Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Seed Catalog Orders

Now is the time to start going through your seed catalogs and putting in orders. Here are a few plants I’d recommend trying since they’ve done well for me in the past with few problems. These would be especially good for gardeners just getting started with growing vegetables for the first time.

Basil ‘Italian Large Leaf’—easy to grow and a constant supply of leaves for cooking well into September.

Beets ‘Cylindra’—very sweet with a deep beet flavor. The best beet flavor I have tasted in any variety. They’re long instead of round.

Broccoli ‘Premium Crop’—plants grow up to 2 feet tall and have very tight florets up to 5 inches in diameter. Delicious flavor.

Cauliflower ‘Self-Blanche’—absolutely delicious heads up to 5” in diameter, with a mild flavor and light sweetness. I’m not a cauliflower lover but having tasted it right out of the garden has changed my mind.

Cucumber ‘Armenian Yard Long’—very easy to grow vining cucumber that’s really a melon. You’ll be picking 12” long “cukes” within 6 weeks of planting.

Cucumber ‘Boston Pickling’—an old variety of pickling cucumber that can be harvested continuously once it starts producing. Excellent sliced up in salads.

Sorrel ‘Large Leaf’—a vigorous plant that forms a tight mound with leaves that can be harvested for soups and salads. It’s a perennial and makes a great source for greens year-round.

Kale ‘Nero Di Toscana’—also known as Black Palm this kale has very dark crimply leaves up to 10 inches long. Very winter hardy.

Lettuce ‘Nevada’—this is a Batavia type lettuce resembling an iceberg but a bit looser leaves. It is virtually resistant to insect or disease problems like tipburn, bolting, and downy mildew. Outer leaves are huge but just as sweet and flavorful as inner leaves. My number one favorite lettuce both for ease of growing and for flavor.

Lettuce ‘Paris White Cos’—a Romaine type lettuce heirloom from 1879. Super easy to grow in small garden areas since it grows upright rather than spreading out. Harvest outer leaves as the head matures. It has a very clean, rich lettuce flavor. Seeds may be hard to find; mine were from Burpee.

Mustard ‘Mizuna’—a graceful mounding plant with feathery leaves, this mustard is a must for novice gardeners to try. The leaves have a slight peppery taste and can be mixed with salad greens or added to oriental soups and stir-fries. Plant ‘Mizuna’ in the flower garden for a softening effect and for coverage of spring bulbs after blooming.

Onion ‘Red Wing’—these beautiful, glossy burgundy onions are super easy to grow and can take a lot of neglect. Pull the largest bulbs from the first season, store the smaller ones over winter in a cool place and plant out again the following year to increase the bulb size. It’s not a big onion, maybe up to 3” in diameter. The flavor is sharp and sweet and lends a great color to salads.

Baby Pak Choi ‘Green Fortune’—a newer heat-resistant variety that is slower to bolt than most pak choi varieties. It grows very compact and can even be grown in cinder block holes. When the plants do begin to bolt in early February, you can eat flower stems and all.

Pepper ‘Anaheim’—if you’re new to growing peppers or are worried about growing a variety that’s too hot, try the ‘Anaheim’ pepper. It has mild heat and is great in hot dishes like eggs and soups and, of course, stuffed as chili rellano. The plants stay under 2 feet and once flowering starts the bushes will produce peppers until the killing frosts in December.

Pumpkin ‘Sugar Pie’—this compact pumpkin grows very quickly and can have 6-8 pound pumpkins ready to harvest by early September. It stores well once picked and is excellent roasted with butter and brown sugar. The pulp also makes wonderful fresh tasting pumpkin pies.

Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights’—no other Swiss Chard can stand next to this variety for ease of growth and its festival of colors. Delicious and colorful in soups and stir fries. Harvesting of the leaves can go on year round.

Pineapple Ground Cherry—for the sheer delight of trying something new, grow some ground cherries. It’s related to the tomatillo but has a taste between a walnut and a sweet green tomato. Different, yes, but well worth a try. Plants are very vigorous and fill out a 4-foot garden space quickly. Fruiting is constant and heavy.

Tomato ‘Burbank’—with hundreds of varieties of tomatoes available I still come back to the ‘Burbank’ for old-fashioned clean tomato flavor, juiciness and low acid. Introduced in 1915 by Luther Burbank, this tomato does very well in Zone 9 conditions. My seeds came from Seeds of Change.

Tomato ‘Green Grape’—Wow! Is all I can say for this tomato. I grew it for the first time this year from seeds given to me by a friend and can’t stop praising it. It’s a cherry type tomato that grows on very vigorous bushes that are covered with greenish-gold/red tomatoes. The intense, sweet-tomato flavor explodes in a mouthful of juice. The seeds I planted are from Heirloom Seeds and “came from Ruby Arnold (Aunt Ruby) of Greenville, Tennessee who passed away in 1997”.

Zucchini ‘Eight Ball’—most everyone grows zucchini in their vegetable gardens since it’s one of the easiest, and may I say prolific, vegetables to grow. So I want to suggest one of the more unusual ones, the ‘Eight Ball’. Different in shape from most zukes, the ‘Eight Ball’ is perfect for stuffing when it’s just under 4” in diameter. And it has a more distinctive zucchini flavor.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Sun finally broke through the high fog today after many damp, dreary days. It's a good day to start my garden blog.

One of the reasons for my blog is to critique vegetables and flowers I've started from seeds to help Zone 9 gardeners choose plant varieties that do well under our weather conditions.

The plants are all grown in raised cinderblock beds (2 bricks high) and I compost directly into the beds at least 2 months before planting (more on that coming up).

All of my seeds are started in 6-paks that I'm reusing from nursery plants, then I transfer them to 4" pots once they've grown large enough to transplant.

I've been working on seed starting times based on harvest times and weather conditions. All seeds are started outside, with the 6-paks fully exposed to the weather conditions.

So, here are my first plant notes for my winter-spring vegetables, all planted today in one bed where the soil is loose and moist from our past rains:

  • Brussels Sprouts 'Long Island Improved' --started 8/23/10. Transplanted 4 4-inch pots. The roots were good but not excessive. Plants are 7-8" tall with light leaf chewing.
  • Cabbage 'Late Flat Dutch' --started 8/27/10. Transplanted 4 4-inch pots. Roots light. Plants 8" tall with leaf spread 8-10". The stems are bare the first 3". A little bit of chewing on the leaves.
  • Kale 'Dwarf Essex Rape' --started 8/26/10. Transplanted 2 4-inch pots. These plants are very healthy compared to last years. Roots are very heavy and thick. The leaf spread is over 18" and there is very little chewing on the leaves.