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Garden Trends–Smaller Edibles

On Friday I talked about how edible gardening was having a resurgence–and it’s having a resurgence in a huge way!

But while Friday’s post talked all about the new and unusual varieties of vegetables that we’re growing (and didn’t even touch on the great types of fruits that are now available) today I will talk about the smaller edibles that have been designed primarily for containers but can really go in most gardens (with the exception of tomatoes bred for hanging baskets, say, but examples like that are few and far between).

The trend in all of gardening is to “go smaller.” It’s happening with our trees and shrubs, it’s happening with larger perennials like Joe Pye Weed, for example, and black cohosh (two great native plants that are being bred in smaller varieties so that more folks can grow them–you now don’t need a meadow to have these plants!) and it’s happening with berrying plants like blueberries and raspberries as well.

This last category–the berries–is particularly interesting because it means that many folks can now grow fruit in containers. I’ve been growing blueberries in containers for the last 3 seasons (I store the containers in my unheated garage over the winter) and with the exception of fighting the birds for the berries, I have had great success. I probably need to net the containers but that just goes against my “lazy gardening” aesthetic.

Many of us have been growing vegetables in containers for years as well. Before I moved to this property, and in the years when I didn’t garden in a community garden, I gardened on a 12′ by 4′ condominium balcony.

I had great success growing lots of things there–green (bush) beans, tomatoes (the smaller varieties), radishes–I even had a small Japanese maple out there. Obviously it faced south. This was 25-30 years ago.

Now a few catalog companies are catering to folks like me and developing seeds for just such situations. I have noticed whole sections in the Renee’s Garden catalog devoted to collections of these seeds (and no, while Renee’s Garden is always very generous with their offers of free seeds to writers, I get nothing for this publicity!)

Another of my favorite catalogs, The Cook’s Garden, is now a part of Burpee. While they have lots of videos on their site about growing vegetables in containers, and patio tomato collections, for example, they are so huge that it can be a bit overwhelming to sort through to find the container varieties. But there are lots of varieties there, even in larger plants like squash.

Even my other two choices, Johnny’s Selected Seeds,  and my utmost favorite for selection, Baker Creek Seeds, do not make finding container varieties easy. Most of what they have for containers, when you do search, are flowers or herbs.

None of that should deter you from shopping these fine seed companies, by the way, especially if you have time to peruse their fabulous catalogs! I have been extremely happy with seeds–and plants–from both companies and I have gotten some fine tools from Johnny’s.

So it’s getting better and easier all the time to grow small varieties of edibles. And since garden trends show that that is what a lot of folks want to do, regardless of garden size, I know that the growers are on to something here!

 

Garden Trends–Edibles

They say that everything that’s old is new again, and that certainly seems to be true with edible gardening. This was huge back in the 70s and it’s come back around again (maybe parents are teaching their kids–or their grand kids?)

What’s “different” about this trend this time around is that while we’re still growing tomatoes and basil and peppers and squash, now we’re growing lots more exotic veggies too–things that if we had mentioned them in the 70s, folks might have said “bless you!”

Today it’s not uncommon to find mesclun or leaf lettuces in lots of people’s gardens–I grow it in my own. If we were to dissect some of the different varieties of “leaf” in some of those mixes, we might find arugula, bok choi, red and green romaine lettuces, mizuna, totsoi, rocket and all manner or different things.

Broccoli raab, celeriac, edamame and kale are almost common place in the garden. And if one gardens in a community garden in an urban area, one is even more likely to be exposed to the vegetables and herbs of different cultures–all to our benefit.

And swiss chard–in lovely colors too–might be growing in your garden.

Another thing that is new and different from 40 or more years ago is the size of the plants we’re growing. The tomatoes we grew back then were almost all indeterminate–or vining–type tomatoes that needed a lot of support and a lot of room to grow. These days there are lots of determinate and patio type varieties that are suitable for smaller gardens, containers and even hanging baskets.

But it’s not just tomatoes where we have seen such a change. Almost all vegetables have gotten smaller, more compact and suitable for our smaller gardens (although you can still find the older varieties as well).

Why this change to more compact varieties? Well, first off, it’s not just happening among edibles. Plants of all sorts–trees and shrubs, larger perennials and even annuals have been becoming more compact for decades now. It suits our lifestyle–think back to where we started this “garden trend” series–the “tidy” garden.

And I hate to say it, but none of us is getting any younger. So many of us are downsizing our homes or gardens (or both). So a container vegetable garden allows those folks who grew up gardening to continue that without giving up what they loved when they owned a larger home. And it also lets them eat healthy produce.

So this is one trend that doesn’t show signs of slowing down. And I am happy about that. Because I am all about helping folks enjoy their hobbies as long as they want to. That’s what keeps folks young, after all!

 

Garden Trends–“Uber”-izing the Garden

This is a weird title for what I would call the subscription food movement–you know, those home meal service delivery options like Blue Apron and Home Chef (2 options in my area) as well as local CSAs (community supported agriculture movements where you buy a share of a farm harvest for a season–although these are usually pick up).

I suppose perhaps community gardening might even fit this movement not because the garden comes to you–although it does, in a sense–but because of the education value of the garden. Back when I belonged to a community garden, we shared lots of things: advice about how to best manage pests (most gardens are organic), seeds and plant starts, extra produce and ways to prepare it and, at the end of the season, a community garden dinner. It truly was a “community” in every sense of the word.

The subscription services, on the other hand, while they might allow you to prepare dinner for others, are not generally communal in this nature.

And some CSAs can be this way, but not all are–it depends on the farm (although most will at least share ways to prepare what is in the harvest that week.)

I guess it is all up to the particular gardener–and how social he or she wants to be–to take advantage or this trend.

Garden Trends–“Clean” Gardening

On Monday I talked about the first of the “garden trends” that the Garden Media Group and Grow 365 identified as trends for 2017.

I have to confess, I am a little bit puzzled by some of these trends. This trend, for example, that they called “clean” gardening. It encompasses “natural,” organic and even hydroponic gardening. It also encompasses free range!

First, that’s a huge range of different gardening styles and there are battles brewing at the federal level (and no, I have no intention of weighing in here, other than to say that for the moment hydroponic is NOT considered organic, and natural can mean a huge range or different things but is also not officially considered organic under USDA standards).

As long term readers know, I’ve been organic for over 20 years–since 1994, in fact–so “clean” gardening is hardly what I would call a “trend” for me. However, I am delighted to see it getting publicity and I am delighted to see everyone becoming aware of the variety of different styles of eating and gardening, whichever they ultimately choose to adopt.

One of the things I always try to tell people when I lecture is that they should try to keep their homes and yards as free from toxins as possible, particularly if they are growing food. I say that there are  a couple of reasons to grow your own food: to get varieties that you can’t find elsewhere and to know where your food is coming from (literally) and what’s on it.

I also say that if you are just going to put synthetics on it–and I mean synthetics of any sort, from fertilizers to pesticides–you might as well just go down to the supermarket and buy the food.

You don’t have to agree with me, but that’s how I feel. And as I always say, if we all “liked” the same thing, we would have a very boring world. But this trend, at least, seems to indicate, that more folks are “liking” food without synthetics (that was one of the characterizations of “clean” in the Garden Media Group and Grow 365 report).

Microgreens–or Are they Just Dental Floss with Leaves?

I don’t remember how many years ago I had a post on Microgreens. At the time, they sounded like a good idea. I even went out and bought some seeds in preparation for starting some. I had organic seed starting mix. I saved some trays from take out food. I was all set.

Except it never happened. I may still have the seeds. I definitely still have the trays. I am using up the organic seed mix as I start seeds every winter and spring. What went wrong?

I think it’s my innate distaste for sprouts. Now, make no mistake, as this excellent article , Growing Microgreens 101 explains, sprouts and microgreens are entirely different things.

For one thing, sprouts are just that–barely sprouted seeds that are little more than roots and just the beginning cotyledon–but no true leaves. They are also not grown in soil, but are “sprouted” in water or some other moist medium.

Microgreens, on the other hand, are most often grown in soil. The have roots and two sets of “leaves”–the first set of leaves known as the seed leaves or cotyledon and the second set of “true” leaves.

It is once the microgreens reach this stage–the stage when they put on their second set of leaves–that they are harvested and eaten. And it is the true leaves that give them the flavor of the original plant (sometimes much more intensely so!) as well as vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

So it remains to be seen whether I can get over my “squeamishness” about the microgreens. But I urge you to do so. Because they really are a great way to add some healthy greens into your diet in the dead of winter. And they’re easy to grow yourself in a tiny space.

Who, besides perhaps me, wouldn’t like that?

So What Is A Gardener To Do In Winter?

I spoke to a newly retired friend recently and she was lamenting the lack of structure in her life–and the fact that her retirement fell at the end of the gardening season so that now she had to get through the entire winter before she could garden again.

I am quite sympathetic to this plight since most of my periods of unemployment have also fallen in the winter (and to be honest, the one that did come in the summer wasn’t truly enjoyable enough that I could just sit back and enjoy it–who enjoys unemployment if it is not of one’s own making?)

So for all of us gardeners who find ourselves with extra hours in the cold and the dark this winter (or any winter) I thought I might offer some suggestions. I offer many of these same suggestions at the end of my “Putting the Garden to Bed for Winter” lecture because I suspect that garden club folks might need a little help getting through winter–as do I!

One of my suggestions is to count birds for Project FeederWatch–but that doesn’t work if you’re not into birds of course. If you are, it’s a great “citizen science project” and a great way to give back to the online science community. More information about that project can be found here. And it’s not too late to sign up for this winter.

There are many online volunteer science conservation and observation projects that you can participate in over the winter. I had my backyard certified as a habitat one winter through the National Wildlife Federation.  Not only is that fun (and you’ll probably come out feeling better about your “yard,” however it’s defined. It can even be a balcony) but you’ll learn a lot too. And you can find out what you need to do to make your yard better as well. More information is here.

If online isn’t your thing, late winter and early spring are the time when lots of plant societies are putting on symposia and flower shows. Any group that I have ever belonged to was always looking for help in that area with their various shows and symposiums and day long series of talks. A little “Googling” around ought to help you find out plenty of places to volunteer in person depending on where you live–or stop in at a local garden center. They might be able to direct you. And if not, you can still soak up some warmth and maybe come home with a new plant or two to tide you over.

Finally, there are lots of books, blogs, podcasts and the like that are always putting out the latest and greatest ways to grow things. All of the early issues of the “horticultural” magazines will have the latest and greatest new plants that are coming onto the market. The plant societies have already introduced their new varieties for 2017–some old and some new. Maybe this is the year you decide to re-vamp a garden (or several) with some new–or tried and true varieties. Winter is for dreaming–spring is for planting.

And before we all know it, it will be time to get back out into the garden!

 

 

Summer is Winding Down–What Should Gardeners Be Doing?

Last week I posted a photo about the quality of light that told me that the seasons were changing. I also had a photo of a type of spider that appears this time of year in my garden (at least in a size when its big enough for me to notice).

Since seasons are changing in the northern hemisphere, what should gardeners be doing?

Certain lucky gardeners can plant whole second gardens of course. And if I were organized enough, I could get in a second crop of faster growing things like leaf lettuces and radishes and perhaps even peas if I had started then a bit earlier. But honestly, between the drought this summer and the poor critters that have been coming to the gardens to get at the produce because there’s no other sources for moisture, I really don’t have much desire to plant anything else as a “salad” crop for critters.

If this has not been your problem, by all means, plant a second crop of edibles!

One thing that should be done this time of year–even for those of us in drought stricken areas unless there is a watering ban–is to renovate the lawn. But please, folks, once again, let’s do this sensibly.

I noticed that one of my neighbors–the one that has been having a lawn company pesticide the heck out of their lawn literally every single week all summer long–finally had some core aeration done. Any wonder why that was necessary? This is the same neighbor that “tried” organic care last year but then said that the lawn looked terrible. I hate to tell you what it looks like this year. It’s completely fried from all those chemicals in a drought. But no one’s asking my advice.

If someone were, I would say the core aeration is a great place to start. A little layer of compost might be next.  Ditch the pesticides and don’t fertilize–not in this drought! Lawn renovation might have to wait. But compost and aeration will never do any harm.

If you haven’t gotten around to ordering bulbs, you probably should. Even where I live, it’s still too warm to plant. But you definitely want to reserve them so that you get your choice. The growers won’t ship until it’s the appropriate time to plant anyway. And bulbs are remarkably forgiving.

Finally, get out to your garden centers. Anything that is left over is going to be on sale at a nice discount. And they most likely will have brought in some great new fresh stock for fall planting too. While that may not be discounted, you might see just the thing (beyond mums, cabbages and pumpkins) to liven up the yard for years to come. Just remember that you will need to water it if nature is not helping you.

So what are you waiting for? Fall has some of the best gardening weather around. Go out, enjoy, and get planting!