Tag Archives: vegetables

Tips for Starting Seeds in Your Garden: Planting in the Spring

lettuce in container

Recently, I posted an article called Tips for Starting Seeds for Your Garden. The post was about starting seeds and the importance of distinguishing between warm versus cool season plants or seed. It further explained how and when to sow seeds for warm season plants. This is the second part of the post: a focus on cool season plants.

Starting Seeds in Ground or Containers

In my zone 7 Northern Virginia garden, there are many vegetable and herbs that I can start growing outside in early spring. This means I don’t have to start them indoors under lights. Not only do these particular plants prefer cool temperatures, a light frost should not harm them. I tend to start most of my cool season plants by seed in containers on my deck. Container soil is warmer than ground soil. Also, it is easier to check on them by walking on a wooden deck than to have to trample through wet, soggy soil in cold weather. By summer, most of these types of plants have bolted (i.e., flowered and gone to seed so leaves are bitter). After pulling and discarding into the compost pile, I re-stock my containers with warm season annuals such as different types of basils and bush beans.

When to Sow Seeds in Early Spring

Using davesgarden.com and my zip code, I calculated my average last frost date to be April 30. March and April are still cool and there is a possibility of a frost or even snow. From the list of cool season plants or seeds I want to grow, I calculate which I can start at what number of weeks before April 30 and which would benefit from containers on the deck or directly into the soil. If a seed packet does not provide this information, try asking your local extension agent, online seed catalogs, or read a printed seed catalog or a gardening book. A few online seed catalogs that provide quality descriptions for this are Burpee, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Botanical Interest, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Renee’s Garden.

chervil

chervil is a spring herb

Sowing Often for Continuous Harvest

For some cool season crops, sowing every couple of weeks ensures a continuous harvest until summer. For example, our family likes to eat lettuce and spinach so if I start sowing in early spring and again every other week, I will be able to continue to pick leaves for a family of four up until summer. By summer, the weather will be too hot to germinate spinach and lettuce easily.

spinach seedlings

direct sow spinach seedlings in container

Check if the seed package recommends growing in soil or if they can be grown in a container. If you only need a little arugula, grow in a shallow container. If you only need one borage plant, grow in a larger container (it is a larger plant). Chervil is so ephemeral it is best to grow in a medium container so you can access and harvest as much as possible. For plants that tend to flower and drop seed, I find it helpful to have a patch set aside. I have parsley, cilantro, and calendula patches in the backyard so I sow the seeds directly in those patches. Of the plants below, peas are the only ones that need vertical structure. They should be planted next to a trellis and “trained” to wrap around it. I grow sugar snap peas in the ground next to a wire trellis but there are some variety of peas that can be grown in containers with stakes. Here are common cool season plants that can be grown by seed:

  • Alyssum
  • Arugula
  • Asian greens
  • Beets
  • Borage
  • Calendula
  • Carrots
  • Chervil
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Endive
  • Greens
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lettuce
  • Mache
  • Mustards
  • Nigella
  • Pak choi
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Radish
  • Spinach
  • Sweet peas
  • Turnips

My Cool Season Seed Plan

Just before March 15

Burpee and Botanical Interests Sugar Snap Peas: Soak overnight in water and then plant seed in small plastic pots with soil. When 2 inches tall, transplant outside in ground against trellis. No need for indoor lights.

March 15

April 1

  • American Meadows Scarlet Nantes carrot, sow in large deep container on deck and in ground
  • Renee’s Garden Slo-Bolt Cilantro, sow directly into cilantro patch in ground

April 15

  • Repeat lettuce, seed, radishes, and kale
  • Start borage in large decorative container
  • Start arugula in medium container
pak choi

direct sow pak choi seeds in ground

 

Growing Burpee’s Tomatoes and Heirloom Tomatoes this Summer

Labor Day Weekend Haul of Tomatoes

I have always grown tomatoes from seed, simply because I like to grow plants from seed. Tomatoes are particularly easy, they germinate fast and are easy to grow. Each year I start different tomato seeds indoors under lights and end up with many to give away. My family of four loves fresh tomatoes in the summer so I grow at least half a dozen tomato plants in our Virginia backyard.

This spring, a representative from Burpee Home Gardens asked if I would like to grow several tomato plants that Burpee was going to introduce in 2018. I was intrigued. Since I have not bought tomato plants in years, I thought it would be interesting to see the difference between these hybrids and my plants. Burpee has been selling seed for over 140 years but they also sell plants and they offer both heirlooms and hybrids for some of their vegetables.

I had already started the heirloom Marglobe (determinate slicer) from a source other than Burpee (Burpee also sells this) and Chianti Rose (indeterminate beefsteak) from seed when Burpee had contacted me. In May, I planted my seedlings and Burpee’s plants, each with a 6-foot tall post. Deer came through once or twice in early summer so I was left with the following from Burpee: two Gladiators (indeterminate paste), two Oh Happy Day (indeterminate junior beefsteak), and one Tomato Combo Take 2 Blockbuster (a determinate slicer and a cherry together). I also had two Marglobe and four Chianti Rose plants.

Heirloom Chianti Rose tomato

My two heirloom tomatoes are plants that have been grown from seed for generations. Heirlooms are usually passed down and have a story connected with them or are a family favorite. I could save the Marglobe or Chianti Rose seed, plant them next year, and get exactly the same type of plant. The Burpee plants are cultivars that have been bred to have particular characteristics. I could save the seed, plant them next year, and get tomatoes but they would not retain the same desired characteristics that Burpee had selected (usually disease resistance). Except for the annual deer visit, I don’t have a serious disease/pest problem in my garden with my plants.

Heirloom Marglobe, a determinate tomato plant

I do grow a combination of determinate and indeterminate tomato plants to space out my harvest. Indeterminate plants grow, bloom, and fruit over and over again until frost so you can harvest tomatoes throughout the summer. Determinate plants will stop growing when fruit sets on the top buds so the tomatoes ripen at the same time in a window of a few weeks.

As the summer progressed, I watered all the plants often with a hose, fertilized a few times, and strung the branches to the post with yarn (leftover from kids’ projects). This year, however, I felt that I had to keep stringing the tomatoes, more often than in the past. Every weekend I was stringing up the Gladiator and the Oh Happy Day plants to the stake and then having to string the branches up so they would not fall down. These two in particular were growing fast, with many branches and more weight. My yarn was becoming an aerial infrastructure just to keep branches up. My heirlooms were growing well but not as robust or as branched as these Burpee plants.

Burpee’s Gladiator paste tomato plant

In mid-August, I had harvested about 2 red tomatoes from the two Gladiator plants, which had about 10 green tomatoes on each plant. Gladiator is the first paste tomato plant that I have grown and it is firm enough for sandwiches and salads, not as wet and messy as the slicers or beefsteaks. Traditionally, paste tomatoes are used for pasta sauce and for dehydration so I plan to use these in our pasta sauce, chili, and bean stew. I would definitely use a cage next time; one stake is not enough. This particular type was bred to resist blossom end rot, which rarely occurs in my garden, but I did not see it on these plants.

Burpee’s Oh Happy Day with red tomato

The Oh Happy Day gave me a couple of red junior beefsteak tomatoes early in the season, which we used in salads and sandwiches. Anything that colors up early in the season is a plus in my book. In mid-August there were about 20 green tomatoes on each of the plants. This plant was very vigorous and again, I would use cages next time. The fruit clustered together, making it easy to simply twist a ripe one off the vine.

The Tomato Combo Take 2 Blockbuster is a combination of a small cherry tomato, a yellow indigo, and a determinate red slicer. Although I planted these in the ground, I would recommend planting in a large container on the deck. The plants are only a few feet tall and would make a great conversation piece on the deck or patio. It would also make it easier for people to see the pretty yellow indigo tomatoes. By mid-August, I harvested about 10 yellow indigos and a red slicer but there were about 5 green slicers and a few more yellow indigos on the plant.

Yellow Indigo cherry from Burpee’s Tomato Combo Take 2 Blockbuster plant

In mid-August, the Marglobe had a dozen green tomatoes on each plant. The plant seemed to be okay with the stake, it was not as heavily branched or as “viney” but then it is a determinate. Marglobe has very pretty fruit, red and round like a ball.

The Chianti Rose plants had about five green tomatoes on each plant. The Chianti Rose is not a pretty tomato, it is large and flattened, sort of an oblong beefsteak. It ripens to pink instead of red. Because the fruit is large, the plant bends under the weight. A cage would have been better, plus each plant took up a lot of space.

I have to confess I rarely have pests or diseases with my tomatoes so I did not notice any difference between Burpee’s plants and the heirlooms in this regard. I did notice that the Burpee plants had more vigor and growth so it would have been best to use cages for the Gladiator and the Oh Happy Day plants. They were large plants with many branches and more tomatoes than the Marglobe and Chianti Rose.  If I had to do it over again, I would have put the Tomato Combo Take 2 Blockbuster in a container. All of the tomatoes tasted good and it was great to learn that the paste tomatoes could be used for sandwiches and salads as well as pasta sauces. I am sure Burpee will have these plants for sale at the local garden centers next year.

Next year, grow tomatoes in the garden or in a container. Nothing beats their fresh taste — summer in a bite!

Oh Happy Day grows in clusters, easy to pick

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.

 

Peg’s Picks: Books on Edible Gardening in the Washington DC Metro Area

booksA colleague asked if I could recommend books related to edible gardening. I quickly replied that I have a Books Page on my site but afterwards realized that those books are about gardening in general but specific to the Virginia, Maryland, Washington DC area. Over the past few years, I have become much more interested in growing edibles rather than ornamentals and have read many books, most are specific to this area. I typed up a short, 2-page list to give to her and thought I would post my recommended list here in case any one is interested in growing their own veggies, herbs, and fruits in the Washington DC metropolitan area. These are in alphabetical order.

American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden & Gardens Across America, Michelle Obama

Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden, Jessica Walliser, and her other books

Backyard Berry Book, Stella Otto

Cool Season Gardener, Bill Thorness (and his other book, lives in WA)

Designing the New Kitchen Garden: An American Potager, Jennifer Bartley

Eat Your Yard, Nan Chase

Edible Front Yard, Ivette Soler

Edible Heirlooms, Bill Thorness (and his other book, lives in WA)

Edible Landscaping, Rosalind Creasy (new edition and any of her other books)

Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist, Michael Judd (lives in Frederick MD)

Four Season Harvest, Eliot Coleman and his other books

Good Bug/Bad Bug, Jessica Walliser and her other books

Groundbreaking Food Gardens, Niki Jabbour and her other books

Grow a Sustainable Diet, Cindy Connor

Grow Great Grub, Gayla Trail (You Grow Girl)

Guide to Year Round Vegetable Garden in the Southeast, Ira Wallace

Homegrown Herb Garden, Ann McCormick and Lisa Morgan

How to Grow More Vegetables, John Jeavons

How to Grow Perennial Herbs, Martin Crawford

Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers, Edward Smith (and any of his other books)

Landscaping Fruit, Lee Reich and any of his other books

Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Gardening: Plant, Grow, and Harvest the Best Edibles: DE, MD, PA, VA, DC, and WV, Katie Elzer-Peters

Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One Tenth of an Acre, Eric Toensmeier (and any of his other books)

Perennial Vegetables, Martin Crawford

Perennial Vegetables from Artichoke to “Zuiki’ Taro, Eric Toensmeier (and any of his other books)

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Claire Kowalchik, William Hylton, and other Rodale books

Square Foot Gardening, second edition, Mel Bartholomew, and his other books

Starter Vegetable Gardens, 24 No Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens, Barbara Pleasant (and any of her other books, lives in VA)

Take Our Advice: A Handbook for Gardening in Northern Virginia, Margaret Fisher

The Bountiful Container, Rosemarie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey (good for minimum depth of container to grow veggies)

The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook by Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch (and any of their other books)

The Sustainable Vegetable Gardener, John Jeavons

The Veggie Gardener’s Answer Book, Barbara Ellis

The Virginia Fruit and Vegetable Book, Felder Rushing and Walter Reeves

The Winter Harvest Handbook, Eliot Coleman, and his other books

The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, Niki Jabbour (and her other book)

Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello, Peter J. Hatch

Fruits for Every Garden, Lee Reich (and any of his other books, lives in NY)

Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible, Edward Smith (and his other books)

Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way: 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardeners by Wesley Greene

Vegetables, Herbs, and Fruits, Matthew Biggs and Jekka McGiver

Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook, Ron Kujawski and Jennifer Kujawski

What’s Wrong with my Vegetable Garden, David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth, they have a series of “What’s Wrong” books

75 Exciting Vegetables, Jack Staub, has an “exciting” series – herbs, vegetables, and fruits, lives in PA

This list could go on plus there are books focused on particular types of plant/vegetables. Other sources are public or botanical gardens such as Greensprings in Virginia and Brookside Gardens in Maryland; both have non-lending libraries. One can look at publishers’ web sites such as Chelsea Green Publishing, St. Lynn’s Press, Timber Press, Story, Rodale Press, and Cool Springs Press.

Master Plan for 2015 Gardening Season

cilantro seedlings, last spring

cilantro seedlings, last spring

During this past three-day weekend, when I experienced my first “squall” and several inches of snow, I was able to make a dent in my master plan for the 2015 gardening season. We live in a typical Northern Virginia suburban area; we have been in this 50-year old house for 12 years. In the beginning I grew a lot of ornamentals and herbs. Recently, I have been growing more edibles and as the kids grow up and out of the backyard, I am able to carve out more lawn to create new beds for my veggies. This results in a patchwork of small beds and containers, not the traditional long rows of vegetables found in a farm. Thus, my garden plan is complex because I am fitting edibles into a small, but established garden.

The master plan is more like a road map, it gets me started in the spring to where I want to go this year. As the summer heats up, I tend to make detours, slight modifications: buy a plant here, move a plant there. By autumn, I feel like I have traveled an exciting and rewarding journey — I learned a lot, I grew and harvested a lot –and now it is time to create road map II for  the fall/winter seasons.

So in February I create a list, in alphabetical order, of the seeds I have and then I put the seed packets in paper bags, each labeled with a letter of the alphabet. Then I create a chart of when to start the seeds, whether indoors under lights or outdoors, depending on if they are cool or warm season and how long it takes from seed to fruit. I list where I would eventually grow the plants outdoors depending on sunlight, soil moisture, insects/pests/disease, etc. I also allow for succession planting. For example, I want to sow lettuce, spinach, and scallions several times because as we eat them, I want more to be growing. Also, in one area I want to grow peppers when it is warm after the initial sowing of lettuce has bolted.seeds

Right now March looks like this: sowing seeds of eggplant, bulbing fennel, leaf fennel, lovage, and sweet peppers under lights in mid-March. I don’t much care for cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, Brussell sprouts) so I don’t grow those.  I will start snap peas indoors, not under light, but soaking in water overnight, then placing in plastic bags to initiate germination so can be planted outside in cold soil. At the end of March, I will sow seeds of spinach, radish, pak choi, kale, lettuce, and scallions outdoors directly in soil or in containers.

April gets busier: I will sow seeds of cilantro, dill, parsley, alyssum, nigella, and chives outside as our average last frost date is mid-April. I will sow more seeds of kale, lettuce, scallions, and spinach in order to have a continuous harvest.  Indoors, under lights, I will start the warm season tomatoes, melon, and cucumbers. Instead of seed, I will buy plants that do not over winter here like lemon verbena, lemon grass, and pineapple sage.

May of course is the beginning of warm weather and anything goes. It will be warm enough to plant seeds of basil, lemon basil, beans, Swiss chard, marigolds, yellow summer squash, zucchini, and trombetta squash directly outdoors. I will continue to sow the seeds of cool season greens such as kale, lettuce, spinach, scallions again until it gets too hot in July.

This does not mean that these are the only plants or the only edibles in the garden. I already have other plants such as parsley, alpine strawberries, raspberry, blackberry, thyme, rosemary, oregano, goji berry, shallots, lemon balm, hardneck garlic, and mint.

By May I will have started to deviate off course a bit as I will have attended a few plant sales, visited a few nurseries, and traded with my gardening friends. My plans will have altered with new additions but the journey has begun!