Tag Archive | Edibles

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!


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!

Wordless Wednesday


What are you looking at (besides the tops of trash and recycling barrels, I mean)? This motley collection of foliage is actually my herb and edible garden just outside my porch door.

Yes, I have lots of herbs elsewhere on the property but if I am cooking, or even making a simple salad or sandwich,  I may not want to go half an acre away to harvest them. So I pot up my most used herbs –basil, thyme, rosemary, mint and bay–where they are in easy reach.

I also have my figs and olive tree here too. The banana and citrus are elsewhere.

As for the “real” edibles like tomatoes,  peppers and things like that? They’re in a raised bed with–what else?  More herbs, of course! That’s in the back yard.

These potted herbs also serve as season  extenders. They come into the  3 season  porch  and I can harvest from them until almost January, depending on the year. The figs over-winter there as well. The olive has to come into the house (as do the bananas and citrus).  But that’s okay.  Winter is a long way off. And all those plants help me get through it.

Leaflets 3, Let It Be?

Happy July 4th to all who are celebrating!

I will probably be celebrating with one of my favorite chores in the garden–weeding–which is why I chose this post topic.

I was originally going to make it a post about the importance of knowing the difference between the two native vines, Virginia Creeper (parthenocissus quinquefolia) and poison ivy (toxicodendron radicans). (Yes, poison ivy is a native and its berries are an important wildlife food source–that’s why it keeps appearing all over your gardens and mine!)

It is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that poison ivy causes a nasty rash in the majority of folks who come into contact with it. Also, poison ivy can contaminate anything it touches and the oil can linger anywhere from a year to up to 5 years and can re-infect the gardener that way.

But poison ivy seedlings are a little hard to identify–and there are a lot of mimics. The best case is to treat everything as if it is poison ivy, of course, and proceed with caution.

Still, you can save yourself a lot of heartache if you can recognize the different plants and keep ones that might be valuable to you. So here’s something that might help.

The first is the saying, above: Leaflets 3, let it be. That means that poison ivy has 3 leaves. But as you’ll soon see from my photos, so do a lot of other harmless plants when they are seedlings–and even larger plants. That’s okay. If in doubt, treat them as if they are poison ivy until you can positively identify them, particularly if you are sensitive.


This is a true poison ivy seedling. It’s very innocuous. It hardly looks like something that would make you want to rip your skin off.


But when we talk about “leaflets 3” here we have a 3 leafed plant that is definitely NOT poison ivy. It’s an alpine strawberry. Not something you would want to necessarily weed out. You can see how tiny this is by the acorn cap next to it.


Here’s another tri-lobed weed (again, notice the tiny size–I really had to hunt for this stuff!).  Weeder beware? Well, yes, but not of rashes. This is a maple seedling. I don’t want this to get too much bigger or it will be difficult to remove.

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Finally, you can tell this is nothing dangerous, even though it’s vining, because I have obviously picked it up and moved it. This is a Virginia Creeper vine at the beginning. I actually ripped a piece off to show that at the start, its “leaflets” are 3 lobed and not 5 lobed. So it can be a poison ivy mimic at times.


This is mature Virginia Creeper. It should look nothing like poison ivy to you. It doesn’t to me. We have it on a wood pile, climbing the trunks of a few pine trees, and here, on this stone wall, under a dogwood in places.

Despite the 5 leaflets, I can’t tell you how many neighbors have asked me to “please get rid of the poison ivy” on my trees. I’ve had to patiently explain that it isn’t poison ivy and tell them the “leaflets 3” rule. Every time a house sells, I go through this all over again.

And if we get help for a spring or fall clean-up, the Virginia Creeper inevitably gets removed as “poison ivy.” I know they think they are doing us as favor. Luckily the stuff is tough as nails and the birds bring some back for us within a year or two.

So for your own sake, and safety’s sake, learn the difference as you weed. It can make the difference between having some lovely native vines and a nasty itchy rash!

Happy Memorial Day!

Happy Memorial Day and a huge, grateful “thank you” to all who served or who are serving our country this Memorial Day. Particularly in this election year, it’s most important to remember that all of us would not enjoy our freedoms without your service.


Normally, I plant my vegetable garden on Memorial Day but this year the weather has been a bit flukey and I am a bit off schedule.  The critters, however, are not! As fast as I can put anything into my little raised bed, they dig it up and plow it under and I find it all over the yard. Most peculiar and most frustrating.

In addition, what’s not getting dug up or dragged off is getting eaten. “Wascally Wabbits,” I believe, to quote Elmer Fudd.

So, I just about laughed out loud when I saw a newsletter from Fine Gardening all about making the garden a place of relaxation. It had links for types of seating and seating areas and was so inviting.

But this year, my garden couldn’t be less relaxing if I tried. Because of the ongoing drought, it’s a battle zone (with due respect to those truly in a battle zone of course, and apologies for using that term).

Chipmunks are regularly hurling themselves into my pond–which should be comforting because it means there are fewer of them to dig up the garden and to wreak havoc there, except it’s not. I have pulled a record number of them from the water this year despite setting a bird bath on the side for them (and the birds) to drink from (and regularly cleaning it to avoid the mosquito issue).

Rabbits are eating everything in sight–not just the buffet of clover and violets in the lawn that we provide for them. Again, I think this is partly to do with drought. Plant matter provides moisture as well as nourishment.

Last week, after 10 days without moisture,  we had 2/10ths of an inch of rain. That was followed by a 4 day stretch of upper 80s and lower 90s. So that moisture was gone the very next day from the soil and everywhere else.

Other parts of Connecticut are faring better. But the northern tier is extremely dry and has been in drought since last summer. We had no snow to speak of this winter and were not hit with the monster blizzard that affected most of the mid-Atlantic and even New York City!

So we are hurting for moisture in a bad way. We have long gloomy gray stretches but no real rain. Even my clay soil is dusty dry.

So on this “unofficial” start to summer I am praying for rain and lots of it. It’s going to be a tough summer without it!