get bottom brown rot if they're not watered enough during the season. But it's worth the extra effort since they make such a great sauce.

Packet #4 Poppy. These are a black, double flowering form that is quite striking. Poppies are easy to just scatter the seed and watch them come up so I'll hold onto these, too.

Packet #5 Beets 'Winter Keeper' from Ed Hume. These I acquired in the "free to a good home" seed pile when I worked at the Center for Urban Horticulture. I'm such a sucker. That was 2004 and I still haven't planted these. I had planned on sowing them late summer, for the last 4 years. But I've either forgetten, or I've run out of room. I promise I'll sow them this year! Promise!

Packet #6 Corn Salad from Ed Hume acquired with the packet of beet seeds. Hmmm...Its germination rate tends to be low according to the directions on the packet. Anything remotely salad-like will get slugs. This one is going in the garbage.

I was given several packets of seeds by way of a friend's mom from Heirloom Seeds in W Elizabeth, PA. They're from 2006.

I meant to plant them out last year, but once again I ran out of time and room. There were 20 packets. I narrowed it down to:

Walla Walla Onion--these take 100-125 days, but I can sow them directly in spring.

Mini Red and Mini Yellow Bell Peppers--I can grow these in containers.

Sweet Banana Pepper--I don’t have high hopes for these, but since I'm growing the minis, I'll give these a try, too

Certified Organic Utah Celery--the cutting celery was a success and these germinate in 21 days; hard to pass up.

'Cherokee Purple' Tomato--these are one of Eldon's favorites. Plus, it's less work than adding another apple tree to the yard.

I need to find my shoehorn before spring arrives. Otherwise, I'm going to have a hard time finding space for all these crops!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Cook's Garden--Where are you?

I'm waiting for my last batch of seed. Sure, it's a couple of months before the last frost, but I still would like them. Then, I can look at them all together and dream about what they will grow into.

I ordered from Cook's Garden with a little regret. I jumped at leafing through Cook's Garden first The cover looked very different from last year's cover--a colorful woodblock print of a gardener painting in her packed veggie garden. Woodblock illustrations instead of photos were used throughout the catalog. This year's was all photos. Then, I looked through Burpee's catalog, which I never requested. I did a double take. Some of the same exact photos I saw in Cook's Garden were in Burpee's catalog. I looked at the return addresses of the catalogs and sure enough, they're the same. I felt like someone was trying to trick me. Especially, since some of the cultivar names are changed in one catalog from the other.

After a little research, I found out that Burpee bought Cook's Garden in 2004, but everything was to remain the same. The Odgens (original owners) were hopeful that not too much would change and it wouldn't expand much. Does this ring a bell with any of you who love(d) Heronswood? I thought so. If you wish, Garden Rant gives a personal account of another Cook's Garden customer.

The main reason why I did order seed from Cook's Garden is because they offer mixes of many different crops. I want to try growing eggplant for the first time this year. Because my space is limited, a mix will let me compare them side by side and evaulate which ones will do best next year. Or, if I'm even able to grow eggplants at all. I really wanted the 'Fingerling Mix' but when I ordered online, they weren't available so I took the mix of what they offered.

'Kaleidoscope Mix' carrots are another item on my list. These carrots come in a range of colors: red, purple, orange, and yellow. I couldn't resist thoughts of how wonderful they would look in summer salads.

Beets are another crop I will try for the first time this year so I opted for the 'Rainbow Mix'. Of course, no seed of 'Bull's Blood' will be included, but that's okay. As I thin out the planting, I can use the leaves for micro-greens in spring salads. I can also sow a batch later in the summer for fall.

'Pistou' basil is the one herb I bought from Cooks. The leaves are supposedly so fine you won't need to chop them. I have many different dishes that call for basil both dried and fresh, including pesto of course.

I am trying a different tomato this year called 'Lady Bug'. The fruits are 1" in diameter which will be a good size for ripening. Last year, the 'Pantano Romanesco' tomatoes (from Baker Creek) were too large that by the time they stopped growing, there wasn't enough sun to ripen them up. I got just a few that were amazingly delicious. So, if we have a summer like we did last year...well, let's just plan on that not happening!

I did purchase one packet of flower seed: 'Matucana' Sweet Pea. Yes, I was suckered in by the bold-looking burgundy and purple flowers. I've got my bamboo poles ready for trellising these vines up against the fence to create a striking background. They will also compliment the allium and Spanish lavender later in the spring.

Think of my order from Cook's as an experiment in figuring out where I should purchase those great performers for next year. I'll let you know who will be invited back next year.

Stay tuned...I tell you what seed I found in the refrigerator. It's only a couple of years old, and may not produce anything. But, it's worth a try, right?

The Cook's Garden Seeds I received a week later. Finally!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Barker Creek Heirloom Seeds...Shipped!

I love it when I get a little email letting me know my seeds have been shipped. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds did just that today. Hooray!

Before I begin the review of my Baker Creek order, I have a confession to make. I did get a little carried away with looking at the photos in this catalog. But, the price per packet is such a deal with Baker Creek that I don't feel too guilty (plus they have a flat $3 rate for shipping and handling).

Nasturtium 'Alaska Mix' is a repeat from last year. It is a great performer and I was mean to it. Days without water, baking in the sun, this annual just kept going. Eldon requested this to use the variegated leaves as little dinner plates for our fancy Thanksgiving feast. Alas, we never used the leaves because we went to Tanzania instead (more stories and another blog to come). 'Alaska Mix' is not an aggressive climber, but is more of a trailing annual. I tried to train it. It didn't work so I just let it do its thing along the edge of the veggie bed. The flower colors run the range of traditional colors: hot oranges and reds to subdued peach and cream.

I chose the French Breakfast radish. I know I can grow radishes well. I just have to be on top of thinning them out. The French Breakfast radish has an elongated shape compared to the typical globe-shaped root you see in the grocery store. Yes, that's a root you're eating! Another veggie request from Eldon for when he makes "Chilled Asparagus with Vinaigrette and Eggs Mimosa" from Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook. I'm hoping the radishes are as bright as they are in the photos of the catalog.

I am a sucker for edible flowers. When I saw the 'Shungiku' edible chrysanthemum, I had to try it out. Who could resist these cute white daisies with yellow centers? They will be great in summer salads. The leaves are also said to be great in salads and stir fry. At $1.50 per packet it's worth a try.

I already admitted to my two "Zonal Denial" purchases: Pepino Melon and Thai Red Roselle. For those who are not familiar with "Zonal Denial," it's when you are in total denial of what climate, or zone, you live in. The USDA categorized the country into 11 Zones, and Sunset Western Garden uses 24. The Pepino Melon is from the Andes and grows well in New Zealand. Thai Red Roselle, as the name suggests is from Thailand. Yes, I'm taking my chances. But, I can't resist the challenge. I am still dreaming of the Pepino melon's taste and texture. And the Roselle is striking and has edible flowers--I'm sold!

*The seeds were received on Jan 30th. And they threw in a free packet of European Mesclun Salad. Yippee!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Seed Order...Done!

I filled out each garden catalog form extensively and realized that my eyes were bigger than my garden. I needed to narrow down my choices. I went through my seed catalogs one by one to whittle down my lists. But, all those wonderful pictures of red-ripe tomatoes and perfect eggplant made it way too difficult to choose. And don't even get me started on the flowers!

I remembered an article my husband, Eldon, pointed out to me on last year. Constance Casey gave free advice to the home gardener in "What to look for in gardening catalogs." After which, Eldon sent away for the catalog she said was her favorite: Kitchen Garden Seeds. Yay another one. Little did he know I had already ordered seeds for myself and friends by then, but I digress.

You'll get a glimpse of what I'm talking about just by looking at the cover of Burpee's catalog at the beginning of the article. Armfuls of tomatoes the size of grapefuits--very tempting! Constance says to go through the catalogs, fill out that order form and then tear it up.

I more or less did this. I put aside the order forms, and wrote down what I wanted to grow on a blank piece of paper.

I keep in mind these criteria as I make my wish list:

1. Can I find this in the market pretty easily and for a good price?
2. Is it aesthetically interesting?
3. Is it easy to grow?
4. How many days until harvest?

The ultimate, automatic criteria is whether Eldon requested it. Either that or he'll convert the garden into an apple orchard.

I then chose three seed companies I would go with. Kitchen Garden Seeds easily made the cut since I didn't get a chance to order from them last year. The other two were Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Cook's Garden because their seeds were good performers last year.

From Kitchen Garden Seeds I ordered Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights,' Fennel 'Fino,' Kale 'Tuscano Lacinato,' and Fava Beans 'Supersette.' Swiss Chard Bright Lights, meets all the criteria. It's pretty, easy to grow, and takes around 60 days to mature. Eldon requests this for his dried fig and squab dish he makes at Thanksgiving.

Some of you may cringe at my choice with fennel. Yes, it can be a weed, but I am hoping I can harvest the flowers for different dishes. If I harvest the flowers, it will never go to seed and I'll prevent a fennel forest from forming along my street. I also like the feathery look of fennel. I am growing it mostly for the bulb. I saw one at the store this week for $3.99. Granted it was organic, but c'mon!

'Tuscano Lacinato,' also known as Dinosaur Kale, is wonderfully sweet and nutty; not at all bitter. The dark green leaves have an rippled texture and striking light green veins. It will be a great alternative when we get burnt out on the Swiss Chard. Another crop that will take 60 days to harvest.

I know. I know. Fava beans take about 100 days to mature so I may not produce a crop. But, when they're $3.99/lb at the market, I'll pay $3.50 for 50 seeds and take my chances. The description boasts white and purple flowers yielding 7-9 beans per pod. Plus, how can you argue with when the cultivar is 'Supersette'!?

Stay tuned for when I review my orders for Baker Creek Heirloom Seed and Cook's Garden.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year, New Plants

Right on cue, seed catalogs are clogging my mailbox. Within a few days I have received Baker Creek Heirloom Seed, Burpee Seed (I don't remember signing up for this one), The Cook's Garden (who are now Burpee), Kitchen Garden Seed, Osbourne Seed (how did they get my name?), and Johnny's Seed.

My eyes get bigger and bigger as I browse each catalogue, pen in hand to mark the ones I can't live without. The glossy photos shout at me endless possibilities! Do I want repeats of good performers? Or should I through caution to the wind and try all new crops this year?

I decided to do a little of both. I will select those crops that have shorter days for maturation. Remember my Brussels sprouts? I learned just a couple weeks ago 'Falstaff' requires 100-150 days. I live in Seattle where summer can be a gamble. I may be jipped out of another summer and would rather not be disappointed again.

However, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds tempts me with their catalogue. They are in Missouri where it's more hot and humid than the Pacific Northwest. And, they collect seed from Thailand, Mexico, and other lovely warm places. One new crop I will try this year is Pepino Melon. I tried a slice from the salsa guy at the Columbia City Farmers' Market. It was so delicious! It was like eating a pear-flavored mango: the texture of mango but the flavor of pear. I asked Amando (of Tierra Bonita: Olympia's Salsa) to write down the scientific name for me: Solanum mauricatum. It's surprisingly related to tomato, eggplant, and potato--all memebers of the Nightshade family.

The other crop I will try this year is Thai Red Roselle. Techincally a hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa), it is recommended by the folks at Baker Creek for making cranberry-flavored beverages, jelly, and pie. The plant is strikingly red and they claim there are too many uses for them to list. Zonal denial has set in and I'm sold.

Over the next few weeks, I will keep you up-to-date with my wish list and from where I will be buying the seed to complete my veggie garden. I'm already dreaming of peppery radishes, purple eggplant, and ruby-red tomatoes.