Category Archives: You Can Grow That!

You Can Grow That: Walking Onions

bulbil on walking onion pulling stem down

bulbil on walking onion pulling stem down

You can grow walking onions, also called Egyptian walking onions, tree onions, winter onions, and perennial onions.  Unlike an ordinary onion plant, Allium proliferum will produce little bulbs at the top of the plant in the summer. The weight of these marble-sized bulbils will pull the stem down, enabling the bulbils to root and produce a new plant. Although walking onions seem to walk by producing new plants a few inches away, they are not invasive.

Walking onions are very hardy, perennial plants in our Virginia area. They are also “passalongs,” easy to give away to friends. I received mine from a fellow member of the Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America. I was interviewing her at her Falls Church home for the Potomac Unit newsletter because she had been a member for over 25 years and had quite a lot of herbal experience. After we talked in her living room, we walked around her herb garden and she snapped off a few bulbils from an enormous tub of walking onion plants. She said when her kids were young, they used to grow them along the fence and weave the stems in and out of the holes. The tub of plants came from her original set about 30 years ago! That was five years ago and so far, my plants have thrived enough that I can now pass along plants to friends as well.

walking onion stems in March

walking onion stems in March

Walking onions prefer full sun, organic matter, and well-drained soil. They grow to 2 to 3 feet tall with hollow green stems. All parts are edible. If you cut the stems for cooking or salads, cut only a few stems at a time and don’t cut the ones that have bulbils. Stems can be eaten fresh in salad or cooked. You can cut the bulbils when they form in the summer and use them for cooking or pickling. In the fall, the entire plant can be dug up to harvest the underground bulbs. Simply divide and used some of the bulbs like you would with regular onions in the kitchen and re-plant the rest.

You Can Grow That! is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Gardeners usually post articles on their blog on the fourth day of the month (fourth day, four words: #1: You; #2: Can; #3: Grow; #4: That).

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You Can Grow That! Sugar Snap Peas

plump sugar snap peas

plump 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. Last year we grew Amish Snap from Seed Savers Exchange which was excellent; this year we will try Renee’s Garden’s Sugar Snap Peas just to compare. We have already tied the nylon netting to the banister that leads to the front door and, in the back, to the deck railing, wherever I could ensure that the peas would receive full sun. Pea plants are light in weight and their small tendrils need to wrap around thin nylon or string. 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. 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 and 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, in April and May, 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. Peas are easy to grow, nutritious and delicious, and are a great kid gardening project.

You Can Grow That is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Usually articles on posted on the fourth of the month. Visit http://www.youcangrowthat.com/blogs/ to read more posts.Youcangrowthat

You Can Grow Mache!

macheMache is simply a lettuce that likes cold weather. Easily grown from seed, mache is started in the autumn and allowed to grow during the winter until it gets too hot in the following spring and bolts (flowers). Like a bib lettuce, mache is a sweet, buttery tasting rosette set of leaves, low to the ground. The leaves are so sweet that a simple drizzle of vinaigrette is all that is needed for a salad.

Although mache leaves are starting to appear in the produce section of grocery stores, it is in fact an “old” edible. The French have been cultivating it since the 17th century, which is probably where Thomas Jefferson learned of it during his visits to France and started to grow it at Monticello. Also known as lamb’s lettuce and corn salad, mache is available from most seed catalogs that offer vegetables and lettuce.

I started my seeds at the end of August in large plastic containers on the deck because our Virginia August is so hot and dry that I wanted to be able to water consistently and easily with a watering can. Once the seedlings came up and the weather cooled down in October, I moved the transplants to a garden bed. This picture was taken in late January after many snow showers, icy rains, and temperatures in the teens. It will grow bigger as temperature and day length increases. I have heard it can tolerate zero degrees and I like the fact that I don’t need to cover it with a plastic hoop. Mache is very nutritious, it has more omega 3 than any other leafy green except for purslane and it contains lutein (promotes eye health). It is high in vitamin A, C, and zinc, and provides almost as much iron as spinach but does not contain spinach’s oxalic acid (oxalic acid interferes with calcium absorption). Don’t forget to include a package of mache seeds with your seed order this year. You Can Grow That!

You Can Grow That! is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Gardeners usually post articles on their blog on the fourth day of the month (fourth day, four words: #1: You; #2: Can; #3: Grow; #4: That). Click on the logo below to read more posts.

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Snowdrops – You Can Grow That!

snowdrops (2)Snowdrops, small, winter/spring blooming bulbs, are easy to grow. After planting the bulbs in the fall, in masses or drifts for the best effect, you will be rewarded with small, white bells in the midst of winter. Here in Virginia, snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) bloom in January and February, sometimes in snow, sometimes in a carpet of brown leaves under trees (Galanthus means “milk white flowers” and nivalis means “snow”). Hardy to USDA Zone 3-7, they prefer cool weather and are not fazed by deer although squirrels may take it upon themselves to relocate a few bulbs. By late spring, the green, straplike leaves die back and the bulb are dormant during the summer.

Snowdrops seem so simple, so humble, more like servants to queen daffodils and stately tulips. But in Great Britain, they enjoy a cult status. Fashionable as early as the Victorian era, snowdrops have been bred extensively, currently yielding about 1500 cultivars abroad. The differences may be obvious to slight, only galanthophiles would be able to appreciate the distinction. Here in this country, most nurseries do not offer a wide variety. If you are a galanthophile, you probably already know that one of the few American resources for snowdrop cultivars is Carolyn’s Shade Gardens, Carolyn Walker’s nursery in Pennsylvania. http://www.carolynshadegardens.com.

You Can Grow That! is a collaborative effort by gardeners to encourage others to grow plants and garden by posting about plants on the fourth of the month. Read about other articles at http://www.youcangrowthat.com/blogs/Youcangrowthat

You Can Grow That: Alpine Strawberries!

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June, white flowers nestled in leaves; alpine strawberries hanging over container

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July, ripened alpine strawberry on plant in ground

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November, flower bud on alpine strawberry plant

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November, new growth in center

In May I posted a short article about growing alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) from seed for the first time: Renee Shepherd’s “Heirloom Pineapple” and “Mignonette” and a package of seeds from Switzerland from a garden club member. All germinated easily under lights in spring and I transplanted the seedlings in May to several spots in the garden as well as a few large containers. Throughout the summer, the kids and I picked the small strawberries which were so cute I thought they could also be used for decorating desserts, cakes and cupcakes. I never had any problems with insects, diseases, or even birds. As of Thanksgiving week, despite nights of twenty degrees and days of thirty degrees, the alpine strawberry plants are not only doing well, they are thriving!  Although I knew they were perennials and would survive the winter, I was surprised to see new growth and even a small flower bud so late in the year. The leaves still look fine for late November — I can see why some people recommend them as border plants. You too can grow alpine strawberries; put them on your wish list for 2015! To learn more about what you can grow, read other “you can grow that” posts on the fourth of every month.Youcangrowthat

You Can Grow That: Little Henry Sweetspire

My Itea virginica ‘Little Henry’ has fantastic fall color, not the flaming red you read about but beach sunset glow, muskmelon peach/orange, and autumn persimmon. When I bought Little Henry it was only a foot high. In 9 years, it has matured to a small woody shrub, 3 feet high and wide. In early summer, it blooms small white flowers on thin, 4-inch long, racemes, similar in shape to a bottle brush. The flowers mature into small, tan seed pods that remain on the shrub well into winter, after the leaves drop. The branches can be cut and placed in a vase either for the summer flowers, the fall foliage, or the striking seed pods.September2014andfieldwildflowers 010

Little Henry is a cultivar of Itea virginica, a shrub native to the eastern United States. Although it can tolerate sunnier and dryer conditions once established it seems to thrive in the morning sun/ afternoon shade combination in my garden where it sits in a moist, heavily mulched area. I have seen other Virginia sweetspires in full sun and dryer conditions. I also have seen the species spread by suckering but mine has not does not move. Hardy to zone 5, Little Henry does not seem to have any pest or disease problems and provides year round interest. Read about other “You can grow that” articles written and posted by garden bloggers on the fourth of every month.September2014andfieldwildflowers 021September2014andfieldwildflowers 009

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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

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Variegated Sage – You Can Grow That!

variegated sage in May with purple flowers

variegated sage in May with purple flowers

Most people know about sage, it’s that dry, gray, crumbly herb you use when you make stuffing for Thanksgiving stuffing. True enough, the plant is an herb but it also adds beauty in the garden. Re-think culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) as a landscape edible: drought tolerant, pest resistant, and full season interest! Sage plants grow like small woody shrubs, up to a few feet tall, and their leaves remain all year long in my zone 7, Virginia garden. Sage plants are usually grown for the leaves, but the summer brings small, purple flowers, attracting pollinators for the rest of the garden. Both the leaves as well as the flower spikes can be cut for flower arrangements. Leaves can be solid green, variegated with cream or yellow, gray, gray/green, blue/gray, purple, or tricolor (pink, green, and white leaves). As the year progresses, the tone of the color seems to change with some cultivars – this one in the photo seems to change from light green/yellow variegated to a gray/cream color by September. No matter what the color, all the leaves are edible. You can pick leaves when you need them without altering the shape or you can take a branch from the back and strip and dry the leaves for cooking or tea. Sage plants prefer full sun and well drained soil on the dryer side, think Mediterranean. Although you can start the species from seed, check out the many cultivars that are available now for the full spectrum of foliage interest. You can grow sage as a small shrub for your landscape!

variegated sage in September, changing from light green to gray

variegated sage in September, changing from light green to gray

variegated sage in April with light new growth

variegated sage in April with light new growth

 

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