Category Archives: vegetables

Eggplant: Third Time Around

eggplant in EarthBoxThis is my third year of growing eggplant. I have my standard veggies I grow every year such as tomatoes and peppers but I also like to try varieties that are new to me. If the first attempt is not successful, I often try again and usually placing the plant in a different area of the garden helps.

The first year, I grew several Black Beauty eggplants in one garden bed by the side of the house. I started the seed indoors under lights early in the year and then planted the transplants outside in May. The plants grew well but the leaves were stippled. Tiny flea beetles had chewed small spots. This did not kill the plants, they still grew well but I got only one purple eggplant. The second year, I grew them in a different garden bed with better soil, more organic matter and more fertilizer. The plants were bigger with more leaves and very little flea beetles. They actually flowered quite a lot but the flowers withered, died, and fell off. No eggplant appeared. Because eggplants are wind-pollinated, the only thing I could think of was that there was not enough of a wind current in that area. The plants were in a bed that was a few feet away from a honeysuckle-covered fence. I even tried to hand pollinate with a brush but the regular maintenance of life made this difficult to do on a regular schedule.eggplant

This year, I am trying again. I started Black Beauty from seed indoors months ago. I actually got very good germination and end up with too many. I selected six robust seedlings and transferred them to my three EarthBoxes in May (EarthBox recommends two per box). An EarthBox is a self-watering container where the prescribed amount of fertilizer and dolomite are mixed in with the soil before planting. The plants do not dry out as quickly as if they were in a regular container because a screen separates the soil from a reservoir below so the roots can take in water if needed. For this experiment, it did not have to be an EarthBox, it could be any self-watering container big enough for eggplants with the proper amount of fertilizer. A self-watering container helps to alleviate the stress that occurs when the water fluctuates too much. Since I have to spend half my life in an office, I can’t always monitor the soil moisture level. Also, I happened to have three EarthBoxes because I used to grow tomatoes in them on the deck.

My theory is that growing the eggplants in an EarthBox with potting soil and the prescribed fertilizer and dolomite will provide the plants the optimum level of nutrients and soil texture so that the plants will not be stressed. Stressed plants attract harmful bugs and insects such as flea beetles.

I put one container on my deck in full sun and two by the other side of the house, also in sun.  They are deliberately placed in areas that get plenty of sun and cross-site ventilation.

eggplant flower budAs of mid-June, there are no or very few flea beetles, the leaves look very healthy, and I can see one flower bud. I know eggplant can be grown easily here in Virginia; I have heard others say they had bumper crops last year. Hoping for the best — gardening is an adventure!

Pak Choi Blooming Signals End to Spring

pak choi flowersWell I guess spring is over; the pak choi is blooming (or bolting as we gardeners say). I barely got to eat any, we have had so much rain here in Virginia.  I grow pak choi every spring. It is easy to start by direct sowing seed early in March but it bolts so quickly that harvesting in April and May must be a priority.  The stems and leaves taste good raw in salads or cooked, such as stir-fry. The flowers are a pretty yellow with four petals. Pak choi is a member of the cabbage or “Cruciferae” family, which is Latin for cross-bearing so all flowers in the family have the cross-shaped four petals and most are yellow colored. This one, Brassica rapa, is similar to bok choi, a type of Chinese cabbage, but smaller and milder to me.

Gardening is a lot like a play. There are several acts, each with its own set of actors entering the stage to give their performance and exiting to allow others the limelight. I am busy now helping other characters get ready for their scene that I let pak choi flower (eating now would be too bitter). In a month, during Act II, I will pull them out, save the seed, and replace with a mid-summer night’s dream.pak choi

Seedlings Ready to Go — Waiting for Rain to Stop!

Just waiting for the rain to stop so can plant marigolds, beans, and pumpkins!

marigoldsMarigolds, an annual that flowers all summer and into fall, can be started from seed easily (and cheaply if you saved seeds from last year!). I find it is best to start in a small container and then transplant. You can direct sow but birds may get them or rain may wash them away.

I had an old cell pack from something I bought at the nursery and filled with seed starting mix. Using a pencil to create a hole, I plopped a marigold seed into each cell, and watered. You can start inside under lights but it is not worth the space when you can  start outside in April and May and bring in if frost threatens. These are ready to transplant into the garden, it just has to stop raining!

beansBeans are so easy to grow you can direct sow or start in a container. Large seeds work well with jiffy peat pellets. After letting the pellets sit in a tray of water until they fully expand, pull back the netting at the top with two pencils, poke a hole, drop one bean per pellet and cover with soil.

bean rootsThese were started a while ago and have been ready to go into the garden bed but it has been raining!! You can see how the roots have come through the pellets and have interconnected themselves with other beans. When I plant these into the garden, I will separate, take off the netting, and remove the colored paper clips, which are my way of identifying the type of bean. I am starting different types of beans to celebrate this year as the International Year of Pulses (see my January article, https://pegplant.com/2016/01/25/celebrate-the-international-year-of-the-pulses-eat-more-beans/).

Pumpkins also are large seeds that are easy to grow. This one is from seed saved from last year’s Halloween  pumpkin, one seed per  jiffy peat pellet (see last Halloween’s article on saving seed, https://pegplant.com/2015/10/31/happy-halloween-and-dont-forget-to-save-those-pumpkin-seeds/). I love the way it is so self-contained but it is not quite ready to be transplanted. The large “leaves” are the cotyledons, formed during the embryonic stage. The inner piece of green are the true leaves emerging. I am sure by the time it stops RAINING, the true leaves will have grown to the point that this will be ready to transplant into the garden if it does not FREEZE again!! pumpkin seed

Local Resource for Growing Tomatoes Successfully This Summer

year-of-the-tomato-logoThe University of Maryland Extension (UME) has a fantastic “Grow It Eat It” program. This year, they have declared 2016 as the Year of the Tomato. To celebrate this popular veggie, they created a site devoted to learning more about growing, harvesting, and preserving/canning tomatoes, http://extension.umd.edu/growit/2016-year-tomato. The site has a variety of resources: a list of local UME offices, contact information for Maryland’s gardening experts, and the list of the Master Gardener plant clinics for getting answers to tomato problems. It also has a link to their Youtube playlist of tomato information; recommended cultivars; winners of the 2015 tomato tasting events; and tomato-related articles on the Grow It Eat It blog. Although this is a UME resource, the information is applicable to those of us who live in the Mid-Atlantic area so Virginia and DC residents can enjoy the bounty. If you ever wanted to grow tomatoes successfully, now is the time!

You Can Grow That: Lettuce

lettuceYou can grow lettuce, it is one of the easiest plants to grow in the spring. Lettuce needs very little soil to grow and tolerates cool days and frosty nights. In the spring, lettuce should be given as much light as possible. Think container gardening or  garden beds where trees have not leafed out yet.

In my Northern Virginia garden, I  sow seeds in containers and the garden bed in March and again every 2 weeks thereafter until the end of May. Lettuce seeds are very small so just press them into wet soil. Afterwards, make sure the soil does not dry out, which may mean watering often, depending on the weather. The squirrels like to dig in my containers on the deck so I apply a dust of blood meal. In the garden bed, the slugs like to dine at night so I throw down broken eggshells. I tend to sow too many seeds so as the seedlings emerge, I pull to create more space for the remaining soldiers and use them in salad or transplant to other areas of the garden that are waiting for the warm weather veggies. The nice thing about lettuce is that you can grow them before the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants so you don’t need more land; you just double up on your existing land. This year, I sowed lettuce seed in March in a very large Smart Pot called the Big Bag Bed–it is the size of a kiddie pool! By April, I was able to transplant quite a few in a garden bed. Just now, in May, I planted peppers in between the lettuce in the garden bed so by the time it is summer the lettuce will have been pulled (it will be too bitter) and the peppers will grow into the space.smart pot

My family prefers the loose-leaf and romaine varieties. Loose-leaf, or cut and come again, has leaves that are loosely splayed outwards from the crown. They are the easiest to grow, quickest to harvest, and come in a variety of colors.  The entire plant can be cut at the base but most people cut the outer leaves as needed so the younger, inner leaves can take their place. Within this group are some of the best heat tolerant varieties. Romaine, also called cos, is not as sweet to me but I find that homegrown romaine is much tastier than store bought. Its stiff, vertical leaves are great for sandwiches and wraps. Romaine has the highest nutritional value of all the lettuces so it is a feel good mommy lettuce.pepper with lettuce

There are two other types that I have not grown. Butterhead, such as Bibb and Boston, has small heads of dark green leaves. These plants are so tight they have to be cut at the base and harvested whole. Crisphead is the familiar Iceberg, a tight ball of light colored leaves that requires a long cool season so it would be too challenging for me.

Try growing lettuce, you would be amazed at how it is easy and tasty!

You Can Grow That is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something by posting gardening articles on the fourth of each month. Visit http://www.youcangrowthat.com/blogs/ for more articles.

Growing Grains: The Final Frontier in Edible Gardening

samplesRecently my office moved to a new location with a large cafeteria. The food is good and the bonus is the monthly educational program presented by registered dietitian nutritionists to promote healthy eating. This month the focus was on whole grains. Rachel Griffin, RDN, LDN, gave samples of a mixed grain and bean salad made with quinoa, barley, kidney beans, chick peas, black and white beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and parsley. Full of fiber and protein, this cold grain and bean dish was very tasty. In addition, Rachel had a guessing game where people were supposed to label the six containers of uncooked grains: brown rice, quinoa, farro, millet, amaranth, and barley. I was almost correct; I could not tell the difference between the millet and the quinoa–both looked like bird seed. Rachel explained that the millet was all one color and the quinoa came in three colors, from bone to tan to black.grains

From a gardener’s view it is possible to grow some grains here in Virginia, I just have never tried it yet (it is on that “when I retire” list).  I do grow the veggies and beans found in this particular recipe, which I will try to make myself because I have made the pulse pledge this year (see my January 25 post on 2016 is the International Year of Pulses, https://pegplant.com/2016/01/25/celebrate-the-international-year-of-the-pulses-eat-more-beans/).

If you are interested in growing grains, you might want to check out #CrazyGrainLady. Although I have never met her in person, I follow her site because I too am interested in foodscaping. Brienne Gluvna Arthur lives in a typical North Carolina suburban home where she incorporates edibles into her landscape but has gone the extra mile of growing grains, including wheat. Check out her site, https://briegrows.com/2016/02/09/crazy-grain-lady/.

mixed grain bean salad recipe

 

 

Epic Tomatoes, Epic Stories: Learning How to Grow Tomatoes in Virginia

Epic_TomatoesLast Sunday I had the good fortune to hear Craig LeHoullier speak about tomatoes at Green Spring Gardens, Alexandria, VA; part of the annual Harry Allen Winter Lecture Series. Armed with a PhD in chemistry, Craig used to work for a pharmaceutical company and always grew vegetables as a hobby. In 1986, bored with nursery-bought tomato plants, he tried starting heirloom tomatoes from seed and developed a passion for growing them.

That same year he joined the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving heirloom plants. SSE members receive the annual SSE Yearbook, akin to the toy-filled Sears Wish Book that used to come out every Christmas. The Yearbook has over 13,000 types of seeds, 4,000 of which are tomatoes. Craig started growing these obscure types and corresponding with other gardeners who also shared “hand me down” tomato seeds.

Currently, Craig resides in Raleigh, NC, with his wife Susan who also was at Green Spring Gardens. In addition to growing heirlooms, Craig researches old types, collects old nursery catalogs, and exchanges seeds with other gardeners. For 10 years, he organized the Tomatopalooza, an annual tomato tasting event.

In his talk, Craig explained the history of tomatoes and how there were very few varieties up until the mid-1800s when the process for selecting desirable traits changed. Since then more types have become available so that now there are so many types, it’s hard to choose. He suggested considering two criteria:  first, hybrid, heirloom, or open pollinated; and second, indeterminate, determinate, or dwarf.Craig

Hybrids, he explained, are “a cross between two parents” and are bred for a particular characteristic. “Hybrids are good if you want maximum yield or you want to avoid a disease or if there is one that is so good, you can’t live without like ‘Sun Gold.’” Saving seed from a hybrid may not give you the same desired characteristics. With open pollinated types, the saved seed will produce successive generations with the same characteristics. Heirlooms are a type of open pollinated where the plants “have stood the test of time or have a story associated with them.” For him, an heirloom pre dates 1950 which is when Burpee produced the hybrid Big Boy. Thereafter, seed companies focused on selling hybrids. Open pollinated may or may not be heirlooms depending on how long people have grown them.

The second criterion depends on space. Indeterminate tomatoes can grow so tall they need staking but they produce wonderful fruit all season long.  The vast majority of heirlooms are indeterminate because the gene for short growth occurred around 1920. Determinate plants are “tomato machines,” they produce crop quickly, can be grown in pots, and may need short stakes or cages. Harvesting time is condensed but yields are great enough for canning or sauces. Dwarfs, his new project, provide the best of both, since they grow at half the rate of an indeterminate but bear fruits gradually with great flavor. Dwarfs are open pollinated but not heirlooms yet, they have not been grown for generations yet. He has been growing his dwarf plants in 5-gallon containers in a soil-less mix and they get as tall as 3 to 4 feet.

Craig described his dwarf tomato breeding project where he wanted to grow a container size plant that produced good tasting fruit. He started to work with Patrina Nuske Small in Australia and between the two hemispheres were able to combine two growing seasons in one calendar year. In 2006, they created a collaboration of more than 100 amateur gardeners across the world to produce new but stable dwarf varieties. To date, about 60 varieties have been produced and are sold through a few, small seed companies.

Craig illustrated how he grows many different types of tomatoes from seed at his home, using only fluorescent lights – he does not have a greenhouse. When the seedlings are ready to be transplanted into the ground, he recommends planting deep into the soil, “any part of the plant that is underground will root,” and mulching to prevent disease. Plant about 3 feet apart: “Spacing is important to increase sun and air circulation to prevent disease.” Watering from the bottom also is important to prevent diseases. He has many containers on his driveway full of fresh, soil-less mix every year – he does not re-use the mix in the containers in order to prevent diseases. He concluded his talk by briefly describing straw bale gardening, common tomato diseases, and saving seeds from fresh tomatoes.

I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation. Craig genuinely wants to help people learn how to grow great tasting tomatoes. Afterwards, he spent time answering questions and signing his two books, Epic Tomatoes and Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales (both published by Storey Publishing). Check his website, http://www.nctomatoman.com or http://www.epictomatoes.com, for his lecture schedule and information on growing tomatoes.

 

Celebrate the International Year of Pulses: Eat More Beans!!

beansAs many of you may know, I have given up meat and am pursuing a plant-based diet. Fortunately for me, the United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. This means more recipes and more information on how to cook with pulses, which are key to a plant-based diet. One cannot help but eat more beans, chickpeas, lentils, and split peas!

Pulses are a subgroup of legumes, members of the Leguminosae family (commonly known as the pea family), that produce edible seeds. Pulses are harvested for their seed. To use beans as an example, green beans eaten off the vine are legumes but since they are green (not matured or dried) they are considered a vegetable. Let the pods dry on the vine and shell them to release the dry beans/seeds and they are considered a pulse.

Pulses are excellent sources of fiber, protein, iron, and potassium; are gluten and cholesterol free; are low in fat and sodium; and have a low glycemic index. Cheap and easy to find, pulses are sold in grocery stores in cans or bags where canned vegetables and beans or bags of dried beans/lentils and rice are shelved.

Today, I took the “pulse pledge” — I pledged to eat pulses once a week for 10 weeks. As a family we actually do eat them often: my 15-bean stew, refried beans in tacos, hummus, and lentil chili. But taking the pledge will encourage me to try new recipes from the online sources below.Tiger Eye bean

As a gardener, I pledged to myself to grow a pulse this summer. Although I grow green beans every year, I have never grown a “pulse” or I should say I have never grown a shelling bean. I just purchased Tiger Eye from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in my first round of seed purchases and am continuing to look at other catalogs (see below). Shaped like a kidney bean, Tiger Eye is a beautiful brown mustard color with maroon swirls. It is supposed to taste like a pinto bean but creamier and can be used like a refried bean or in soups and stews. Many of the shelling beans are beautifully colored or marked beans with intriguing names such as Jacob’s Cattle, King of the Early, and Black Turtle. Grow shelling beans like green beans only let the pods dry on the vine. In the fall, probably late October in my Northern Virginia zone 7 garden, when the plant is mature, the leaves are brown, and the pods rattle in the wind, cut the pods off, take the beans out, and store the beans in a dry, cool place.

For 2016, take the pulse pledge and learn to cook beans, lentils, split peas, and chickpeas. Better yet, try growing your own!

Resources for more information on pulses including recipes:

http://www.pulses.org

http://www.pulsepledge.com

http://www.iyp2016.org/

http://www.northernpulse.com

http://www.cookingwithpulses.com/

http://www.pea-lentil.com/

http://www.northernpulse.com/

Cookbooks that can be downloaded:

http://www.northernpulse.com/uploads/resources/885/cookbook-final–2011–for-website-2013.pdf

http://www.northernpulse.com/uploads/resources/904/pulses-the-perfect-food-july-2013.pdf

http://northernpulse.com/uploads/resources/410/cookbook-order.pdf

Sources of shelling beans (nursery seed catalogs):

Fedco Seeds

High Mowing Organic Seeds

Seed Savers Exchange

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Vermont Bean Seed Company

Free Seed Catalogs (With an Emphasis on Veggies and Herbs)

I have updated my website page of free seed catalogs (also listed below). The first list is of companies will mail a free print catalog — just ask! The second list is of companies that list seeds on their website. I grow edibles in Northern Virginia so I tend to collect those catalogs that offer vegetable and herb seeds.

Seed companies that mail free catalogs

Adaptive Seeds http://www.adaptiveseeds.com

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed http://www.rareseeds.com

Botanical Interests http://www.botanicalinterests.com

Burpee http://www.burpee.com

Fedco Seeds http://www.fedcoseeds.com

Harris Seeds http://www.harrisseeds.com

High Mowing Seeds http://www.highmowingseeds.com

Hudson Valley Seed Library http://www.seedlibrary.org

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds http://www.kitchengardenseeds.com

Johnny’s Selected Seeds http://www.johnnyseeds.com

J.W. Jung Seed http://www.jungseed.com

Kitazawa Seed Company http://www.kitazawaseed.com

Nichols Garden Nursery http://www.nicholsgardennursery.com

Park Seed http://www.parkseed.com

Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply http://www.groworganic.com

R.H. Shumway http://www.rhshumway.com

Seeds of Change http://www.seedsofchange.com

Seed Savers Exchange http://www.seedsavers.org

Seeds from Italy http://www.growitalian.com

Select Seeds/Antique Flowers http://www.selectseeds.com

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange http://www.southernexposure.com

Sow True Seeds http://www.sowtrueseeds.com

Stokes Seeds http://www.stokesseeds.com

Territorial Seed Company http://www.territorialseed.com

Tomato Growers Supply Company http://www.tomatogrowers.com

Totally Tomatoes http://www.totallytomato.com

Urban Farmer http://www.ufseeds.com

Vermont Bean Seed Company http://www.vermontbean.com

Online Seed Companies (companies do not produce print catalog, order from web site).

American Meadows  http://www.americanmeadows.com

Renee’s Garden  http://www.reneesgarden.com

Sample Seeds http://www.sampleseeds.com

Landreth Seed Company http://www.landrethseeds.com

Cookbooks That Focus on the Harvest Are More Useful to Gardeners: The Renee’s Garden Cookbook

The Renee's Garden CookbookThe more I garden, the more I want to increase my repertoire of vegetable and herb-based recipes. I have plenty of cookbooks that were given to me years ago, but they are of little use to me now. With them, I have to wade through dozens of recipes to find one that highlights fresh chard, kale, or spinach, much less mention rosemary, thyme, or basil, all of which I have in abundance in my Northern Virginia garden. For me, cookbooks that focus on the harvest are more useful to gardeners than ones that focus on the type of course. Because many of my vegetable seeds come from Renee’s Garden, an online seed company in California, recently I learned that owner Renee Shepherd published The Renee’s Garden Cookbook with co-author Fran Raboff, cookbook author and cooking teacher. The Renee’s Garden Cookbook is the third in their collaborative effort; Renee and Fran already published Recipes from a Kitchen Garden and More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden a few years ago. The recipes for these cookbooks come out of a gardener/cook partnership; Renee brings the harvest from her company’s trial gardens to Fran’s kitchen and together they cook and test recipes to make easy dishes for families to enjoy. The recipes are by no means vegetarian dishes but vegetables and herbs are prominent.

I have the most recent cookbook, The Renee’s Garden Cookbook, and I suspect from the sample recipes on the Renee’s Garden web site that the other two books are similar. Unlike traditional cookbooks, Renee and Fran divided the recipes in The Renee’s Garden Cookbook by the main vegetable, salads, and herbs. In the first section, 29 vegetables are highlighted in alphabetical order, each with several recipes and sidebars on growing the plant. The section on salads and salad dressings has both leaf as well as fruit salad recipes with instructions on growing lettuce and Asian greens. The third section covers savory and sweet herbs. Savory herb recipes include herb encrusted lamb chops; Whitney’s tender chicken with pasta, mushrooms, and fresh herb sauce; apple chutney with wine and sweet basil; Thai shrimp soup with lemon grass; and spiced mint vinegar. Sweet herbs are used for desserts such as upper crust pear pie with lemon basil or lemon thyme; yogurt cheese pie scented with lemon geranium; caramel custard cups scented with rose geranium; and lavender jelly to name a few. Your mouth waters and you instinctively add the plants you don’t have to your “garden wish list” (got to get those scented geraniums!). Illustrated by Mimi Osborne who designs the watercolor images on the Renee’s Garden seed packets, the 158-page book has over 300 recipes.  Each copy is $17.95 or $19.05 for a gift box (great holiday present). To order and to view sample recipes and the other cookbooks, visit http://www.reneesgarden.com.