Cool Season Edibles: Expand Your Horizons by Planting Seeds

mustard

mustard

Last year at this time, I was furloughed due to the government shutdown. On a happy note, I had plenty of time to work in the garden and visited several well-known garden centers in Northern Virginia and one in Maryland to peruse their selection of cool season edibles. I was surprised to see a very narrow selection: plastic packs of broccoli, kale, and lettuce; one type of an onion; one type of soft neck garlic; and in one place, one plastic bag of hard neck garlic. To their credit there were raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry bushes in large plastic containers, usually at a reduced price. But even that selection was not representative; there are many other fruit bushes and brambles that do well in this area.

Many people are interested in eating healthy and growing their own food so I find it perplexing that garden centers don’t capitalize on this in the fall like they do in the spring and summer. Growing vegetables is the same, it’s just different vegetables. Several of my spring plants like spinach are grown again in the fall. In fact, I often use the same package of seeds. But then, most of my plants are started from seed. If you want to learn more about what is really possible, if you want to expand your choices of edibles, try growing your plants from seeds. Find companies that sell seed, ask for catalogs, and order a few seed packages of cool season edibles.

While you may see a few broccoli and kale transplants in the garden centers, you will find many types of broccoli and kale not to mention brussel sprouts, red and green lettuces, spinach, mustards (like a lettuce but peppery), mache, chard, endive, arugula, turnips, broccoli raab, cilantro, and dill from companies such as Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Seed Savers Exchange, and Territorial Seed Company. If you look at their web site or their catalogs, you will find that within each of these types of plants, there are many varieties, some more cold tolerant than others.

mache

mache

Don’t forget the “Asian” or “oriental” greens which tolerate light frosts here in my Zone 7 garden. Some of these are sold by the aforementioned companies while Kitazawa Seed Company sells 20 varieties of Chinese cabbage, 20 varieties of mustard, over a dozen varieties of pak choi, and different varieties of tatsoi, mizuna, and edible chrysanthemum greens.

pak choi

pak choi

mizuna

mizuna

Although these are not harvested and eaten in the fall, I would be remiss if I did not mention the wide variety that exists in the Allium family. Like I said, I only found one onion, one soft neck, and one hard neck garlic in the garden centers. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has about 7 of each type of garlic, plus elephant, Asiatic, and turban garlic. They offer Egyptian walking onions, white multiplier onions, yellow potato onions, and shallots. Small bulbs like these are easy to plant:  dig, drop, and cover! Seed Savers Exchange and Territorial Seed Company sell many different types of garlic and shallots and Territorial Seed Company also offers multiplier and walking onions.

These are only a few of the companies that sell these types of seeds and bulbs, and this based on 2014 catalogs I have at home now. I have no doubt that other companies sell cool season edibles; this was just to provide a snapshot of what is possible to grow in the fall in the Mid-Atlantic area. Don’t assume that what you see in your garden center is all there is to grow. The world is full of possibilities!!

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Zinnia linearis

Septemberingarden2014 078Yellow and white zinnias are blooming for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, October 15. This particular type, Zinnia linearis, produces many daisy shaped flowers about an inch wide on a foot tall, bushy plant. I grew these from one-year-old seed – I just scattered the seed into the bed in the summer and have been rewarded with flowers ever since in my Zone 7 Virginia garden. Zinnias are annuals that attract the garden friendlies such as butterflies and can be cut for flower arrangements. Best of all, Zinnia linearis is not prone to powdery mildew (which is rampant on my more well-known Zinnia elegans). Sometimes, you will find this species sold as Zinnia angustifolia or narrow leaved zinnia. Try this type of zinnia for abundant flowers and no leaf diseases!

October In My Garden – A Weekly Report

Japanese anemones

Japanese anemones

October is a busy time in the garden; the cool weather and moist soil make it possible to enjoy a multitude of gardening activities. In anticipation of frost, I threw away the eggplants (they don’t fruit anymore) and the remaining cucumber plants, but left the peppers and Swiss chard in the ground.

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roselle

My zinnias and Japanese anemones are still blooming, the yellow mums are happy with the purple asters (a great color combination), and (finally!) the roselle is blooming (see my September 13 post).

mums & asters

mums & asters

Plants are starting to change color, my favorite hydrangea, oak leaf (Hydrangea quercifolia), has a few red leaves. The panicles of tan and bone flowers are fragile dry but still very pretty (makes great cut flowers for vases that cannot hold water). However, my Annabelles (Hydrangea arborescens) have turned on me; their round flower heads are so black I cut them off and threw them away. The stems will get it in March next year to keep their shape.

oakleaf hydrangea

oakleaf hydrangea

Fall is a great time to get rid of the plants that are just getting out of hand. A few years ago I would have praised balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) as a great kid plant. Just before the petals open, the purple flowers inflate and my kids would pop them like bubble wrap.  A perennial, balloon flower emerges every year and grows to about 2-3 feet tall with arching stems.  In the fall, the leaves turn gold and the large seed pods disperse across the garden. Now, years later, I guess my garden has reached the point of significant mass of seeds, I can see small balloon flower plants all across the front garden, taking up space and creating havoc.  I ruthlessly cut the original plants back to prevent any more seeding and pulled out all the small, baby plants I could find. If you see a plant getting too aggressive, don’t be afraid to cut it back or pull it out.

balloon flower

balloon flower

Fall is also a great time for bean stew and I throw whatever greens I have into the crockpot. This time, I added Swiss chard (leaving a few leaves on the plants so the plants can still photosynthesis and grow) plus dried rosemary and thyme. For another dinner, I harvested the spinach, a cool weather green, and the red peppers to cook with chicken in a skillet.

Fall also is the time to lift and divide perennials. The previous owner had planted purple flowering, bearded irises and when we first moved here, I had divided them to the point that I had enough to fill the two front beds. Every April, a mass of purple would color the house for a few weeks but then for the rest of the summer, the green leaves would just sit there. Sure, they provided a green background for the front garden but now that I want more space for edibles, I decided to re-design the two beds. I cut the iris foliage back to 6 inches, pulled the rhizomes out, cut off the old & diseased parts, and gave the rhizomes to staff at the kids’ school, friends, and coworkers. I re-planted a few irises and I will lift and divide the yarrow (Achillea), red hot poker (Kniphofia), and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) from other beds to add color. In the spring, I will plant herbs and vegetables. Because the beds look a little empty now, the kids and I went to Grist Mill Park in Alexandria, Virginia, to fill bags with wood mulch to cover the beds. In Fairfax County, you can help yourself to free wood mulch year round at certain parks.  Later, as the county picks up the autumn leaves, you can get free leaf mulch, which is good for increasing organic matter. Since we don’t have a truck, we double bagged the Fiskars Kangaroo garden bag with 45 gallon plastic bags (get them at the hardware store). Wood mulch is heavy, we could only fill the bags half full but the leaf mulch should be much lighter, which we will get in November. November is a busy time in the garden; the cool weather and moist soil make it possible to enjoy a multitude of gardening activities . . .Septemberingarden2014 091

Dwarf Iris: You Can Grow That!

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Harmony

Grow dwarf irises for early spring color! These irises are only 4-5 inches tall and bloom solitary flowers in early March in my zone 7 Virginia garden. Also known as netted iris, Iris reticulata are very small bulbs, covered with a fibrous netting. There are many cultivars; flower colors range from light to dark blue or light to dark purple. Preferring full sun and well-drained soil, they thrive in rock gardens, on steps and terraces, in containers, and can even be forced to bloom indoors in pots. The flowers can be cut for small desk top vases, bringing early spring cheer to the office or home. Now is the time to plant spring blooming bulbs – visit your local garden center to get these small ones or order from a nursery that specializes in bulbs. Buy at least a handful and plant with roots pointing down, spike pointing up, about three inches deep and three inches apart. Hardy to zone 5, they die back in the summer and come back in the spring every year. In my garden, ‘J.S. Dijt’ and ‘Harmony’ have thrived for 6 years with no pests or diseases. You can grow that!

J.S. Dijt

J.S. Dijt

Youcangrowthat

Fall is for Planting

Fall is Fantastic!  from Prides Corner Farms

Fall is Fantastic!
from Prides Corner Farms

It’s October — time to plant shrubs, trees, and hardy perennials. Fall is a great time to plant in our Washington, DC, metropolitan area. The cooler temperatures, increased moisture, and decreased sun/heat allow the plants to settle in the ground, send out roots, and get established. While the soil is still warm, roots continue to develop until the ground actually freezes so the plant’s energy goes into getting firmly settled in the soil, not on top growth. The shrubs, trees, and hardy perennials you buy now can be planted with minimal stress to them as well as to your wallet. Many garden centers are concerned with moving their inventory, especially the container grown plants that are outside. As winter approaches, discounts increase thus increasing the possibility of finding bargains.

Fall is such a great time to plant that today, October 1, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Terence R. McAuliffe, recognized October 2014 as “Fall Is for Planting Month” and “calls this observance to the attention of all of our citizens.”  Governor McAuliffe recognizes that “trees and plants support a healthy environment and are essential to human well-being.” For more on this proclamation, see https://governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/proclamations/proclamation/fall-is-for-planting-month/

Visit your garden center this month to enhance your landscape, support a healthy environment, and boost your well-being! For a list of garden centers in the Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC, area, view the “nurseries” tab at the top of my blog, http://www.pegplant.com.

Peg’s Picks October Gardening Events Washington DC Area

Oudraat-Brown Residence in Washington DC Photo by Roger Foley

Oudraat-Brown Residence in Washington DC
Photo by Roger Foley

October is the time for harvest festivals and pumpkin patches. Check the “public gardens” and “nurseries” tabs on my blog for events; I have only listed a few “edible” ones below. That being said, there is one annual event that isn’t covered in those lists. This year, on Saturday, October 18, the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program will share four private, DC and MD gardens with the public, from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission to each garden is $7, no reservations required. The Garden Conservancy, a non-profit organization based in New York, introduced the Open Days program in 1995 as a means of introducing the public to gardening, providing easy access to outstanding examples of design and horticultural practice, and proving that exceptional American gardens are still being created. The Open Days program is America’s only national private garden-visiting program and is made possible by volunteers. Private gardens are open to the public across the country throughout the year. The proceeds from the Open Day program support the national preservation work of the Garden Conservancy. Visitors may begin the self-guided tour at either one of these locations:

Macleish Garden, 3525 Springland Lane, NW, Washington DC

Meandering walks, vistas, and garden rooms distinctly different from each other, offering surprises of color and texture throughout

Underwood Property, 4002 Underwood Street, Chevy Chase, MD

Garden and house support each other through the use of rainfall, natural ventilation and drainage, and solar and geothermal energy, with rooftop vegetable gardens, gabion walls, green roofs, rain gardens, and native plants

Directions will be provided to these locations in DC.

Oudraat-Brown Residence: a playful, non-traditional garden of bold colors, a curving “ribbon wall,” a cantilevered deck, repeating rounded boxwood and hawthorn trees, and perennials that spill over and soften the edges of the walkways.

Rauser Garden: a Japanese inspired woodland garden featuring fall highlights of nandina, camellias, and beautyberry, a fishpond and waterfall, pebble paths, and a hidden Zen garden

For more detailed directions and descriptions of these gardens, visit http://www.opendaysprogram.org. To learn more about the Garden Conservancy, visit http://www.gardenconservancy.org.

Other gardening events in October

Friday, October 17, U.S. Botanic Garden, noon to 1:00 pm, “What Science Says about GMO Food,” lecture by Beth Burrous, biochemist and USBG volunteer, free but must register. 100 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC (202) 225-8333 (general) and (202) 225-1116 (to register for events). http://usbg.gov

Saturday, October 11, U.S. National Arboretum, “Under the Arbor” is a series of informal, drop in demonstrations on an herb or herb related topic, presented by members of Mid Atlantic Units of the Herb Society of America. In October the topic is Chile Peppers, 1:00 to 4:00, National Herb Garden, free. 3501 New York Avenue, NE, Washington DC 20002 (202) 245-2726. http://www.usna.usda.gov

Saturday & Sunday, October 18 & 19, Loudoun’s 2014 Fall Farm Tour. A free, self-guided tour of privately owned farms (about 21 farms & wineries in Loudoun County). Visit farm animals, gather eggs, pick pumpkins and apples, and enjoy many family oriented activities. Visit the web site for more information and for a brochure with a map of the farms and description of activities; Sponsored by Loudoun Virginia Economic Development. http://www.loudounfarms.org

 

Seed: To Save or Not To Save, That Is the Question

In my garden, I save seeds from certain plants every year and for others, I leave the seed for the birds. Seed saving is a great idea but whether or not you should save the seed depends on the plant.

dried seed pods on Hibiscus 'Lil' Kim'

dried seed pods on Hibiscus ‘Lil’ Kim’

If you are interested in saving the seed, ask yourself this: will you get the same plant as before? The first thing you need to find out is whether or not your plant is a hybrid or an open-pollinated plant. A hybrid is a plant that comes from the controlled cross breeding of two distinct species or cultivars. This is done intentionally to capture a desired trait such as flower color or disease resistance. If you saved the seed from this hybrid, the next generation will not look like your original plant. It will exhibit some of its parents’ (or even previous generations’) characteristics so you won’t retain the desired traits. For example, in September my Hibiscus syriacus ‘Lil’ Kim’ has interesting seed pods that look really easy to cut off, dry, and save. But this plant was deliberately created as a dwarf form of the species Hibiscus syriacus, commonly known as Rose of Sharon, a shrubby plant about 5 feet tall. If I planted the seeds next year, I would get a Hibiscus plant, that is one with hibiscus-like characteristics, but it may be small, medium, or large, with white, pink or lavender flowers.

If you have an open pollinated plant, the seed will produce the same plant as before with most flowers and herbs. There are exceptions in the vegetable world. There are some vegetables that self-pollinate such as tomatoes and beans so the seed retains the original characteristics. However, there are some vegetables that are pollinated by insects willing to travel to your neighbor’s garden to cross pollinate your neighbor’s vegetables with your vegetables. Peas, peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, and squash are examples of vegetables that are cross-pollinated so the resulting seed may produce plants that do not have the same or desired traits as before. After you have decided whether saving the seed will result in the plant you want, consider these criteria:

1. Do you have enough of the plant or want more?

This spring I planted love-in-a-mist seeds (Nigella damascena), which I bought from the Green Spring Gardens gift shop in Alexandria, VA. Green Spring Gardens has stands of these small lavender-blue flowers that produce very interesting seed pods, perfect for dried flower arrangements. My seed only produced a few plants but fortunately, they flowered and produced seed. I want the seeds to disperse and germinate in the garden next year in the same place to get more plants (hopefully a stand of them just like at Green Spring Gardens). I could do this manually by saving seeds and planting next year or I could just let nature do it for me. I left the seed pods in the garden.

love-in-a-mist at Green Spring Gardens

love-in-a-mist at Green Spring Gardens

On the other hand, I have a few columbine plants, Aquilegia columbine, growing in one place.  I would like for them to grow in other places on the property so I cut the seed pods and put them in a paper bag. Later, when they were bone dry, I pulled the pods apart and put the tiny, glossy black seeds in a glass jar.

dried seed pods and seed from columbine

dried seed pods and seed from columbine

2. Is the seed useful in the kitchen?

I always grow plenty of dill and cilantro, some of which I harvest the leaves for cooking, some of which I leave alone and let the plants flower and “go to seed.” When the seed heads are brown, I cut them and let them drop into a paper bag and let dry some more. The dill seed is great for breads and rolls, the cilantro seed, which is known as coriander, is great for cookies and fruit salads. Sometimes, I use the seed for the garden the next year, just depends on how much baking is done in the winter.

dried dill seed head, in vase on napkin

dried dill seed head, in vase on napkin

3. Do you find it easier to save seed or just buy again next year?

The corollary being, how much time do you have? There are two basic methods for saving seed: dry and wet. With most of my herbs and flowers, I use the dry method because the seed themselves are in a dried pod so it is simple to cut the pods and put it in a paper bag. After a few weeks, when very dry, I put them on a plate, separate seed from the pod, and put the seed in a glass jar with a label. With pulpy, fleshy vegetables, I use the wet method. Parts of the fruit, such as tomatoes, are cut up or mashed and put in a jar with water. After days, depending on the plant, you eventually extract the seeds from the pulp and lay on a paper towel to dry.  The exact process depends on the vegetable. For detailed information on how to save seed (and for buying open pollinated seed), check out the Seed Savers Exchange (under the “Education” tab) and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (under the “Growing Guides” tab).

4. Do you want to attract birds or create winter interest?

If you want to feed the birds or try to achieve some architectural interest in the garden in the winter, you have to leave the seeds on the plants. I grow a lot of lemon basil because I use some plants for cooking while leaving others in the garden to flower and set seed. In late summer through fall, the yellow finches land on the swaying seed stalks and peck at the seeds. I also leave the coneflower (Echinacea) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) plants alone. After they flower, they have stiff seed stalks and prominent seed heads that add interest in the winter and provide food for birds.

lemon basil plants gone to seed

lemon basil plants gone to seed

This September, my rue plant (Ruta graveolens) produced interesting seed heads far above the foliage. Rue is a well known herb but I use it as a landscape plant. Its gray, green foliage provides a lot of color and texture, it is drought resistant and seems to repel deer and critters, and it provides yellow flowers in the summer for me to cut and place in vases for the office. I was torn between harvesting the seed for more rue plants next year or leaving the seed heads for winter interest when I read that rue is a great companion plant for alpine strawberries (which I just grew this year) and for raspberries (which I also planted in my garden). Off with her head!

rue seed heads

rue seed heads