Category Archives: vegetables

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.

 

Discovering New Plants and Gardening Products at IGC East Trade Show

Last week, I visited IGC East in Baltimore and was impressed with several new gardening products as well as plants. IGC is a trade show where staff from Independent Garden Centers gather to learn and possibly order new plants and products from wholesale vendors to sell at their garden center. They also have the opportunity to attend lectures designed to help them in their nursery business. I attended as press and visited hundreds of vendor booths to see what new items might appear in the garden centers next year.

Medinilla on left and Dolce Vita on the right

Medinilla on left and Dolce Vita on the right

I think the biggest “Wow!” plant was the Medinilla and the double bloom variety called Dolce Vita. Native to the Philippines, these large-leaved plants are grown as houseplants year round or outdoors in the summer here in our Mid-Atlantic area. They have incredibly large pink flowers that last for months. I originally thought “banana” when I first saw them because of their pendulous shape but the spokesperson from Northend Gardens said the two varieties are related to the tibouchina plant, another tropical plant that is commonly sold in the summer here for its purple flowers. A series of Medinilla plants on a rafter with the pink blossoms hanging down would be such an eye catching “Wow!” for customers in a nursery but also in any public area such as restaurant or store.

Succulent Combos

Lil’ Cuties

For me, the second “Wow!” plant was a red-stemmed, green-leaved succulent that I spotted in the Overdevest Nurseries’ booth. This particular plant stood out for me as unique but it was part of their line of “Lil’ Cuties,” arrangements of succulents in small containers. Drought-resistant, these succulent combinations offer a lot of color for minimal effort; perfect for decks and patios.

Overdevest’s new line of “Chick Charms” was cute and would make a nice gift. Chick Charms are hens and chicks in small containers, each with a novelty name. This particular collection of hens and chicks were selected from an evaluation of over 400 varieties of sempervivums; who knew there could be so many!ChickCharms

In the world of edibles, I thought 2 Plant International had an exciting idea: The “Seeds are Easy” line of cleverly designed burlap bags of seeds would entice anyone to start growing herbs or vegetables.

Seeds are Easy

Seeds are Easy

These bags are easy to pick up by the handles, making them a clean, no mess gift–easy to drop into the shopping cart. All one has to do is water and watch the seeds germinate and grow. Perfect for windowsills. Distributed by Bloom Pad North America, there are bags of tea herbs, culinary herbs, and vegetables. They also sell a sprouts glass jar with sprout seeds such as radish, mustard, and alfalfa.

Lake Valley Seed packages of sprouts

Lake Valley Seed packages of sprouts

Speaking of sprouts, Lake Valley Seed has increased their line of sprouts and I love the design of the seed packets. You should be able to find their rack of seed packets in your local garden center – look for alfalfa, broccoli, mung bean, radish, rainbow mix, salad mix, and sandwich mix. My family would be particularly interested in eating the sandwich mix and the salad mix, which I know are easy to grow indoors.

And for the upcoming holidays, gardeners may be interested in the new line of soaps by Garden Voyage Botanicals. These are all natural, shea butter enriched soaps made in the U.S.A. Of particular interest is the Gardener’s soap with cranberry seeds and walnut shell powder and a special Noel holiday line of peppermint, bayberry, and evergreen soaps. I am always looking for a good soap to use after gardening, I hope Santa puts some of these in my stocking this year.

Gardener's, Peppermint, and Lavender soaps

Gardener’s, Peppermint, and Lavender soaps

Flexzilla Garden Hose

Flexzilla Garden Hose

But really Santa, try fitting a Flexzilla garden hose in the stocking this year. I had seen these kink-resistant garden hoses on the P. Allen Smith Facebook page but at IGC East I was able to see a demonstration of the swivel grip connections that make them easy to fit onto the spigot and garden attachment – really ingenious!  Plus these hoses have extreme all weather flexibility making them easy to bend around trees and bushes and are drinking water safe. Flexzilla markets its products in its signature lime green color and its garden hoses come in various lengths. P. Allen Smith introduced the “water colors” collection of blue, green, coral, and brown in 50-feet lengths.  I don’t care if Santa gets me a water colors shade or the lime green — a kink-free hose with swivel grip is a must for every gardener!

Two other new items for veggie gardeners like me: Neptune’s Harvest, a well-known line of organic fertilizers, will introduce a liquid tomato and vegetable fertilizer next year with a 2-4-2 formula. Made with hydrolyzed fish, molasses, seaweed, yucca extract and humic acid, this all natural fertilizer is supposed to repel deer. That’s what I need for those few times I accidentally left the garden gate open only to discover in the morning that my pepper plants have been decapitated.

EarthBox Root & Veg Garden Kit, photo courtesy of EarthBox by Novelty Mfg.

EarthBox Root & Veg Garden Kit, photo courtesy of EarthBox by Novelty Mfg.

The second new item hails from my favorite self-watering system, EarthBox, which will introduce a root and veggie box  in 2016 designed to be deeper for root vegetables. I have several of the original EarthBoxes on my deck that I use specifically for tomatoes and I never have a tomato disease problem so I am most interested in trying the new design for root crops. These boxes are taller than the original EarthBox and square instead of rectangle but with the same tube, screen, fertilizer, and black plastic wrap.

These are just a few highlights from spending a day at IGC East. If you don’t see these items at your independent garden center next year, contact the dealer directly (click on the hyperlink) to locate a local retailer in your area.

In My Virginian Garden: A July Update

I have not posted in a while partly because the garden is in full swing, I am so busy harvesting, and partly because we have been making changes here at the homestead that necessitate me being outside instead of inside at the computer. We had a few trees thinned and one chopped down entirely which has increased the sunlight, putting a few plants in shock, but great for some other plants that needed extra sun. I am now able to extend my front garden where the old crab apple tree was, which will be a fall project. We also had the deck power washed which traumatized the container plants that had to be put out on the lawn for now, including the tomatoes in the earthboxes, and greatly moved the soil around many plants. So I have spent much time moving, tending, nursing, and healing the garden but in the end I will have more light (always needed for edibles) and more garden beds.

Black Beauty Eggplant Flower

Black Beauty Eggplant Flower

So far, I have had great success with melons, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, peppers, and the herbs of course. The puzzler of the year are the eggplants, which I grew successfully last year in a different place but this year, no fruit. Lots of flowers, and everything else nearby is flowering and fruiting, but no eggplant. I read that they are self fertile and I should brush the flowers with a paintbrush, which I just started to do, but still nothing. These are Black Beauty eggplants so maybe next year I will try a different type. I have about six plants among basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and squash, with plenty of bees,  and they are the only plants that do not bear fruit.

On the bright side, I am enjoying the Burpee celery plant,’Peppermint Stick’. I would have never grown a celery plant unless Burpee sent it to me but it has turned out to be really easy to grow and very tasty, much more so than what you get in a store. The stalks are more pungent and the leaves are so big they could be used to garnish as well. I am sold, will grow celery from now on!

Burpee Peppermint Stick celery in ground

Burpee Peppermint Stick celery in ground

Burpee Peppermint Stick celery in bowl

Burpee Peppermint Stick celery in bowl

Another success is Renee’s Garden’s Gourmet Tuscan Melon plant. These I started from seed and grew in the large Smart Pots so they could get pampered with the richest soil and plenty of water. I have several melons so far. I have not eaten them yet but just having them is a success for me. We have been fortunate to have had quite a lot of rain in the early summer which I think is responsible for so many melons — it certainly has given me a bumper crop of cucumbers.

Renee's Garden's Gourmet Tuscan Melon

Renee’s Garden’s Gourmet Tuscan Melon

Another surprise was the Jericho lettuce, also from Renee’s Garden. It was partly shaded by a tree limb, which we cut down and since the sunlight has increased, these lettuce plants have been growing and doing well. Lettuce in July is a rare treat, will harvest these soon!

For fun, I planted Proven Winners’ Superbells calibrachoa ‘Holy Moly’, which is a flowering annual, in a large container with Burpee’s ‘Sweet Savour’ pepper. I really like the combination: Holy Moly lends itself to yellows, red and oranges but also plays off blue because it can been seen as an orange color (at first I could not decide if the container should be red, green, or blue). In early summer, the Sweet Savour peppers were yellow, but now at the end of July, the peppers have turned red and orange. They are small, perfect for a container, and although look like hot peppers are actually sweet.

Close Up of Proven Winners' Holy Moly

Close Up of Proven Winners’ Holy Moly

Burpee's Sweet Savour peppers in late July

Burpee’s Sweet Savour peppers in late July

Beans: Easier than Radishes for Encouraging Kids to Garden

bush beans (2)People recommend radishes for encouraging kids to garden but I say BEANS! Beans germinate quickly; are easy to grow; are more visible; are sweeter; and the leaves are not as prickly as radishes. I grow pole beans in the ground and bush beans in containers on the deck and my kids love to pick them as a snack and for dinner.

This year, I am growing ‘Rolande’ bush beans from Renee’s Garden. Bush beans make a pretty “deck” plant, as long as the container has drainage holes, is large enough (mine are 12 inches wide and tall), and is in full sun. Although bush beans do not have to be staked like pole beans, I put a short stick in mine to lift the plant up to better find the beans. This particular type is called “filet” or “haricot vert.” The beans will grow to be very thin, no thicker than a pencil, and about 6 inches long. Because they are thin, they cook quickly. I grew mine from seed indoors in early May but I could have started them outdoors after the last average frost (mid-May in Northern Virginia). By the end of May, when I was sure that night time temperatures were staying in the mid-fifties, I transferred one seedling to one container which had been supplemented with granular vegetable fertilizer. The plant in this photo is quite lush, but it will put all its energy into producing beans quickly (I can already see beans) over a short period of time and then exhaust itself.bush beans in container

My pole beans will produce beans later in the summer, but over a longer period of time. They are a little more work in that I have make sure their tendrils climb up a pole (until they figure it out on their own) and I have to harvest for a longer period of time. Beans should be harvested often, sometimes as often as every other day, in order to encourage more beans. I am growing Renee’s Garden’s ‘Emerite.’ ‘Emerite’ is a filet type, just as thin as ‘Rolande’, but longer, about 7 to 8 inches.  I have learned early on to keep it simple when it comes to beans. I don’t mix varieties in one place; I grow one type in one location so I know when to harvest that particular bean. With the filet type, I harvest when the beans are thin, so I know not to wait for them to “fatten up.”bush beans Fresh beans can be eaten raw or sautéed or steamed with herbs such a parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, savory, tarragon, or dill. Garlic or onion is good as well as sliced almonds.

 

Easy to Grow Heirloom Lettuce: Flashy Trout Back

Flashy Trout Back lettuce

Flashy Trout Back lettuce

I am growing Flashy Trout Back lettuce for the first time and I love the way the leaves are emerging with wine-colored speckles. Makes it easy to distinguish from spring weeds. Flashy Trout Back is an heirloom European lettuce dating back to the 1700s. Known as “Forellenschuss’ or trout speckles, the leaves are supposed to look like the back of trout fish. The wine-colored spots against the bright green leaves add color in my garden, where for now they receive full sun but cool spring temperatures. In the summer, I will grow lettuce in the backyard where the delicate leaves will receive dappled sun or shade from the tall summer vegetables. Lettuce likes rich soil, cool weather, a regular supply of moisture, and here in Northern Virginia, full sun in the spring and afternoon shade in the summer. We can sow seeds outdoors as early as mid to late March, and continue to sow every couple of weeks until the heat of the summer kicks in. Lettuce seed can germinate at temperatures as low as 40 but best at 75 and poorly at 80-85 degrees F.

Flashy Trout Back is a romaine (also known as cos) type of lettuce, considered the most nutritious of the different types of lettuce, followed by loose leaf, which is a non-heading type that comes in various shades of green or red. Third in nutrition is bibb or butterhead, a heading lettuce with looser and darker green leaves than iceburg, and fourth is crisphead, a tight heading type with light green leaves (e.g., iceburg). Romaine has a stiff, vertical shape that is great for wraps, fajitas, sandwiches, and, if cut up, salads.

red loose leaf lettuce

red loose leaf lettuce

In the lettuce world, the Holy Grail is a lettuce that tolerates the heat in the summer and resists bolting which is why you may find terms such as “heat-resistant” and/or “slow-bolting” in catalogs and on seed packets. Bolting is when the lettuce starts to flower. In other words, the plant stops putting energy in to leaves and starts to send up a flower stalk in order to flower, set seed, and die. This occurs with increased temperatures and day length. Resistance to bolting is highest with loose leaf lettuce, followed by romaine, bibb (butterhead), and crisphead. If you want to continue to grow lettuce in the summer, you need to look for heat resistant, slow-bolting types and provide continued moisture and shade.

mix of lettuce leaves in large bowl for dinner salad

mix of lettuce leaves in large bowl for dinner salad

Always harvest lettuce in the early morning, when the leaves are full of water and the glucose content is highest.  Also, the outer leaves of leaf lettuce contain higher levels of calcium so harvest the outer leaves first on the Romaine and the loose leaf types. Know that lettuce tends to get small bugs like aphids so after you cut the leaves, wash them and let them soak in a large bowl of cold water for about 20 minutes, and then use a salad spinner.

 

 

Radish time, in salad or as a dip!

radish 'Splendor'

radish ‘Splendor’

Last night I harvested a few Burpee ‘Splendor’ radishes for a salad and realized it was May already, time to sow more seeds before it gets too hot. ‘Splendor’ is a typical small, red radish suitable for containers. In late March, I simply sprinkled seeds in a large, 12-inch wide/deep plastic container on the deck and lightly covered them so they were ½ inch deep. Later I thinned to allow 2 inches wide for the root to grow. I did not worry about cool evenings or frost, I knew they could take it. Spring radishes germinate fast, you can harvest in 3 to 4 weeks. Although this packet was old, it was dated 2012, the seeds germinated well. I pulled the ones with large red shoulders, cut the roots and leaves off, wash, and chop for a salad. I have heard that the green leaves can be cooked but I have not tried that yet. I can sow radish seeds again in May but when the temperatures stay in the mid sixties, it is time to stop as radishes do not appreciate the heat. In my family, we eat raw radishes in salads, but I also serve a great radish dip for company that tastes better than it sounds. Years ago, a friend served a dip with crackers that I assumed was a shrimp dip—it was so good!  At the end of the evening, I asked for the recipe and learned it was made with radishes, no shrimp at all! This is how she made it:  Mix together 8 ounces softened cream cheese; 8-12 radishes, minced by hand; and one or two minced garlic cloves. Add a bit of lemon juice–just enough to create the consistency you like for dip–and then add chopped dill or parsley to taste. Pair with crackers.