Gardeners looking for a great rainy day pastime should take a visual stroll through past issues of The Kitchen Gardener. The very mention of this defunct monthly tweaks the interest of any gardener who was fortunate enough to have been a subscriber.
The Kitchen Gardener holds its very high standing as my all time favorite gardening magazine. Learning past issues are available and featured at VegetableGardener.com is as exciting as harvesting that first batch of peas or chomping down on a sun-ripened, freshly plucked tomato. A quick look at any one of the photos or articles featured on any given day leads to a wealth of knowledge and experience beneficial to any gardener – seasoned or fresh.
My first visit after the website’s launch showed the photo of a seed starting rack. I cannot swear to this, but I think the construction of my rack – the A-frame pictured in this very un-professional photo
lighted seed starting rack
is loosely based on this one. My rack has one set of fluorescent lights for the top shelf and two for the bottom shelf. My hubby, who thankfully supports my seed starting ventures, built the rack so the shelves lift out and the frame folds flat for storage. I believe part of his motivation for building this was his desire to corral seed flats to just one area of the house rather than along every sunny window sill … though he may have been slightly urged by my complaints of not having enough sunlight or space to properly start seeds!
The Kitchen Gardener offers straightforward, practical, and well-researched advice from actual gardeners – people who know how tough it is to maintain clean fingernails, in spite of using gloves. So if you’re looking to build a natural-looking garden trellis or bean teepee and lashing techniques that will hold your creation together go here. Whether interested in carrots or befuddled by moles … the Kitchen Gardener has it covered.
Wondering why I might direct readers to gain insight via past issues of the Kitchen Gardener? First, I applaud Taunton Press, publisher of the former monthly and the current Fine Gardening, in their willingness to keep Kitchen Gardener articles available. Second, I hope they will find a market for a revamped monthly Kitchen Gardener. Finally, I’m all for using and building upon the advice of those with hands-on, down-and-dirty knowledge … gardeners learning from gardeners.
Now that I’ve started numerous flats of coleus, I’m full of anticipation for what this year’s crop will bring to my flower beds and containers. Coleus provides constant leaf color, whether used in sun or part shade. I combine complimentary types of coleus in pots for the deck and hanging planters, while other coleus plants find their way into perennial beds as shown here.
This year I’m planting the dark red, ruffled-leaf Black Dragon, the large green leaved Limelight, as well as two from the Wizard series (lemon-lime and red Pineapple and a more copper orange and gold Sunset – both pictured below). I’m also trying Palisandra, a nearly black coleus with dark green leaf veins.
Coleus Pineapple with eggplant
Many catalogues offer only coleus plants, but search out companies that sell coleus seeds as a way to maximize coleus plantings for minimal outlay. The miniscule seeds easily sprout when sowed on top of the soil in indoor flats about this time of year. The tiny plants may get off to a slow start, but they grow quickly once placed outdoors after there is no longer a risk for frost. Unfortunately, deer will seek out the fleshy leaves, so coleus is best planted out of their reach.
Coleus have been one of my must have plants for years and now that their popularity has increased, I have many varieties from which to choose. Though I start many types of coleus from seed, I always manage to find new varieties in local nurseries that scream for a place in my garden.
I managed to get the first set of seeds planted outside before today’s rain began. The combination of thawed planting beds and forecasts for heavy rains over the next few days makes for optimal planting conditions for cold-hardy seeds. I planted two varieties of peas; my favored Carouby de Maussane snow peas which turn beautiful purple flowers into tasty, crisp morsels, and the new-to-me Snowflake pea pods. I started with one sowing of each planted in pots sunk into one of the vegetable garden beds. Three additional long, narrow planters now hold the promise of Cherry Belle and French Breakfast radishes, and Winter Density and New Red Fire lettuces. I’m determined to reap vegetables from my planting beds in spite of my population of hungry voles (see ‘Think outside of the plot’ below).
Today’s indoor plantings included pots of tomato (Martinos Roma, Manyel, and Sweet Million cherry) which now accompany the Pruden’s Purple flat planted about a week ago. Indoor pepper plantings include Early jalapeno, Hot Hungarian Yellow Wax Hot, Dancing Spirit, and the frying pepper Cubanelle, and last week’s planting of 2008 seeds of Early Jalapeno and Hot Hungarian Yellow Wax. To last week’s planting of Ichiban eggplant I added a flat of Lavender Touch eggplant. I also planted numerous basil varieties such as the new-to-me Italiano Classico and Basilico Finissimo Verde a Palla, and my tried and true favorites Italian large leave basil ocimum, Basilico Mostruoso, lemon basil, and the bush variety O. Basilicum Minimum. I started some Afina cutting celery, an herb that provides celery flavor in a leaf form, as well.
Most of these plants will find a place in my vegetable or flower beds. Extras I’ll share with family and friends without the means or time to start plants themselves.
St. Patrick’s Day, in gardening lore is pea planting day. But Connecticut gardeners might better spend time having a cold one rather than trying to plant peas in yet unthawed or too-wet soils where they are likely to rot. In all my years of zone 6a gardening I think I’ve been able to plant peas on March 17 once – that’s once in 30-plus years – and that truly called for a Guinness celebration. But, we do need to begin watching the thaw in our soils so we can get peas, including fragrant ornamental sweet peas, in the ground as early as possible. So for us, jumping Leprechauns might serve as reminders that it’s nearly time to plant.
Peas thrive in the cool temperatures of spring, and must be planted early to get in a good crop before the heat of summer moves in. Anne Raver, gardening columnist at the New York Times, has a wonderful article on planting peas in her area, so there’s no need for me to restate the ins and outs of pea planting. Just don’t plant them until your soil has thawed and dried to the point she describes. Instead, while thoughts of freshly picked peas are dancing in your head, take a look at your garden to choose a nice sunny location to plant your peas. You can follow Anne’s advice for building a trellis using tall posts and plastic netting, or grab pruners and cut thin, low-growing, but sturdy branches from fallen or still growing trees for use as a no-cost pea trellis (I use beech and birch, but willow is great when available). Make sure branches are tall enough to support the variety of peas you’ll plant … some grow very tall while other vines hold at 2-3 feet in length and only need branches about 4 feet tall. Once the soil is adequately thawed, sink the branches into the soil, using the tallest (about a foot taller than the vines they’ll hold), strongest as anchors. Interweave branches so they form a sturdy upright support, and tie with twine to insure they stay together. Hint: if you choose some branches with lots of side shoots you can weave these together to add strength. Alternately, consider making pea teepees here and there. Wind garden twine around the legs of the teepee and pea vines will grab onto the twine and stretch upward. I’ve built and used supports of woven branches, plastic netting, teepee structures of branches or bamboo, and created other bamboo supports by tying horizontal and vertical bamboo rods together into a grid. Any structure works as long as it is strong enough to support the weight of the plants. Peas and other vines with tendrils also like some sort of support about an inch or two above the ground for tendrils to grab onto shortly after emerging. Google ‘pea trellis’ for many examples.
In previous years, when my family was larger and my vegetable garden housed fewer plant eating voles, I planted longer vining snap peas with much success. But now I stick with edible pod peas. I love Carouby de Maussane, a snow pea with dainty lavender to purple flowers that grows only 2-3 feet (available here). This year I’ll also plant Snowflake Pea Pods from Kitchen Garden Seeds, and rather than planting them in the vegetable garden, I’ll choose a couple of spots at the rear of a perennial bed (in a deer-protected fenced area – yes, deer love peas). When the soil warms enough, I’ll sink my pea seeds about an inch into the soil, and about 3 inches apart on either side of a trellis, firm the soil over the seeds, water, and wait – making sure the seeds receive enough water each day to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. This may sound like a lot to do for mere pea pods, but once you pick peas fresh from the garden, you’ll wonder why you didn’t plant more.
Backyard gardens, container gardens, community gardens, Victory gardens … call them what you will, but the numbers of people engaged in gardening is projected to grow this year about as fast as the proverbial bean planted by Jack. The National Gardening Association projects 43 million U.S. households plan to grow fruits, vegetables, berries, and herbs this year – an increase of 19 percent over 2008. Another 11 percent of us plan to increase food gardening over last year’s levels. Why? Besides wanting to save money, we want better tasting, better quality, and safer food … and we seem to be willing to average about 5 hours of blissful gardening a week to do so. If you are like most, you are among the 91 percent who have food gardens at home. But some driven souls (5 percent) garden at a friend’s, neighbor’s, or relative’s property, and another 3 percent garden in community plots.
When planning your garden, think about this … 86 percent of gardeners plan to plant tomatoes, 47 percent cucumbers, 46 percent sweet peppers, 32 percent onions, and 31 percent hot peppers … sounds like we’re going to make tons of salsa this year! Another 28 and 24 percent will plant lettuce and peas, while beans and carrots will go into 39 and 34 percent of gardens. Be forewarned: if you delay your trip to the garden center or wait any longer to buy seeds, you may come up a few tomato plants short, or may not find that certain type of cuke you hoped to plant.
I placed two seed orders this year. The order from Kitchen Garden Seeds arrived within a week. But my other seed order seems caught up in this year’s gardening craze. When I contacted Pinetree Garden Seeds to find out why my order, placed a month ago, had not yet arrived, I learned the company had to hire 25 extra workers to handle this year’s seed orders.
So as my small packets of tomorrow’s veggies deftly move through the US postal system, I’m sowing some 2008 eggplant (Ichiban Imp), hot peppers (early jalapeno and Hungarian yellow wax), and Pruden’s purple tomato seeds, and will have soil-filled flats ready and waiting for the happy arrival of their 2009 cousins.
Great day to start my blog. Finally ordered seeds … now anticipation of crisp snow peas and fresh picked lettuce intermingle with visions of morning glories greeting me at sunrise. Though snow stubbornly clings to the front lawn, and more is forecast still, I’m warmed by knowing Spring is on its way.
With the aim of using regional suppliers, the bulk of my seeds come from Pinetree Garden Seeds, a family run company in Maine. They offer large selections of all types of seeds at a very reasonable price, allowing me to order a good amount without feeling I have broken the budget. I also ordered, from Kitchen Garden Seedsin Bantam, CT, some bush beans, a lettuce, and peas, as the specific variety descriptions suggest they may work in well in targeted spaces (more on this in a later post).
My mail is heavily laden with nursery and seed catalogues from all over the U.S., but I tend to buy from those within the northeast … just a small way to support local/regional businesses and minimize delivery distances.
And on a completely different note, today is Valentine’s Day … a day so many feel obliged to act upon feelings of love. This day often puzzles me … if you love someone, why wait for a ‘holiday’ to let them know. Life’s too short … remind your loved ones – every day – by actions and words – how much they mean to you.