Category Archives: vegetables

Growing Cucamelons in Virginia

cucamelonAlthough I have heard a lot about cucamelons, I have not grown them until this summer. Earlier this year, Burpee sent two small plants in containers, which they labeled “Mexican sour gherkin cucumber.” In fact, this type of cucumber has a variety of common names: cucamelons, Mexican sour gherkins, mouse melons, pepquinos, sandita, and Mexican miniature watermelons. The Latin name is Melathria scabra and they truly are in the cucumber family. Continue reading

Twenty Tomato Tips for the DC Metro Area

By now you should have started your tomato seeds indoors under lights. This is just if you want a head start of course, it is not necessary. You can also purchase tomato plants but be aware that the night temperatures are still too cold for them to be out in the garden now. They prefer warmer weather. Waiting to plant tomatoes until the beginning of May or Mother’s Day will give you the best results. For tomato success, read these twenty tips for growing tomatoes in the Washington DC metro area. Continue reading

Growing Potatoes: Easy, Fun, and Delicious!

leavesWhen you are ordering your seeds, don’t forget to order your seed potatoes. “Seed potatoes” are potatoes for planting, not a true seed. Think of them as “starter” tubers. Seed potatoes are planted outdoors about 4 weeks before the average last frost date. In the DC metro area, this is March and many gardeners use St. Patrick’s Day as the traditional day of planting but later in March is okay too. Continue reading

Tatsoi: A Cool Green in the Garden

A great green to have in your fall and winter garden is tatsoi. A member of the brassica or cabbage family, tatsoi is a low growing plant with dark green, spoon-shaped leaves. It has a beautiful rosette shape that can span a foot across. Continue reading

Plan for the Fall and Winter Garden

mustard

mustard

August is the time for harvesting the summer’s bounty in the vegetable garden while thinking ahead to a winter’s garden. Even though it is hot and humid, you have to plan now to have even more edibles in the fall and winter. These edibles prefer cool temperatures. Often these plants are not bothered by as much disease and pests as in the summer plus you as a gardener are not bothered by heat, humidity, and mosquitoes. Continue reading

Cutting Celery: A Kitchen Staple Growing in the Garden

cutting celery foliage

Foliage of first year’s growth of cutting celery

Cutting celery is a great culinary herb to have in your garden. Unlike stalk celery from a grocery store, cutting celery is full of flavor, reminiscent of black pepper. Cutting celery (Apium graveolens var. secalinum) looks more like parsley than stalk celery (Apium graveolens var. dulce). This foot-tall, bushy plant has short, hollow stems and green, finely serrated leaves about one-inch wide. Continue reading

Twenty Tomato Tips for the Washington DC Metro Area

Here are twenty tips for growing tomatoes successfully in the Washington DC metro area. Continue reading

You Can Grow Sugar Snap Peas

March is the time to grow peas here in Northern Virginia. In our family we prefer the sugar snap peas where you eat pea and pod together but shelling peas and snow peas are also started during March’s cool weather.

St. Patrick’s Day is my cue to soak the seeds in water overnight, insert in cone shaped coffee filters (could have used paper towels too), and place in zipped plastic bags. I left them on a shelf, I did not put them under grow lights. Within two days, the seeds germinated. After a few days, when it was necessary for the shoots to receive sunlight, I planted them outside about 4 inches apart. Planting them when they have germinated as opposed to planting seeds makes them able to withstand the cold soil temperatures. Last year, we picked them almost every day when the peas had expanded enough to make the pods plump – hence – snap when you bit them or bent them. They were so sweet, we ate them raw as the vegetable portion of dinner.

Pea plants are light in weight and their small tendrils need to wrap around thin nylon, string, or wire. In the beginning, you may have to “train” them to wrap around the nylon or unwrap them if they find a nearby plant but eventually they learn to wrap up and create a pretty green screen.

 

Another great thing about peas is that the flowers are edible. They are great in green salads, they can be added as garnish to pea soup or tomato soup, and they can even be used to decorate cupcakes. Just remember, if you pick the flower, you won’t get the pea. But then, plant more peas!

Some Like It Hot and Some Like It Cold

warm season tomato plants for sale in March will not like the cool evenings if planted in the ground

One of my first lessons in growing vegetables and herbs is learning the plant’s preference for temperature. To keep it simple, there are cool season and warm season crops. Getting to know what the plant prefers determines when to buy/plant, what to buy/plant, where to buy/plant, and when to harvest/eat!

In the mid-Atlantic area, typical cool season plants are anything in the cabbage family (cabbage, broccoli, collard, Brussels sprout), lettuce, pea, kale, chervil, dill, cilantro, leek, scallions, radish, spinach, arugula, beet, pak choi or bok choy, carrot, mustard, parsnip, turnip, and Swiss chard.

cool season lettuce for sale in March will like the cool temperatures if planted in the ground

Some can continue to grow well during the summer such as spring onions and Swiss chard. Other cool season lovers “bolt” when it warms up in May/June. For example, cilantro will bolt, that is, flower and set seed, in May. This is good if you want the seed, also known as coriander, but bad if you want to continue to harvest the leaves. When the plant bolts, the leaves become bitter and eventually the plant will die because it is an annual.

Most people associate the warm season edibles with summer itself. These include tomato, basil, fennel, eggplant, pepper, corn, summer/winter squash, zucchini, melon, watermelon, cucumber, okra, and pumpkins. These will not tolerate the frosts we may get in the spring evenings so it is best to start them outdoors after the last average frost date in mid-May.

Frequently you will see both types of plants for sale as early as March. These photos were take at a local hardware store in March last year. Basil, a summer lover, is especially sensitive to cold. If one were to purchase these basil plants and put them in the garden unprotected they may die because there is still the likelihood of frost in early spring.

basil plants for sale in March may even die from a late spring freeze

In my zone 7 garden, the cool season plants/seeds should be started outside in mid-March to the beginning of April. The warm season plants/seeds should be started in early May to the end of May. If you do not know what your vegetable or herb prefers, there are several ways to figure this out:

Read the seed packet or label
Read seed catalogs
Research on the internet
Read local gardening books
Visit garden nurseries and ask knowledgeable staff.

The books I found most useful books for this area are listed below and are easy to get from the library or bookstore. Knowing the plant’s preference will help you figure out when to start your seed and/or when to purchase plants.

The Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook by Ron Kujawski & Jennifer Kujawski (Storey Publishing, 2010)
The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast by Ira Wallace (of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange) (Timber Press, 2013)
The Year Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour (Storey Publishing, 2011)
Gardening in the Mid-Atlantic, Month-by Month by Andre and Mark Viette with Jacqueline Heriteau (Cool Springs Press, 2008)

broccoli for sale in March will thrive in the cool season

Get Your Veggies by Growing Microgreens

mustard microgreens

Now that winter is coming, you can still grow your greens, just indoors. Growing microgreens is a fun, cheap way to grow nutritious vegetable seedlings for sandwiches, wraps, soup, and salads. Microgreens are the shoots of edible plants, requiring very little space and minimal cost.

Microgreens differ from sprouts. With microgreens, the seed germinates in a growing medium and after one or two weeks, the “micro” stems and leaves are cut down to the soil level and eaten. Sprouts are seeds grown in a moist container—no soil. After a few days, the entire sprout–root and seed–is harvested and eaten.

Although there are microgreen kits for sale, a cheap way to grow them is by reusing the plastic containers from the grocery store, such as clam shells for berries, baked goods, and Chinese food containers. Poke a few holes for drainage and fill with bagged, sterile, soilless growing medium, not soil from the garden. The mix specifically made for starting seeds works best. Fill the container with 2 inches of mix and water thoroughly.

radish seeds germinate in 24 hours

The best seed for microgreens germinate quickly and produce tasty shoots and leaves. There is no such thing as a microgreen seed; microgreen is really a stage in which the plant is harvested. However, you may find seed packages sold as “microgreens” because the package is a mix with similar germination rates. Popular seed are kale, mizuna, mustard, radish, carrot, cress, arugula, basil, onion, chive, broccoli, fennel, sweet pea, celery, bok choy, and Asian greens. Local independent garden centers carry these seed packets or order online from any of these companies.

Because seed germinate and grow at different rates, it is best to use one type per container. Cover the surface with seeds and press down with your fingers to put them in direct contact with the moisture. Place the container on top of a tray to catch the excess water. Cover with another container to increase the humidity level and warmth. Always label containers with the plants’ names and keep records so you learn how soon you can harvest and what you like to eat.

radish microgreens in five days

After the seeds germinate, remove the cover and provide light via grow lights, fluorescent tubes, or a south facing window. If you do not have a very sunny window, you may have to rotate the container for the stems to grow straight. If the top level of the soil dries out, water by either misting the top or putting the container in a pan of water so the water is absorbed via the bottom drainage holes.

The first set of “leaves” you will see will not be the true leaves. They will be the cotyledons or the seed leaf within the embryonic seed. If the plant grew outside for the mature fruit or vegetable, these would eventually shrivel and disappear. For many microgreens, you can harvest at this stage because there is plenty of flavor in these “leaves” and stems. For example, you can harvest radishes at this stage because you will taste plenty of spice and the stems will be crisp.

With some plants, you wait until the second set of “leaves” appear, which will be the first set of true leaves. For example, you will want to harvest cilantro at this stage because you get more flavor in the true leaf. At this point, the seedling is probably 2 inches tall.

Harvest by cutting straight across with scissors a centimeter above soil line. You can cut what you need and wash or cut all of it, wash, dry, and refrigerate in a plastic bag for a few days.

Growing microgreens is fun and easy. The more you determine the flavors you like the more you can set up a system where you are sowing seeds on a weekly basis to feed your family nutritious and colorful vegetables year round.