Thursday, October 29, 2009

Scarlet Runner Beans

My success in the garden this year amounts to watering while calming a fussy baby. I did manage to harvest a handful of tomatoes, and I am still enjoying handfuls of Bright Lights Swiss chard.

One crop I tried this year was Scarlet Runner beans. Once again, I was suckered in by the picture on the seed packet. Who ever creates the watercolor drawings for Renee's Seeds, their marketing is working on me! And yes, I'm one of those who buys wine solely on the pretty label!

The red-orange flowers featured on the seed packet would pop out against the purples and blues of the lavender and borage in my garden. I planted a few in my bright Mediterranean blue planter box as well, hoping the vines would cascade over the edge. Beyond admiring the flower color, I had no idea what to do with them.

Well, the vines didn't cascade over the boxes and didn't have much of a chance after 100+ degrees here at the end of July. But, I did plant a few next to my grape and they dutifully climbed the trellis and produced flowers and amazingly furry pods. Great! I have a crop, but now what? I'm sure these are not for eating straight from the vine; the hairs are quite coarse.

I didn't get around to investigating the beans inside the pods until today. The dried pods revealed black beans with bright pink specks. Unreal! The greener pods have reddish pink beans. So, which ones should I cook up? I went to Google for my answer.

This was the best thread I could find from the Edible Landscape Forum on Garden Web. It looks like I can eat these beans at any time in different ways. I'm glad I had a few pods dry to secure seed for next year. Some eat the entire thing raw when less than 5" long, others wait until they are 7-8" long and steam or stir fry the whole thing. The dried beans can also be cooked like butter beans, but one person says the grey color they turn into isn't appetizing.

Enjoy the photo of these beautiful beans! I'll let you know if I get the courage to eat them.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Espalier Update

I have only one previous post on the espaliered apples in my front yard. This is the third season and there are now two tiers along the fence.

It takes some work and patience, but it is rewarding to see that my vision will be realized. I remember the agony and apprehension I felt before I made those first cuts.
Now I get to agonize over the look of the branch structure and the fruit.

I should clarify that the 'Nittany' varieties have two tiers, but the 'Honeycrisp' has only one. The whip I received had unusual branching and needed a new leader. I took the old leader and tied it to the wire frame. The old leader will now be along the first tier. The branch from there will be the new leader.

I have also been removing water sprouts. These must be removed since they won't produce fruit and suck the energy away from the main branches. This is also a good task for me to do while I carry Oliver in the Moby.

Now for the fruit. I really wanted to leave the five apples we had on our southernmost 'Nittany.' But, it's best for future fruit set to glean a few during the third season. If you have fruit set before then, all of the fruit should be removed. It was hard to do, and even harder to break it to Eldon that his precious apples were sacrificed. I left two behind; one of which got knocked off by a squirrel. One still remains on the tree. I hope we are able to harvest it when the time is right.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gardening with Baby

Although they add a nice touch to the dining table, I've managed to avoid the rose bug. I can't explain it; they just don't do it for me. Yet, I haven't removed them from my garden.

Since my son, Oliver, was born, I've been taking care of my roses more. By care, I mean deadheading. It's been challenging to find the time to crawl on the ground myself and weed around the veggies.

Oliver hates being inside the house, as do most Seattlites during the summer. And this summer has been especially nice! He is most happy in the Moby wrap which straps him to my chest leaving my hands free to clip and snip. Since I can't bend over or stoop while he's in the wrap (he could fall out!) I prune pretty much anything within arm's reach.

Oliver and I pruning Hot Cocoa.

I'll update this post in the future with a recipe for rose petal ice cream. Meanwhile, if Oliver starts fussing, you can find us in the garden sprucing up the roses.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hello, Rhubarb!

Granted the rhubarb emerged last month, but life has been busy with the arrival of my new son, Oliver. I'm just now getting around to reporting the latest happenings in the garden.

February was deceivingly warm--the weather that makes us Seattlites think winter is over and it's time to plant our tomatoes. I took the opportunity instead to move the rhubarb to a more ideal spot: more sun and better access to the hose. It's also next to my red flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum 'King Edward' creating a nice compliment with it's intensely hot pink flowers to the rhubarb's red stems.

A part of me dreads moving dormant plants. If it was a bulb, it wouldn't matter. But trying to move something with no stems, nothing on top, with just a mess of roots still makes me doubt the plant's survival even after doing it so many times. I'm always relieved see sprouting--a sign of life.

I was glad to see the rhubarb survived, but it was also flowering. Now what? Do I let it flower, and if I do, will it die or taste bad? I consulted a friend who has had good success with rhubarb, and transplanted hers last year. I was curious if her plant did the same thing, but hers never flowered. A quick internet search lead me to the Rhubarb Compendium. Not to despair. All I needed to do was cut the flower stalk down to the ground. I had a feeling that was it.

I was hoping for a crop this year, but I'll wait for next year. It's still slow growing. The advice my friend gave me was that rhubarb needs a year to adjust after being transplanted. In the meantime, I'll take advantage of the huge stalks at the Columbia City Farmers' Market!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kitazawa has arrived!

Whoa! That was quick. I placed my order on Saturday and I had seeds in my mailbox Monday evening. I'm going to start those Poha berries tomorrow.

Now, I have to wait for Baker Creek. I'll be patient.

I realized that after I ordered my seeds, I forgot to order sorrel. Seeds of Change unfortunately has this on back order. So does Baker Creek. Am I too late for this? Why the shortage?

Luckily, with the Internet, I can quickly search Territorial, Kitchen Garden Seeds, and Renee's Garden. I also looked up City People's number to check their availability and hopefully avoid shipping.

No luck with City People's, but I did ask about their Asian pear and persimmon varieties while I had them on the phone--multitasking! They are out of Asian pears at the moment, but they do have 'Nakita's Gift' persimmon. Check it out at The Nursery at TyTy. The fruits are huge!

Okay, so back to the seeds. Who will be the winner? Territorial has French sorrel which I didn't know even existed. It's supposed to be low in acid, but high in flavor. The for 1/4 gram of seed, it will be $2.05, but the shipping will cost $7.95!

Renee's Garden does not carry sorrel so my last hope was with Kitchen Garden Seeds. The seed costs $2.95 per packet and it's $4 for shipping. I couldn't bring myself to order the seed at a total of almost $7. I might as well try and find a start instead at my local nursery.

I decided to call City People's again and ask about starts. The gal I spoke to said they have a full flat of French sorrel in 4" pots at $2.99 each. Tah-dah! Even though I find it satisfying to start my veggies from seeds, for the price I was going to pay for one seed packet, I could by two plants. Since they can be relatively decent in size, I don't need a whole lot of them. And, it's saving me some work in the end.

Why the intense search for sorrel? The magazine, edibleSeattle (part of the Edible Communities), had a great sorrel pesto recipe in their first publication last spring. I discovered sorrel soon after at my local farmer's market in Columbia City. The bright, lemony flavor of this herb is just what us Seattlites need after a long winter. The pesto was great on just about everything: pasta, sandwiches, crackers, potatoes. And, it's a perennial so hopefully it will last through next winter. It's such an easy recipe, I would just substitute out the basil for sorrel in your favorite pesto and see how it comes out. Bon apetit!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

2009 Seeds

It took awhile for me to figure out what to plant this year. I had my usual catalogue favorites arrive in the mail: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds, Seeds of Change, and Kitazawa Seeds.

I am easily distracted by color photos and irresistible descriptions as I peruse each catalogue. And Seeds of Change has sent me a couple already making it really hard to decide what to grow.

Kitazawa saved me this year. The simple, yet informative catalogue, with a few sketches of selected veggies helped me decide what seeds I'll be starting this season. I also made a promise to myself to not grow anything that requires more than 75 days of maturity.

Of course, I made a few exceptions. Plus, promised are meant to be broken, right? I had success with Odoriko tomatoes a couple of years ago and they were so tasty that I decided to grow them again. And I bought my seed from Kitazawa then as well.

When traveling in Hong Kong in December, I came across the Giant Cape Gooseberry, or Poha Berry. These fruits are orange-yellow, the size of a large grape, and topped with a papery husk. They taste like a mixture of pineapple and strawberry. Unfortunately, they will take 75 days to mature AFTER flowering. I'm going to get a start on them the day the seed arrives! I'm always up for a challenge, so when I saw the seed I had to order them.

Another veggie I came across during my Hong Kong trip was a winged bean. We didn't know at the time what it was we were eating, but knew it was sweet like a bean yet had four sides to it. I was convinced the veggie was some sort of sweet broccoli. I made the connection when I read the description in the seed catalogue. It says it does well in humid climates, but I'm hoping for a super warm summer.

I was also suckered into a packet of beetberry seeds from Baker Creek. The pictures show vibrant red fruits nestled in between dark green leaves that would look great cascading over my rock wall. Good thing that they only take up to 60 days to mature! Zonal denial has been avoided!

This last weekend, I was at the last Flower and Garden Show at the Washington State Convention Center. I didn't have the willpower to pull myself away from Ravenna Gardens' racks filled with Renee's Garden Seeds. Though I was disciplined since I knew Kitazawa would receive most of my business this year. Only three packets were purchased: scarlet runner beans, container cucumber 'Bush Slicer', and 'Bright Lights' Swiss chard.

The other display I couldn't resist was Franchi Old World Italian Seeds since the focus of my garden is edibles. Farmer John was so friendly (he is the mayor of Half Moon Bay, CA) and was taken by me being over eight months pregnant and Eldon being a Bay Area native. He gave us a deal on our 'Fino' basil and broccoli raab seeds and threw in a packet of forget-me-knots. "That'll turn you into a real gardener!" he said, patting me heartily on the back. We promised to bring the new baby to the Pumpkin Festival in the near future.

As we walked away, I thought, "Great! I just got rid of all the forget-me-knots from the garden! I've gotta find someone to take these seeds off my hands!"

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Northwest Flower and Garden Show

So this is it folks. The last Flower and Garden Show as we know it.

I started going to the Flower and Garden Show in San Francisco when I started my career as a professional gardener in 2000. It was amazing to see over 20 finished large-scale gardens in the Cow Palace. Not to mention the koi ponds, Ikebana, orchids, new hybrids, mini vignettes, and the educational displays. And a whole separate wing to purchase plants, watering wands, and all the chotchkies imaginable.

I went several years in a row, but drew the line when one of the "gardens" showcased a man balancing rocks on the ground, with lit candles all around, and a movie screen behind him showing the exact scene happening in front of us. It was more performance art and less gardening. "Now, how would I use that in my garden?"

I moved to Seattle five years later and attended the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, organized by the same group that hosts the San Francisco event. After a long winter, I realized why this show is held in February, a whole month earlier. We are desperate for a taste of spring as the days start to go noticeably longer.

I continued to attend the show off and on over the last few years. Overall, the gardens lack an element of practicality I can apply at home. My garden is TINY so I am a bit limited on what I can do, yet I try to make it functional and aesthetically pleasing. Last year, it looked like there was a trend towards growing your own veggies--there were three whole displays that I can remember. But, the seminars were lacking on how to make it happen in your own backyard. There was one seminar last year on espalier which was great. I just wonder how many seminars one can attend on color or perennials?

This year's theme is "Sustainable Spaces. Beautiful Places." The seminar schedule is once again packed with how-to's on color and perennials. A few talks about propagation are offered, one on container fruit trees, a couple on water-wise gardening, and maybe two on growing veggies. In these times, there needs to be a greater focus on the urban farmer. Or, if that is not your style, emphasize planting for beauty while keeping in mind water-use and scale; a right-plant, right-place mentality.

The one aspect of the show I'm sorry to see go is the educational booths. The show is, for some, a once-a-year outreach event for our specialized societies and other organizations. It is the big debut for Great Plant Picks to announce their botanical endorsements. What other means do they have to gain membership?

Maybe letting go of the Flower and Garden show in its current form will allow for a new event to emerge that it truly sustainable in its content. Meanwhile, I'll check it out one last time.