Monday, December 27, 2010

Seven Ways to Recycle Christmas Trees

A  pine needle-infused bath is just one
earth-friendly way to reuse your Christmas tree.
About 13 million Christmas trees were cut and sold last year, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Unfortunately, many ended up in the holiday trash.

Here are eight better ways to reuse your Christmas tree after the holidays:

1. Recycle It: Many communities around the United States offer recycling programs for properly prepared Christmas trees. First, remove ornaments, tinsel, nails and stands. If your tree is taller than 6 feet, cut in half.

Trees that have been flocked, painted or fireproofed cannot be recycled ... something to keep in mind when you shop for Christmas trees each year.

2. Feed the Birds: Set the tree outside and decorate with orange slices, cranberries or popcorn. The birds will love the winter feast. Be sure to remove all tinsel, lights and decorations first.

3. Chip It: Run Christmas trees through chippers or shredders to make mulch for garden paths. Chips also make effective bulk for compost piles. Always strip trees of decorations first.

4. Mulch: Remove needles and use to mulch garden, conserve water and fight weeds. The needles are especially appropriate for acid-loving plants. Later, use tree to support climbing beans or sweet peas in warmer months.

Photo by doortoriver on Flickr
 5. Protect Wildlife: Consider leaving the tree outside to decompose naturally and provide wildlife cover for birds, rabbits and other small animals. Over time, trees decay and add nutrients to soil.

6. Smell It: Make aromatic portpourri. Combine dry, crumbled needles with cloves, broken cinnamon sticks, dried orange peel and orrisroot. Add a few drops of fir, cedar, pine, orange and/or cinnamon essential oil(s). Keep covered for at least a week so scents blend. Stir regularly. Display in bowls or use as stuffing for scented pillows.

7. Take a Bath: Soaking in a pine needle-infused bath is popular in Europe's Alps. In fact, pine is widely used for muscle pain, rheumatism and circulation problems, according to "The Herb Society of America's Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses," (Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 2001).

For a homemade remedy, infuse pine needles in oil. Fill a glass Mason jar with washed needles and sweet almond oil. Close tightly and place in sunny spot. Steep at least three weeks. For stronger oil, steep longer. Use as a massage or bath oil.

Never use trees sprayed with fire retardant or other artificial substances in bath tea or oil. Ingredients listed here are safe for most people, but always check for skin sensitivities before using.

What's your favorite way to recycle a Christmas tree?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fun Facts About Christmas

Christmas has a rich history filled with lots of little-known facts. Consider these unusual facts ... or these fun facts you might not know:

Birth of the Sun: Christmas and the winter solstice have more in common than you think. The birth of Jesus was assigned to various dates for more than 300 years, but never much celebrated.

In the fourth century A.D., Roman Emperor Constantine moved the holiday to Dec. 25. The Julian calendar used at the time erroneously considered Dec. 25 to be the winter solstice.

Many early civilizations, including Ancient Rome, believed the winter solstice - the year's longest night - symbolized the birthday of the sun and the return of the light. The annual event was extremely important for these early cultures - depending as they did on the natural elements to survive. The solstice seemed an appropriate day to celebrate Christmas.

Here's a winter solstice menu, with delicious recipes from Helen Yoest, yours truly, Blue Moon Evolution Cafe, and Kelly Senser of the National Wildlife Federation.

The Giving Tradition: Today, it's hard to imagine Christmas without gifts. But it wasn't always so. The tradition dates back to the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, held on the days leading up to the winter solstice. Kalends of January - the New Year - was another important gift-giving time.

As the Greek Libanius explained, "The impulse to spend seizes everyone ... a stream of presents pours itself out on all sides."

This was why the early Church considered gift giving to be a pagan holdover. And they frowned upon the practice for centuries. Instead, gifts were given on Twelfth Night (January 6) instead.

Since that's not the case now, here are last-minute gift ideas from the Nest in Style podcast.

"At Christmas we banquet, the rich with the poor,
Who then (but the miser) but openeth his door?
Thomas Tusser, 1524-1580

A Slow Start: Christmas ranked low as a holiday for centuries. Many traditions had pre-Christian roots and the early Church wasn't keen to accept them. It wasn't until the late Middle Ages that Christmas became popular.

Towns and cities often appointed a Lord of Misrule, who presided over the Christmas entertainment. (Santa didn't come until later.) This Lord of Misrule was typically dressed in colorful clothing and directed elaborate processions, plays and festivities. Their services were an important part of Christmas and these "lords" were hired by such royalty, as the English kings Edward VI and Henry VIII.

The largest Christmas feasts often included roasted peacock and swan ... painted with saffron and "refeathered" right before serving. In 1289, a boar's head served as a stylish centerpiece for the bishop of Hereford.

Want something easier for your holiday party? Here are last-minute entertaining tips from Nest In Style podcasts.

Four strange facts about Christmas you probably didn't know.

However, you decide to celebrate ... may you and your family experience joy, peace and prosperity this holiday season. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pattison Golden Marbre Scallop Squash for Summer and Winter

If you've ever grown summer squash, you know how prolific these plants can be in ideal growing conditions. Turn around, and six or seven more crookneck squash are ready to pick. Wait too long, and a zucchini will grow the size of a bat. Even your neighbors may start to look weary when you offer yet another bag filled with squashes. (Although your local food banks would appreciate any extra produce, no doubt.)

Still, summer squash can sometimes seem like too much of a good thing at times.

That's one reason I'm in love with 'Pattison Golden Marbre Scallop' squash. This rare heirloom not only produced loads of squash for me this summer, but also left plenty of winter squash too.

I direct sowed squash seeds in mid-May, after our last frost date. Before long, the bush plant started to provide small yellow scallop squash that tasted sweet throughout the summer. You can see an example of the scallop squash in the middle of the below picture.

Surrounding the 'Pattison Golden Marbre Scallop' squash
(from top, moving clockwise)
'Rosa Bianca' eggplant and greenish 'Ronde de Nice' squash;
blackish 'Little Finger' eggplants; 'Banana' pepper;
striped 'Fairy Tale' eggplants; 'Lebanese White Bush Marrow' squash;
green peppers and 'Calliope' eggplant.
Around three weeks before our last frost date in early-October, I stopped picking the squash. Or, at least, I slowed down picking fruit. (Squash is botanically a fruit, not a vegetable, by the way.) 

The squash eventually grew larger and developed a hard skin that couldn't be dented with a fingernail. That's when I knew it was ready for winter storage. So, I harvested the squash and left a couple inches of stem on each one. Now, the squash are stored for winter, and we've already enjoyed them in two separate dinners.

Today we had our first snow storm of the year. But I'm still enjoying 'Pattison Golden Marbre Scallop' squash, thanks to the amazing productivity of this unique and delicious heirloom.

I found my seeds at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. When I couldn't find information about how to grow both summer and winter squash from this plant, their seed experts were kind enough to answer my questions. Why not see for yourself whether this beautiful squash wins your heart too?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Book Review: Edible Landscaping; Podcast Interview; Book Giveaway Contest

Photographs copyright © by Rosalind Creasy
These days, we take for granted that folks are becoming “locavores,” and growing their own foods in their backyards, side yards and front yards. Why, even the White House has a kitchen garden, for the first time since World War II.

But back in the early 1980s, you were lucky to see a few tomatoes growing in a person’s garden. You certainly weren’t finding the blue potatoes, spotted lettuces, pink beans, striped tomatoes and colorful kales you see today. The old heirloom varieties that we have grown to love now seemed forgotten and under-appreciated back then. But all that has changed.

Photographs copyright © by Rosalind Creasy
And for that, we have much to thank Rosalind Creasy.

It was Rosalind’s book The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping (Sierra Club Books, 1982) that became the bible of edible landscaping nearly 30 years ago. When she first started talking about mixing flowers with edibles back in the early-80s, she was called that “crazy, hippy lady from California,” as she recently told the National Gardening Association.

Fortunately, that “crazy, hippy lady” – who has gone on to write a total of 18 very successful gardening books – has helped change the way we garden in this country. So, it seemed only appropriate that she just launched her new edition of Edible Landscaping, as the nation catches up with her love of edibles.

With more than 300 color photographs, 7 color garden plans and 20 b/w illustrations, Edible Landscaping (Sierra Club Books, 2010) is as delicious looking as it is information rich. Rosalind not only shows ideas from her own famous Northern California garden, but also those of clever edible gardeners around the nation. Listen to our Nest in Style interview with Rosalind and enter to win a copy of this book!!!

Photographs copyright © by Rosalind Creasy
As Rosalind explains, "The whole atmosphere around edible landscaping is different now,” she says. “We have more varieties of attractive edible plants available than ever before. Twenty years ago, few people even knew about heirloom plants, for example. Now it’s easy to find and grow heirloom apples, tomatoes, melons—varieties that people didn’t even know they were missing.”

The design section mixes photography and practical tips to help you leverage Rosalind’s 30 years of landscape design experience. I particularly liked the way she showed how absolutely lovely and luxurious edible plants can be. If anyone you know needs convincing that edibles deserve a star spot in any garden – including your front yard – show them a few pictures from this beautiful book.

Photographs copyright © by Rosalind Creasy
Above is a double-barrel herb garden that Rosalind shows how to make in the book, complete with detailed instructions, materials lists and installation tips.

Another wonderful feature is the comprehensive Encyclopedia of Edibles that provides a concise A-Z of valuable information for growing a wide variety of vegetables, fruit and herbs, using environmentally friendly practices. There are loads of growing tips, culinary uses and recommended varieties. Plus, there is plenty of advice on growing your own food using organic methods.

I was interested to learn from Susan Harris on Garden Rant that Rosalind redoes her edible gardens twice a year, including the hardscaping. The reason is because these gardens are her photo studio, and it shows in her amazing pictures … whether it’s blue teepees supporting beans or passion fruit. Or edible flowers like chives, nasturtiums, arugula and calendula, scattered among equally lovely vegetables and fruit.

I particularly like this shot of blackberries contrasting beautifully with 'polka' climbing roses.

Photographs copyright © by Rosalind Creasy
The best compliment I can give Edible Landscaping is that I already find myself reaching for this book again … and again, whenever I have a question or need a little inspiration for my own garden. It’s almost like having a chance to talk to Rosalind directly. And who wouldn’t want that?
Speaking of chatting with Rosalind ... here's a behind-the-scenes shot of me and Jayme Jenkins interviewing the edible landscaping guru herself. You can learn more by listening to Rosalind Creasy's podcast interview on Nest in Style. Also enter to win a free copy of the newly released Edible Landscaping. But hurry! Time is running out...

Buy this book! (Disclosure: I was provided a review copy of this book; but I would have bought a copy anyway.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Upcoming Speaking Appearances

This vintage card of Queen Mary is from riptheskull on Flickr
Seasonal Wisdom is traveling coast to coast soon to talk about gardening ... although not by ocean liner; just good old fashioned air travel.  Here are some places you'll find me speaking in upcoming months:

Idaho Botanical Garden's Rethinking Idaho Landscapes
Boise Centre on the Grove, Idaho
November 13, 2010, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
  • My presentation: "Simple Ways to Grow Food at Home"
  • Keynote speakers: Lauren Springer Ogden and Scott Ogden
  • Also appearing: Mary Ann Newcomer
2011 Northwest Flower & Garden Show
Washington State Convention Center, Seattle
February 23-27, 2011
  • This huge garden show has the largest roster of horticulture presenters in the world
  • "Tips for the Time Crunched Gardener" will be presented by me and my NestinStyle cohost Jayme Jenkins on Friday 1:30 p.m. and Saturday 1:30 p.m.
  • The Garden Show's "Incredible Edibles" panel discussion - Saturday 3:30 p.m. Host: Lorene Edwards Forkner; Panelists: Graham Kerr (Galloping Gourmet), Willi Galloway and yours truly
2011 Boston Flower & Garden Show
Seaport World Trade Center, Boston
March 16-20, 2011
  • This impressive flower and garden show will focus on container gardening in 2011
  • "Growing Groceries in Containers" is scheduled Sunday, March 20 (time TBD). Presenters: me and Jayme Jenkins of NestinStyle
2011 Boise Flower & Garden Show
Centre on the Grove, Boise
March 25-27, 2011
  • This flower and garden show is celebrating its 15th year
  • "Growing Your Own Groceries" and "Edible Flowers" are topics I'm presenting on Saturday, March 26 (time TBD)
That's the latest. Hope to see you at one of these venues sometime soon...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Spooky Poem for a Spooky Time of Year

This vintage Halloween card is courtesy of riptheskull on Flickr.

Halloween is right around the corner. So, I can't help but think back on the scariest poem from my childhood. Around this time of year, I simply adored this deliciously creepy delight, which was first published back in 1916 and has been frightening little kids ever since. Be sure and read it out loud with plenty of expression.

Little Orphant Annie
by James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916)

To all the little children: -- The happy ones; and sad ones;
The sober and the silent ones; the boisterous and glad ones;
The good ones -- Yes, the good ones, too; and all the lovely bad ones.

Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Ef you
Vintage card courtesy of riptheskull on Flickr.
Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn't say his prayers,--
An' when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wuzn't there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An' seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an' roundabout:--
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you
Courtesy of riptheskull.
An' one time a little girl 'ud allus laugh an' grin,
An' make fun of ever' one, an' all her blood-an'-kin;
An' wunst, when they was "company," an' ole folks wuz there,
She mocked 'em an' shocked 'em, an' said she didn't care!
An' thist as she kicked her heels, an' turn't to run an' hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side,
An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'fore she knowed what she's about!
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

Courtesy of riptheskull.
An' little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!
An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray,
An' the lightnin'-bugs in dew is all squenched away,--
You better mind yer parunts, an' yer teachurs fond an' dear,
An' churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,
An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

Can't get enough? Here are some old Halloween superstitions.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Fall Tart for Last of the Tomatoes

The leaves are ablaze with color, and pumpkins sit on nearly every front porch now. Yet, my garden is still producing tomatoes, despite the distinct fall-like weather. In fact, 'tomaccio' tomatoes from Hort Couture show no sign of stopping until the first hard frost.

That's why I took the advice of my talented friend Isabel Gomes, and I'm paying one last tribute to the tomatoes of 2010.

Isabel not only shared the gorgeous food shot above, but also her favorite tomato tart recipe, which she found "ages ago" in an old Williams Sonoma catalog. I'm sharing it below in case you also find yourself with an unexpected bounty of late-season tomatoes. Enjoy!

Tomato Tart

1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt, plus more, to taste
10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) chilled unsalted butter, diced
2 tablespoons ice water
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
8 plum (or 3-4 heirloom) tomatoes, halved lengthwise, seeded
8 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
½ cup slivered fresh basil leaves

Using an electric mixer with a flat beater, mix flour and ½ teaspoon salt on low speed, 15 seconds. Add butter; mix to form pea-sized crumbs, 30 to 40 seconds.

Add water 1 tablespoon at a time; mix just until dough comes together. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Shape into a 5 inch disk.

Wrap tightly; refrigerate at least 1 hour. Position rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 400 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to fit a 9 inch round tart pan.

Press dough into pan, trim to ½ inch around rim and fold in overhang. Press to make sides thicker than bottom; refrigerate 10 minutes.

In a nonstick sauté pan over medium heat, warm 1/3 cup oil. Add garlic; sauté until fragrant, 1 minute. Add salt, pepper and tomatoes, sliced side down until golden, 4 to 5 minutes.

Brush pastry with 1 tablespoon of oil; top with cheese, basil and tomatoes. Drizzle with pan juices; season with salt and pepper. Bake until crust is golden, about 1 hour. Serves 4.

Find Isabel Gomes on Twitter @Isabellawrence, on Facebook at Isabel Lawrence Photographers or on her beautiful blog.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

How to Make Fruit Infused Vodkas

Just as the leaves begin to change each year, my kitchen pantry starts to fill with jars of jewel-colored liquids infusing with fruit.

These fruit-infused vodkas sit in my pantry from the end of summer until the winter holidays. Depending on what's available locally, I'll infuse everything from elderberries and huckleberries to peaches, plums and pears. Over the years, this ritual has become a nice way to celebrate the end of another growing season. Months later, we enjoy having a small glass of summer sunshine in the dead of winter.

Since late-August, I've added to my pantry as different fruits came to the market. I started with blackberries, strawberries, peaches and blueberries, as you can see above.

But I've since added delightful heirloom apples and plums (see above), which came from an abandoned pioneer homestead and still look remarkably healthy despite little attention.  I've also added sweet shelley berries, which taste like grapes. And I'm determined to get a batch of pear vodka going soon.

Would you like to start your own end-of-summer tradition? Here are ideas to get you started:


1 bottle of vodka
(I recommend Skye, because it doesn't have a strong flavor)
1 large, clean jar with tight-fitting lid
fresh fruit (preferably, local and in season)


Wash, dry and chop fruit; discard bruised parts
Fill jar with fruit
Pour vodka into jar until it nearly reaches top
Make sure vodka covers fruit
Store in a cool, dry place; avoid direct sunlight
Shake jar regularly
Steep at least two months or longer

Timing: Herbs, spices, leaves and flowers only need a week or so to infuse. But fruit can take several months to nearly a year to bring out its true flavor. I allow my fruit vodkas about two to three months to sit, and they taste just fine. Just be sure to shake the jars often to stir everything up well.

Straining: When you're ready to filter the infusion, strain the fruit through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. Be sure to push down hard on the fruit to release all the good juices. Then toss the fruit, and pour your concoction through a funnel into a clean bottle with a tight-fitting cap to prevent oxidation. Look for unusual bottles to package your infusions. Most important is that bottles are absolutely clean before use.

Some folks like to add a sugar syrup to their infusions. But we prefer them without sugar here.

Here's an excellent source for making vodka infusions, including other recipes and instructions for sugar syrups. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pumpkins Continue to Delight

Photo by Paul + photos = moody on Flickr
"He beheld great fields of Indian corn,
and the yellow pumpkins lying beneath them,
turning up their fair round bellies to the sun."
Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Pumpkins have reigned in our autumn cooking, long before they started to appear on our Thanksgiving tables in the form of delicious pies. An important staple in Native Americans' diets, pumpkins were roasted, boiled and stewed for different dishes in earlier times. In the Southwestern United States, pumpkin parts were found in the ancient ruins of cliff dwellers.

According to the USDA Cooperative State Research Service, pumpkins were part of these early native cultures' multiple cropping system of corn, beans and squash.  In Latin America, you can still find these food combinations enjoyed in native dishes today.

Now a symbol of Halloween, pumpkins played a particularly scary role in Washington Irving's 19th-century classic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Many a child has shivered in the night thinking of that Headless Horseman and his flaming pumpkin. They never did find Ichabod Craine. Just his hat. And a shattered pumpkin.

It seems a shame that pumpkins should be considered scary after all these years.

Pumpkins certainly aren't scary to eat. Highly nutritious and delicious, pumpkins are packed with vitamin A in the form of cancer-fighting beta carotene, not to mention the B complex and C vitamins, as well as phosphorous, potassium, calcium and iron.

Plus, you can use the smaller pie-sized pumpkins in almost all the same recipes that call for winter squash. Instead of potatoes, try mashing cooked pumpkins with different toppings like feta cheese, nuts, yogurt, cinnamon, cumin or other spices for a healthy side dish.

Or, you can always make pumpkin pie ... a culinary favorite at this time of year.

As Irving described in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, "And then there were apple pies, and peach pies, and pumpkin pies; besides slices of ham and smoked beef..."

Here's a recipe for making homemade pie from a real pumpkin (not canned) from

To grow this warm-season plant, you'll have to wait until your last average frost date has passed next spring.  Direct seed pumpkins in full sun in rich, fertile soil with excellent drainage. The optimum soil pH level is between 6.0 to 6.5. Avoid planting pumpkins in the same spot where squashes and melons have grown over the last three years. Water close to the roots and avoid wetting the foliage, particularly in the evening.

More on growing pumpkins from North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Learn about crop rotation.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Corn Harvest

"Plough deep, while Sluggards sleep
And you shall have corn to sell and to keep."
Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790)

As you can see above, my corn stalks are cut. The ears have been eaten and enjoyed. And all that remains are good culinary memories.

Despite Benjamin Franklin's wise advice, I didn't sell any of my corn, and I even gave some of it away to friends. But after growing my own corn, I now understand all the fuss about how much better fresh-picked corn tastes when tossed immediately in the cooking pot or on the grill.

'Blue Jade' corn (70 to 80 days) is supposed to grow three feet tall, according to Seed Savers Exchange. That makes this variety one of the only sweet corns you can grow in containers and ideal for small gardens. But my plants easily grew four to five feet tall, and each supplied about two ears of brilliant blue corn. They probably would have supplied even more ears, but we had a late start to summer this year.

For best results, direct seed corn in full sun about 10 days to two weeks after the last frost date. Corn is a warm-season crop that likes rich, fertile soil with good drainage. Incidentally, this corn variety stays blue when cooked.

Learn more:
Advice for growing corn from Purdue University.
See some of garden writer Kylee Baumle's favorite corn varieties.

What are your favorite corn varieties? Any corn recipes you want to share? We're all ears. (Pun intended.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Must-Have Plants I'm Growing


"We have plowed, we have sowed,
We have reaped, we have mowed,
We have brought home every load,
Hip, hip, hip, harvest home."
Traditional English Harvest Verse

For the last few months, I've spoken with some of the nation's most well-known garden writers, bloggers and personalities about their must-have plants. So, you might just be wondering which plants I can't live without myself. That's why this blog post is dedicated to my 2010 harvest ... and some of my favorite plants.

As you can see above and below, my garden is a rather unruly mix of wildflowers, roses and perennials. The Shirley and California poppies self-seeded themselves from last year, and seem determined to take over my late-spring/early-summer garden.

As garden writer and designer Rebecca Sweet would say, there are a lot of "showgirls" in my garden. These are the plants that bloom outrageously and then disappear in winter. So, I'm working on adding more four-season interest to my new garden, including some lovely little boxwood shrubs which you can't see here because of all the showgirls. But I'll be glad to have their evergreen shapes in the winter months. You can hear more about showgirl plants from my Nest in Style podcast interview with Rebecca Sweet.

I'm a big fan of succession planting. So although my raised beds started out with lettuces and radishes of all types in early spring, they were replaced with squash and corn when the weather heated up.

Last year, I grew a bean teepee in this raised bed. This year, I'm growing 'Blue Jade' corn that was supposed to grow about three feet. They must like my growing conditions, because they are easily five feet tall now. I'm just starting to pull the blue-colored corn now. Incidentally, it's always good to plant corn in blocks (rather than rows) so they can self-pollinate themselves well.

Eggplants are a great way to grow attractive, delicious plants in small spaces. 'Rosa Bianca' eggplant is an Italian heirloom that will shine in any ornamental garden bed. But I like to grow them in containers too. The flowers are as pretty as the delicious fruit.

'Calliope' eggplant is a hybrid with striped fruit that are adorable. Harvest these eggplants when they reach about 2 to 3 inches in size. Great for northern climates, this eggplant ripens in about 65 days.

My 'Little Fingers' eggplant grew huge in a container, and never stopped producing tiny, black eggplants the size of chubby fingers. This early variety ripens in under 70 days. Incidentally, these containers with eggplants were filled with salad greens of all types in the spring.  Learn more about lettuces.

Grow lots of vegetables, and you can make strange faces with your food too. Starting at the top are 'Calliope' eggplants, 'Patterson Golden Scallop' squash, 'Lebanese White Bush Marrow' squash, 'Little Fingers' eggplants and 'Fairy Tale' eggplants. Incidentally, 'Fairy Tale' eggplants are also excellent in containers, and ripen quickly for northern gardens.

It wouldn't be summer without tomatoes of all types. That's why I grew varieties that ripened at different times. Pictured above (starting top left) are cute 'Yellow Perfect Sugar' (grown by a friend); 'Black Krim;' 'Green Zebra' (grown by a friend); 'Black Sea Man'; 'Isis candy' cherries; 'Tomacchio' and 'Principe Borghese' varieties for drying; as well as 'Stupice' which ripened easily a month before the others. Plus, some 'Osmin' purple basil. Tomato growing tips. Six tomatoes for cooking and preserving.

Beans are another favorite vegetable for us. And we especially love the ones that aren't green. Above are beautiful spotted 'Dragon's Tongue;' pinkish 'Red Swan Bush;' and yellow 'Pencil Pod Wax Bean.' Alongside the beans are flowering oregano stems that make the bees in my garden very happy. More about beans.

The weather is gradually growing colder, and there are only a few more weeks to enjoy these summer vegetables. But I'm already planting carrots, radishes and salad greens for the fall. There is nothing better than delicious food out in the garden, even in the colder months.

Meanwhile, what are some of your favorite must-have plants in the garden? Do you agree with these folks?

Must Haves (Kylee Baumle, Fern Richardson, Susan Cohan)
Must Haves (Joe Lamp'l, Patti Moreno, Theresa Loe of Growing a Greener World TV)
Must Haves (JeanAnn Van Krevelen, Lisa Gustavson, Michael Lieberman)
Fav Winter Plants (Kerry Michaels, Maine)
Fav Winter Plants (Dan Eskelson, No. Idaho)
Fav Winter Plants (Doug Green, Canada)
Fav Winter Plants (Helen Yoest, North Carolina)
Fav Winter Plants (Christina Salwitz, Western Washington)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Must-Have Plants (Jean Ann Van Krevelen, Lisa Gustavson, Mike Lieberman)

Photo by Elaphurus on Flickr
It's harvest time! So, this segment of "must-have" plants spotlights delicious and delightful edibles of all types. These three clever gardeners, from across the nation, show you how beautiful fresh food can be ... and how you can grow vegetables, herbs and fruit in even the smallest urban spaces.

Jean Ann Van Krevelen is a big fan of fresh foods from her Portland, Oregon (Zone 8) garden. She was the main author of Grocery Gardening: Planting, Preparing and Preserving Fresh Foods, which I also co-authored. She also co-hosts the funny and popular Good Enough Gardening podcast with Amanda Thomsen on iTunes. Somehow she finds time to be social media director at Cool Springs Press. Find Jean Ann on Twitter @JeanAnnVK. Or, at her blog Gardener to Farmer.

Jean Ann likes her edibles to not only taste good, but look lovely as well. Perfect example? The purple tomatillos at the top of this post.

"I just love purple tomatillos," says Jean Ann. "In addition to being absolutely gorgeous, they produce in cooler weather than tomatoes. Their crisp, clean, slightly sour taste is ideal for fresh dishes like salads and salsas. Cook them down into a sauce and use them in Mexican or Asian dishes."

Photo by beautifulcataya on Flickr
Another favorite is 'Peacock' broccoli. "It's twice the bang for the buck," explains Jean Ann. "You can eat the little broccoli florets and the leaves. This broccoli is tender and small, so it doesn't need much cooking. Try it in salads, stir fries and grilled dishes. The leaves can be used as kale and incorporated into almost any dish. They will be a bit more tough, so blanch the leaves or saute them."

For more than 16 years, Lisa Gustavson has enjoyed spending time in the garden. In Western New York State (Zone 5b), she grows lots of unusual vegetables and fruits, mixed with flowers, throughout her charming half-acre property. Lisa is known by gardeners nationwide for her popular blog Get In The Garden. Or on Twitter at @GetInTheGarden.

Photo by Lisa Gustavson
As a young girl, Liza never particularly cared much for pumpkin pie. But now she simply loves the pie made with winter squash like this gorgeous heirloom 'Galeux d' eysines' (shown above). The beauty of this healthy vegetable is a big plus.

"The squash's sweet flavor may have won me over," she recalls. "But it was the plant's long, rambling vines and huge orange blossoms that hooked me on growing them. The sight of such a large plant unfurling from one seed is just amazing to me."

Photo by Lisa Gustavson
Fresh beans have meant "summer" to Lisa since she was a little girl. "Back then, the beans were from a local farm market," she remembers. "Now as an adult I plant different heirloom beans to eat fresh and can. I also plant varieties for drying for winter soups and stews. They're easy to grow and the beans are just beautiful."

Shown above are her stylishly spotted 'Rattlesnake' beans, green 'Vermont Cranberry' beans and purple 'Trionfo Violetto' beans. These beautiful beans elevate a simple meal into a gourmet experience.

Who says you can't grow food in small places? Mike Lieberman has grown food on a tiny fire escape in New York City (Zone 6), and a small balcony in sunny Los Angeles (Zone 10). Regardless of the size of his garden, he always eats well. Known to thousands on Twitter as @CanarsieBK, this active blogger, social media consultant and writer "walks the talk" when it comes to green living. You can learn more at

Have a small garden yourself? Michael recommends vegetables, fruits and herbs with a high yield. Here are some of his must-have plants for urban living.

Photo by Mike Lieberman
"A container filled with lettuces will make it to your plate quickly," explains Mike. "Plus, this plant will provide for you for many months. Growing your own lettuces helps to cut your food bills, because you'll have plenty of fresh homegrown greens to enjoy." 

The above picture shows different leaf lettuces alongside a pot of thyme as well as 'Jimmy Nardello's Sweet Italian' and 'Chili Rellenos' pepper plants on a New York City fire escape. More on lettuces.

Photo by Mike Lieberman
Herbs are a terrific food value, according to Michael. "It doesn't matter what herb you grow as long as it is one you are going to use," he says. "When you go to the store, you have to buy a bunch for 2 to 3 dollars, even when you only need a sprig. The rest winds up going to waste. Grow your own herbs, and you can harvest them as you need them. They'll last much longer too."

Mike's apple mint (left) and greek oregano (right) are growing alongside tomatoes and rosemary in the above picture. It's a perfect example of how delicious seasonings will survive growing conditions in one of the world's most urban environments.

My favorites? Over the months, you've read plant choices from some of the nation's most well-known garden writers, designers and bloggers. You may even be wondering which plants I personally can't live without. Tune in next week to find out ... when I reveal some of my favorite plants of summer 2010, complete with lots of photos. Meanwhile, don't miss these other plant picks.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Show Family Farmers Some Love

Photo by Isabel Gomes of UC Hansen Agricultural Center
No farms, no food. That's an important message to remember this week (August 1-8, 2010) on National Farmers Market Week. The people who supply your family's food each and every day need your support. Consider these facts from the American Farmland Trust:

Every minute, the United States loses more than one acre of farmland to development. Between 2002 and 2007, this country lost more than 4 million acres of farmland. That's nearly the size of Massachusetts in five years.

Most fresh food is in the direct path of development. About 91 percent of our fruit and 78 percent of our vegetables come from farms near urban areas. As farm and ranch land tends to be ideal for housing and office park development - flat, well drained and reasonably priced - it is rapidly being snatched away for building projects.

Less than one-fifth of U.S. land is ideal for farming. And the most fertile farmland is at the biggest risk of development.

That's the bad news. The good news is...there are lots of ways you can help. Even better, there are many benefits to helping family farmers in your area. By supporting local farmers, you're strengthening your regional economy, and you're reducing the natural resources needed to deliver your food. Most food travels 1,500 miles to reach the average American. That's a lot of gasoline to ship some lettuce.

Did you know? Local food is healthier too. Even with the finest storage facilities, the nutritional value of food starts to degrade rapidly once the produce is harvested. So, the fresher the food, the healthier the benefits.

Here are some easy ways to eat local foods and support local farmers:
  1. Visit Farmers Markets. There's nothing better than fresh-picked heirloom tomatoes and sweet corn harvested that morning. Fortunately, it has become easier to find farmers markets across the nation. In 2009, farmers markets increased 13 percent in one year alone. Often, you'll find live music and crafts at these markets too.
  2. Buy a CSA membership. When you buy a community-supported-agriculture (CSA) membership, you pay a fee, and you receive fresh produce weekly, based on what the farm harvested. It's a great way to know the farmer who grew your food.
  3. Look online. Many family farmers are turning to technology to reach consumers directly.  You can order local foods online, and many deliver right to your home. Some helpful links are listed below.
  4. Speak out. Tell local store managers and restaurant owners you'd like to see more local foods in their produce selection and on their menues. Ask them to display signage showing which local farms provided certain food items. Let your political representatives know you want them to support local farms as well.
As I explained in Grocery Gardening, when you buy direct from farmers, your dollars make a difference. Consider these facts:
  • Buy direct from farmers = they earn up to 90 cents on the dollar, reports the Eat Local Challenge.
  • Buy from traditional markets = farmers earn about 20 cents on the dollar, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
"Agriculture... is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end
contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness."
Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 1787

Image by Bikeloc - Robert Dubois and Aaron Zueck

Hear more about Robert Dubois and Aaron Zueck of Bikeloc (shown above) on this Nest In Style podcast. I interview these determined cyclists right before they finish a rather grueling, cross-country bike trip to celebrate local foods. Their long journey started in late-April 2010 in Vermont and ends in Portland, Oregon this week. Traveling from potluck to potluck, the cyclists have met with farmers, food producers and ordinary citizens to learn more about their perspectives about local foods in this country.  Hear Bikeloc interview.

Image by Bikeloc - Robert Dubois and Aaron Zueck
Bikeloc's effort was impressive. But, lucky for us, there are plenty of easier ways to eat local foods, support family farmers and enjoy healthier diets.

Learn more:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Growing A Greener World Experts Share "Must-Have" Plants

As more Americans embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle these days, the timing couldn’t be better for a new PBS television series called Growing a Greener World, distributed by American Public Television.

Growing a Greener World combines traditional gardening knowledge with a strong focus on sustainability – and provides plenty of cooking and preserving tips for your garden harvests. Each episode tells the story of people making a difference in our world today.

These inspiring stories have ranged from ...  Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory (called “America’s Greenest Public Garden”) to the Edible Schoolyard Project, spearheaded by local-foods advocate Alice Waters at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California.

Must-Have Plants: After traveling around the country and touring these fantastic gardens, what "must-have" plants do the hosts and producers of this national television series recommend? Their answers might surprise you.

Executive Producer and Host - Joe Lamp’l: As one of America’s most recognized names in gardening and sustainability, Joe shares his knowledge on NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America and PBS’ Victory Garden. When he’s not running The joe gardener® Company, Joe writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column, books, podcasts and more. He also hosts the Fresh from the Garden series on DIY Network and GardenSMART on PBS. On Twitter: @JoeGardener.

So, when Joe says a plant is worth buying… you listen. One of his favorites is the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), which he uses around his zone 7 garden, especially when he wants to create focal points.

“Yes, Japanese maple is ubiquitous, but there’s a reason why,” explains Joe. “What other tree does so well with neglect? They’re as happy in containers as they are in the ground. They come in many different varieties and sizes now, with a rainbow of foliage colors. And I love them just as much in winter when they are pruned to give an open airy look.”

To see what Joe means, check out the stunning Japanese maple at the top of this blog post.

The native oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), shown above, is another of Joe’s favorites. Along with the stunning fall foliage, Joe likes the beautiful long panicles of flowers that turn from white to pink, and last from summer well into winter, as the handsome bark is exposed.

“What more could you ask from this four-season performer?” asks Joe. “This is a tough performer that responds well to pruning, has exquisite fall color, grows happily in sun or shade, and looks wonderful in a woodland setting. There are also compact varieties that are perfect for any garden.”

Hellebore or lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) is another plant Joe couldn’t live without – and he encourages folks to forget everything they’ve heard about hellebores being fussy or hard to grow.

“This deer resistant plant thrives on neglect, puts on a show in the shade, blooms in winter, and rewards you with lots of seedlings every year,” says Joe. “Hellebore reseeds prolifically in a myriad of color combinations and their evergreen foliage is a welcome sight in the dead of winter. This is a plant you’ll be happy to pass along to your gardening friends.”

Co-host - Patti Moreno: Also known as “The Garden Girl,” this well-known writer and TV host is an expert in sustainable living for urban environments. She is a contributing editor to Fine Gardening’s GROW magazine, columnist for Organic Gardening Magazine, contributor to Farmer’s Almanac, and host of the PBS series Farmer’s Almanac TV. On Twitter: @pattimoreno  On Web:  

Over the years, Patti has tried hundreds of plants in her zone 6b garden, but she especially loves nasturtium (Tropaeolum minor). “I start them from seed where I want them to grow each spring, “she says. “I never run out of places to sow them. Their edible flowers come in many different varieties, and have a mild peppery flavor. They brighten up salads or fresh-from-the-garden side dishes. Plus, the leaves are edible as well.”

Another plant she loves is sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), which she simply must buy each year. “They mainly come in two colors, a beautiful florescent green and a deep purple,” explains Patti. “Although they may not look like much when first planted, they are truly amazing once they get going and start trailing around in interesting ways.”

Associate Producer - Theresa Loe: Based outside of Los Angeles, Theresa is all about living local, organic and sustainable. This book author and garden writer is an expert in educational school gardens and urban homesteading. She’s also a canning and preserving expert.  On Twitter: @TheresaLoe On Web:

Theresa’s charming cottage garden is zone 10, allowing her to grow many different edibles and cut flowers together. One favorite she likes to grow in containers and hanging baskets is the tender perennial called kent beauty oregano (Origanum rotundifolium 'Kent Beauty'). The plant really lives up to its name, according to this gardening pro.

“Kent beauty oregano is a real charmer,” says Theresa. “The leaves are heart-shaped with strong architectural veins running throughout. It has bracts that combine creamy white with a lovely chartreuse at the base. The flowers make spectacular flower arrangements and the bracts even hold their color well when dried.”

She’s also crazy about a creeping vine called cup and saucer vine (Cobaea scandens). “This profuse bloomer is a fast grower,” explains Theresa. “It quickly covers walls or fences with lovely cup-shaped flowers, yet it does NOT damage walls as other vines can do. In my area, it dies back each winter. The flowers first open as a light green and slowly darken to a deep purple in the sun. It is a real show stopper and perfect for any unsightly area.”

Theresa grows many different herbs in her garden, but she is particularly fond of Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citriodora).

“This plant is highly prized in the perfume industry for its essential oil,” explains Theresa. “And you need only brush past the foliage on a warm day to see why. One sprig, tucked into a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers will fill the room with sweet lemon fragrance."

“But I also grow this tender herb for its flavor,” she adds. “On any given summer day, you will find a pitcher of lemon verbena water in my refrigerator. To make your own, simply pick a few 6-inch stems, gently bruise the leaves with your fingers to release the essential oils and drop them into a tall pitcher of ice water. So simple and yet so delicious!”

Learn more about Growing a Greener World:
On Twitter: @GGWTV
On Web:
On Facebook:

And if Growing a Greener World isn’t showing on your local PBS station, contact them and find out why. These folks have plenty of great gardening and culinary tips you don’t want to miss…