Archive for May, 2015

Zephyr Squash. Did it make the list?

Zephyr Squash. Did it make the list?

As I was looking through my seed library the other day, I finally accepted the reality that I’m a hoarder. I not only have seeds for varieties I’ve never planted, I have seeds of things I’m not even sure what they are.

Mostly though, the excess comes from the fact that while I know I’m going to grow certain standard, favorite varieties, I like to try a few new things each year. Unfortunately, seed packets come with too many seeds for most of my ‘tests’, so I end up with lots of left overs.

Seed catalogs don’t help. All they do is make me want to try more and more, encouraging my experimental nature and feeding my hoarding tendencies.

In nearly every type of fruit and vegetable, there are so many varieties to choose from, I could almost become indecisive. If that’s true for an experienced gardener like me, what’s a beginner supposed to do?

Since ‘Our Edible Suburb’ attracts a large number of beginning gardeners in addition to all you crazy garden addicts, I decided it would be a good idea to add a new twist and review new varieties from time to time. I will do the reviews as YouTube videos and link to them here on the blog. I’m kind of excited about it. Stay tuned.

Today, though, I’m going to highlight some varieties that would be my pick if I could only grow one type of each veg. To be fair, these might not necessarily be my favorite, but for one reason or another, if I could grow only one, these would be my choices.

  1. Tomato. Most years I grow from 15 to 30 varieties because Brittan and I love tomatoes. We love them
    Large Red Cherry Tomatoes

    Large Red Cherry Tomatoes

    fresh, canned and dried.  We like to can as much of our own sauce and paste as possible, and variety is the spice of live.  I would be hard pressed to choose my favorite, though ‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green’ comes to mind as a real possibility. If I could only grow one variety it would be ‘Large Red Cherry’.  Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Large Red cherry is an indeterminate variety so it keeps growing and producing all season. The tomatoes grow in nice clusters of usually 4 to 8 one to two inch fruits. They are full of great tomato flavor, with enough juiciness to enjoy fresh, but meaty enough for roasting, grilling or canning.  They are small enough to put in your salad, yet just big enough to slice onto your summer sandwich. The plants are extremely hardy and seem to be resistant to blossom end rot.  And, because they are indeterminate, they get lots of suckers, so I’m able to get all the cuttings I want for second season tomatoes (yes, we have two seasons here. Three if you start your seeds in a greenhouse in January, like I do.)

  2. Hot Pepper. Everyone who has read this blog for very long knows I’m a true heat lover. Growing hot peppers is my very favorite part of gardening. I grow a wide variety of them, from Early Prolific
    Biker Billy Jalapenos

    Biker Billy Jalapenos

    Jalapenos to Carolina Reapers, and I think I love them all.  If someone stuck a gun to my head, I would say yellow Jolokia (ghost peppers) or yellow Moruga Scorpions are my favorite and that Serrano peppers are the most versatile for cooking.  If, though, I could only grow ONE hot pepper, I would choose the ‘Biker Billy Hybrid’ Jalapeno. Biker Billy’s are prolific producers with a heat level somewhere between a Cayenne and a Habanero.   They make outstanding poppers, and if allowed to completely ripen are great for roasting. They make a darned fine pepper jelly.

  3. Sweet Pepper. I’m only just now learning to appreciate all the nuances of the different sweet peppers, having spent most of my gardening years thinking ‘a sweet pepper is a sweet pepper’. Though I have grown several varieties, I’ve grown mostly California Wonder and other mixed colored Bells. Still, if I was limited to only one variety, I would choose the Giant Aconcagua, due to its size, versatility and sweetness. Aconcaguas are the perfect stuffing or roasting peppers and are fantastic sliced into rings for a salad.
  4. Zucchini. This one is really easy for me. I would choose Partenon hands down if I only had one choice. That’s because I’m really lazy and Partenon has been bulletproof in the three years I’ve grown it. Partenon is, as the name suggests, Parthenocarpic, meaning it can grow fruit without pollination. Because of this, I can plant early and often.  I frequently start planting in January in my greenhouse and with a good plan for sequential planting I can harvest through Thanksgiving.
  5. Cucumbers. Right now I would choose Socrates for the same reasons I’d select Partenon as my Zucchini/Squash.  Plus, the plants produce heavy numbers of cucumbers, so it only takes a few plants to keep us in Cukes all year. I love cucumbers and truly enjoy many varieties, but Socrates would be my pick if I could only grow one type.
  6. Beans. I’m not sure I could name all the varieties of beans I’ve grown over the years. It’s mind boggling to think about how many kinds there are. I know most people seem to prefer pole beans for small spaces, but I’m a bush bean guy. I like the low maintenance and the fact that I can continuously plant in different parts of the garden after other crops finish, which is good for the soil and good for our larder.  As I thought through which would be my ONE choice, I came up with a tie, because ‘beans’ is such a generic term. I would pick Fordhook Lima and Kentucky Wonder, both in their bush varieties.
  7. Lettuce.  I absolutely hate salad. In fact, I don’t have the vocabulary to describe how badly I hate salad. But I love growing lettuce more than I hate eating it. I enjoy growing ‘blends’ because there are so many surprises that come from the seed packets. Romaines are fun because they get so big and impressive in the garden. Buttercrunch is another visually appealing variety, but if I could choose only one, it would be Black Seeded Simpson. BSS is a well known, but often neglected heirloom. It can be picked as a leaf lettuce or grown out as a head lettuce. It grows beautifully, gets quite large, and for a lettuce, tastes pretty good.
  8. Cabbage is almost too easy to include. My choice would be Baby Bok Choy. It is ready for harvest about 30 days after germination. It germinates easily and I can grow it all year in my hydroponics systems.
  9. Potatoes. I know that potatoes seem to be politically incorrect in our low carb world, but I think that’s rubbish. If potatoes are grown organically, they are full of vitamins and minerals to keep us healthy and the right kinds of carbs to keep our energy levels high during those winter months when we need plenty of fuel to stay warm.  The pages of history are filled with stories of societies and people groups that have been literally saved from extinction because of the lowly spud.  And if I could choose only one type, it would be Yukon Gold. It grows well, has a good balance in its texture, tastes great and is versatile in how it can be adapted for cooking.
  10. Herbs. I think I’ll make this the last one for this entry, because it’s getting pretty wordy. I don’t think there is a single herb I dislike. Some are tastier than others. Some are prettier than others, but all are wonderful additions to our gardens, larders and/or medicine cabinets. If I had to limit myself, I would


    choose Sweet Basil from that family, Garden Thyme from the thymes and Common Oregano.  All are beautiful, fragrant and delicious.

Ok, it’s time to stop. There’s just not enough time to cover every type of vegetable. Perhaps I’ll come back to this theme another time.  If you’ve read through to the end, I hope you’ve heard some of your favorites and maybe learned of some new ones. Now it’s your turn because I’m desperate to hear about your favorite varieties.  Please add your comments and share what tickles your taste buds and shows up regularly in your garden.

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Fresh-Garden-Vegetables_Natural__IMG_5191-580x386It’s garden planting season all over the Northern Hemisphere; aka, Spring.  Seasoned gardeners have been pouring over seed and plant catalogues for months, deciding which old favorites will grace their gardens for the umpteenth time and which new varieties we’ll try.

Those of us in the more moderate to warmer climates have the majority, or even all, of our gardens totally planted. A few of the most fortunate are already enjoying early harvests.

For thousands of beginning gardeners, and those in the northernmost zones, it’s just now decision time.  We’ve studied our hardiness zones and prepped our beds, but deciding on plant varieties seems almost overwhelming.

As we look through catalogues and websites, the options make our heads spin. How can there be this many kinds of tomatoes, green beans, or cucumbers, etc. to choose from?

Among the areas of confusion for new gardeners is the misinformation that hybrid varieties are all bad, while heirloom varieties are all good.

The confusion lies in the mistaken idea that hybrids are synonymous with GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) varieties, which is simply not true.

Hybrids are merely cross bred varieties that are created to emphasize certain traits like size, shape, seedlessness, disease resistance, or any number of other characteristics. While hybridization crosses different strains, it does not introduce foreign DNA into the plant.

A GMO, on the other hand, has had its DNA tampered with in a laboratory environment. The most hyped kind of GMO is ‘Round Up Ready’, which means the DNA of the seed has been ‘enhanced’ chemically to resist the introduction of the herbicides found in Monsanto’s ‘Round Up’.  Fields of Round Up Ready crops can be freely sprayed with Round Up, without, theoretically, damaging the crop itself.

A hybrid tomato, then, is comparable to a designer dog, like a Labradoodle, while a GMO tomato would be more like something from ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’.

veggiesCurrently, there are no GMO seeds being sold to the general public from seed catalogs or garden centers. The same is true for starter plants.

Most gardeners are familiar with Bonnie Plants, who seem to have displays in nearly every garden center.  Bonnie offers a wide selection of both heirloom and hybrid varieties.  You are perfectly safe choosing which varieties you like.

The biggest downside of growing hybrids is that they are not good for seed saving. Chances are, the seeds will not breed true to the same characteristics of the plant the seeds were saved from.  Apart from that, the only other negative is that some people think hybrids lack the flavor complexity found in heirloom varieties.

I disagree.  While it used to be true, and in a few tomato varieties, hardiness trumped flavor; these days many of the hybrids taste just a great as open pollinated, heirlooms. I would go as far as to say, the sweetest sweet corn and melons come from some of the hybrids. My absolutely favorite Jalapeno is the ‘Biker Billy’ hybrid, which has great Jalapeno flavor with more than double the heat of the traditional ‘Early Prolific’ variety.

My favorite cabbages are heirlooms, while my favorite cauliflowers are hybrids. I love heirloom basil and hybrid cantaloupe. I could go on, but you get the point.

Grow the varieties of fruits and vegetables you and your family love to eat and don’t worry about the heirloom vs. hybrid myths. Unless you’re planning to save seeds, the whole catalogue is open to you. Have fun. Experiment with different types. Find your old favorites and see if there are some new favorites out there.  Rest easy. Hybrids are not the devil.

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tomatoesI was reading some ‘tomato growing tips’ online this morning and realized yet again how many myths and how much inaccurate information is out there.  I know that much of it is well intentioned material that’s been handed down by good people over the years, but I still feel compelled to bust these myths and free you up to grow the best tomatoes ever, and to grow the varieties you want, even if you’re limited to tiny spaces.

Myth 1. If you’re growing in buckets, you are limited to determinate varieties.   I’m not sure where that came from, but it simply isn’t true.  I’ve grown my tomatoes in buckets and other containers for years,  and I grow lots of indeterminate tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets.  In fact, I grow the smaller determinate varieties like Tumbler and Tiny Tim in 3 gallon buckets.  In the commercial hydroponic world, many growers use 3 gallon ‘bato buckets’ for indeterminate varieties.

The secrets to successful container tomatoes are: a. loose soil/growing media for root development, b. plenty of moisture and good drainage, c. consistent nutrient supply, d. good support for the plant and fruit.

My soil mix is a blend of rabbit manure worm compost (with lots of straw) from my worm bins, coco peat, sphagnum peat and perlite.  I do sometimes supplement with potting mix purchased from a local garden center. The key is to keep it nice and fluffy so the roots can spread and grab moisture/nutrients.

My containers are simple 3 and 5 gallon buckets sourced from local grocery store bakeries, big box stores and leftover buckets from my wife’s soap business.  I also use Earthboxes purchased off the internet or from the Earthbox Center in Florida (it’s right down the road from my in-laws).

Myth 2. You need to drill lots of holes in the bottom of your buckets for drainage.  This timeless myth has cost us all many gallons of water and many pounds of nutrients as it drains away into the earth beneath the buckets.  (Full disclosure: I used to do this and a few of my old buckets that are still in use have bottom holes.)

I’ve found that self watering/wicking containers  are more water and nutrient efficient. I will make a video of this very soon, but all you need to do, is drill two quarter inch holes about 3 inches up from the bottom of the bucket.  Fill the bucket up to the holes with lava rock, river rock, or whatever you have access to. I find lava rock to be inexpensive and light weight. This layer becomes a reservoir for holding water. If the water level gets too high, the water drains out through the holes, but doesn’t all run out through the bottom.

Cover the rock layer with some landscape fabric, burlap or even an old tee shirt. This forms a barrier between the grow mix and the reservoir.

Put about a one or two inch layer of coco peat or sphagnum peat for wicking, then fill the rest of the bucket with your favorite grow mix.  You will save gallons of water this way and your plants will love you.

In a future update, I’ll explain how and what to feed your tomatoes to maximize your harvest.  For now,  because I know most of the country is getting their tomatoes out, I  wanted to dispel a couple myths that keep container gardeners from enjoying their favorite indeterminate varieties.

I love to hear from you, so please use the comments section send your questions and favorite tomato tips to me. We’re in the together.

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