Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Seed Advice, Heirloom Seeds, Plant Lists

Purple carrots, blue corn, spotted lettuce and rose pink beans. These are just some of the unusual and delicious vegetables you can grow from seeds in your garden.

Nest in Style Podcast: Eager to learn more about seed starting? Have questions about heirlooms and hybrids? Or, just want more professional garden design tips? Don't miss this Nest in Style podcast episode and hear from three nationally-recognized gardening experts: Nan Sterman, Chris McLaughlin and Rebecca Sweet.

What I'm Growing: While you're listening to Nest in Style, why not look over some of the seeds that I'm growing in the garden this year? You'll see they aren't your average grocery store vegetables.

Beans - "I was determined to know beans," wrote Henry David Thoreau in the late-19th century. And I know just what he means. I love growing beans from seeds. Here are a few beans I've grown in my garden already or that I'm trying this year for the first time.

Bean, Purple Podded Pole - Shown in picture above; purple heirloom bean of northern European origin. Turns green when blanched.

Bean, Ideal Market Pole - Very productive, stringless green pole bean, shown in picture above from harvest 2009.

Bean, Red Swan Bush - Beautiful dusty, red-rose snap bean, which I'm eagerly trying for first time this year. Just think how lovely it will look with purple podded pole beans.

Bean, Pencil Pod Wax Bush - Stringless yellow wax bean that is great for freezing or canning. Trying this one for first time. As you can probably tell, I prefer my beans in unusual colors.

Bean, Painted Pony Bush - Dual purpose bean with long stringless green beans, which later grow to become attractive dry beans in brown and white. These dry beans are highly recommended for soups and stews. I'm trying this variety for the first time, because I'm eager to taste and compare both types of beans.

Bean, Dragon's Tongue Bush - Wax bean with cream-colored pods and thin purple stripes, which disappear when blanched. Below is a picture of some beans I grew in 2009.

I'm growing a lot more than beans, of course. Below are just a few vegetables I'll sow in my garden this year.

Carrot, Cosmic Purple: Bright purple carrots with shades of yellow and orange. Trying for first time.

Carrot, Jaune Obtuse Du Doubs: Lemon-yellow carrot with fine, sweet taste. Trying for first time.
Carrot, St. Valery: French variety dating back to at least 1885, handsome bright, red-orange carrots. Trying for first time.

Carrot, Tonda di Parigi: Round in shape, these orange, 19-century Parisian heirloom carrots are 1 to 2 inches long. Ideal for rocky soil. Trying for first time.

Radish Helios: Yellow, olive shaped radishes; Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company reports this heirloom came from Alzbeta Kovacova-Pecarova of Kosice, Slovakia (very near the village where my grandfather was born!) Trying for first time with great delight.

Radish, Purple Plum: Bright-purple skin with crisp white flesh. Trying for first time.

Radish, Long Scarlet: Long and slender, bright red radish that dates back to pre-1870s.  Radish that looks a bit like a carrot -- How cool is that! Trying for first time.

Plus, I can't wait to try ...

Corn, Blue Jade: Steel-blue cobs that become jade-blue when boiled. Dwarf plants that grow 2 to 3 feet bear 3 to 6 ears of corn. One of the few sweet corns that can be grown in containers. Trying for first time.

Squash, Lebanese White Bush Marrow: Rare variety of cream, oblong summer squash, which is delicious baked or fried. Trying for first time.

Speaking of squash, I loved this winter squash I grew last year:

Squash, Musquee de Provence: Averaging 20 pounds, this French variety of winter squash has orange, blue and green colors that ripen to a deep, rich brown. The deep orange flesh is great for baking.

Salads will be made with greens such as these:

Lettuce, Merveille Des Quatre Saisons (Marvel of Four Seasons): With a name like that, how could I not grow this French variety? This bibb letuce has ruby-red leaves with tightly folded green hearts. I've grown this tasty heirloom several years.

Lettuce, Forellenschluss: This old Austrian heirloom is a favorite of mine. The green romaine leaves are speckled with deep rose, and stand up well to salad dressings.This lettuce is as beautiful as it is delicious.

Arugula, Apollo: Productive variety of domesticated rocket; high in vitamin C; excellent in salad mixtures.

That's not all I'm growing this year either. They'll be more cool-season and warm-season plants, which I'll start inside from seeds, direct seed out in the garden, or buy as transplants from local nurseries or farmer's markets. We're lucky here, for instance, to have many unusual varieties of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants available for purchase.

Whatever you decide to grow this year, just remember, it's important to rotate your vegetable crops each year. Want more information? Read the Seasonal Wisdom post on crop rotation.

Happy growing!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Crop Rotation and Vegetable Plant Families

For healthy vegetable gardens, it's best to rotate your crops each year. By rotating your vegetable crops each year, you'll reduce pests and pathogens and add nutrients to the soil. That's why you should avoid growing vegetables from the same family in the same place more than once over a three-year period.

It's not always easy to remember which vegetables belong in the same families, which can make crop rotation a bit challenging. To make it easier, I've listed vegetable plant families and the common names of popular vegetables in each family:

Alliaceae: Chives, garlic, leek, onion

Chenopodiaceae: Beet, chard, spinach

Brassicaceae: Broccoli, Brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radish, rutabaga, turnip

Asteraceae: Endive, globe artichoke, lettuce

Cucurbitaceae: Cantaloupe, cucumber, pumpkin, summer squash, winter squash, watermelon

Poaceae: Corn

Fabaceae: Green bean, fava bean, lima bean, pea, snap bean

Liliaceae: Asparagus

Polygonaceae: Rhubarb

Solanaceae: Eggplant, pepper, potato, tomato

Umbelliferae: Carrot, celery, Florence fennel, parsley, parsnip

Tips: Keep a notebook to remember what you planted each growing season. If you grew eggplant in a certain place in the garden over the last two years, don't plant family members peppers, potatoes or tomatoes in the same spot this year. Instead, plant a vegetable from another family, such as carrots.

Perennials such as asparagus or rhubarb don't need to be rotated annually. Crop rotation is used for annual vegetables planted each year.

Plant Information Source: "California Master Gardener Handbook," published by the University of California's Agriculture and Natural Resources Department and the University of California Cooperative Extension.

Photo Credit: Isabel Gomes

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Tour of Naples Botanical Garden

Driving up to the Naples Botanical Garden in the seaside town of Naples, Florida, you can't help but notice the bromeliads. They are everywhere in shocking oranges, yellows, reds and greens, scattered among the snow-white stone mulch. Even on a cloudy, surprisingly chilly day in February, the contemporary design cheered the mood of our small group.

Opened in November 2009, the Naples Botanical Garden has 170 acres with various gardens, including The Florida Garden and The Asian Garden (not yet completed). The botanical garden also features an 90-acre nature sanctuary with seven different ecosystems -- not to mention, giant pines, twisted mangroves and unspoiled marshes that are home to eagles, otters and gopher tortoises.

On my visit, I had the chance to tour the three completed gardens, including the charming Children's Garden.

The Vicky C. and David Byron Smith Children's Garden is an interactive world with butterflies, flowers, edibles and play spaces. Front and center is the two-story tree house, complete with climbing platforms and rope bridges. Robinson Crusoe would feel right at home here, and your kids (of all ages) would no doubt feel the same way.

An amazing banana tree (Musa 'Saba') flanks the entrance of this children's hideaway. Look closely and you'll see this plant has a number of bananas almost ready to pick. The huge purple flower offers enough wow-power to make this tree worth growing, even if you don't like the fruit.

Talk about the ultimate playhouse. This kid's sized cracker house garden invites you to meander among the fragrant flowers, herbs and vegetables.

Off in the corner, a Hidden Garden inspires the imagination of children.

Flowers, vegetables and herbs sprout from strange places, such as these handbags of all shapes.

The imaginative displays are located at kids' eye levels, which encourages them to smell and touch the plants.

Even young boys might be surprised where flowers and vegetables can turn up.

The message of the Children's Garden is loud and clear: Please Touch! Colored chalk invites kids to play, imagine and draw their impressions on the sidewalk of the garden.

Butterflies are the main attraction of the Pfeffer-Beach Butterfly House, where a variety of brightly colored species can be seen fluttering around the flowering plants.

Travel further down the path to the Brazilian Garden, and you'll see a celebration of the South American country's rich diversity of flora.

The bold, dynamic garden is a tribute to Roberto Burle Marx, known internationally as the "father of modern landscape architecture." Already a popular spot for weddings, the Brazilian Garden was designed by Raymond Jungles, who was a fan and friend of the world-renowned landscape architect for many years.

The Kapnick Carribean Garden is further down the path with landscapes that reflect the Caribbean Islands. And...as can happen, when one is in the Caribbean, the skies opened up and poured rain down upon us.

So, after taking shelter in this cute Caribbean house, we reluctantly headed back home. But we can't wait to return, especially to tour the highly anticipated Asian Garden and Florida Garden still under development.

As for the garden's spectacular bromeliads, well let's just say I'm a big fan now. In fact, I'll never look at these semi-tropical and tropical plants the same way again.