Rogue gardening, seeds: round 2

The other night, in describing our gardening endeavors to some of our friends, I found myself admitting that, when it comes to our garden and as between Ken and I, I’ve “gone rogue.”  Ken, who built our planters for us based on a mutual understanding of how many plants we would have and what would be sowed where, is not happy that my penchant for late-night online seed purchasing and inability to self-limit has resulted in a whole second wave of baby plants… started from seed inside, and expecting a home out in our yard very soon.

All this aside, I’ll note that this second crop of seeds seems to be heartier and having more success.  I think it’s because we used our own soil and not the little soil pods that came with our seed-starting kit.  That stuff that came with the kit seemed stale and weird, and not as nutrient rich… and how do they get dirt to behave like a shrinky-dink anyway?  That can’t be good.

Depicted below are the baby plants a couple of weeks ago:  Mustard greens, Wrinkled Crinkled Cress (it’s actually called that… I’m not just being Seussian),  gooseberries, Ali Baba melons, kale!, more Brandywine tomatoes, radishes, leeks, red and yellow wild strawberries, two kinds of marigolds (they allegedly repel mosquitoes), and a flower called Butterfly gaura (to attract pollenators to the yard).  That’s it, I think.


I noticed that the slowest to sprout – and by a big margin – were the berries, the gooseberries and the strawberries.  It doesn’t appear to be a characteristic of fruit as compared to vegetables, because the melon sprouts came up pretty quickly.  The leeks also took a while, but my plan was to move them into the garden into the late fall… so I’m not eve sure why I started some of them from seed now.  Ken wouldn’t like to hear this.  “You mean there is absolutely no reasoned approach to any of this?!?”  And then I”d say something annoying and hippified like “My spirit needs to be free in order to successfully garden.”  …   I’m kidding, I’d never say that.

We haven’t put any of this second crop into the ground yet.  But, as you can see, the Ali Baba melons have gotten pretty big:


I’m probably most excited for kale.  The kale is doing great.  Pretty much every seed has turned into a baby plant – and they are all about the same size and lookin good.  The plan is to keep the kale in pots (as opposed to squeezing them into the raised beds – where we finally put our tomatoes last weekend!), so it looks like we’re gonna need a lot more pots… Ken.

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Seeds, Round 1

We’ve learned firsthand that not all plants are long for this world (RIP basil & corn salad).  A couple of weeks ago, we transplanted our first crop of seedlings to the outdoor raised beds (minus the tomatoes, they remain inside til we’re sure it’s warm enough – per our research and all of our friends’ suggestions.)  This means that we pushed peas, hot peppers, bok choy, spinach, basil, mache verte, and radishes out of the nest.  Here are a bunch of them just before they went into the ground:

The planter furthest from the house we left most empty (for tomatoes) and put a row of basil on the end (because it makes sense to keep the tomato and the basil together, gastronomically speaking).  The middle planter got mache verte, baby bok choy, and spinach (in that order).  The planter closest to the house holds hot peppers and radishes (in the front) and a row of peas (in the back).

I’m sad to report that the mache verte and the basil did not make it 😦  Both wilted and disappeared (almost as if the plants had never been there).  The spinach is struggling.  The peppers are not flourishing, but they seem ok.  The peas are making a come-back.  And the baby bok choy and radishes are the real winners – they’re doing great!

4.28 radishes looking great:

4.28, questionable spinach:

4.28, baby bok choy:

Peas, peppers, 4.28:

So that is, in a nutshell, where the seeds from round 1 stand.

The tomatoes remain inside.  I’ve noticed that the Brandywine tomatoes seem to be having the hardest time – so we started a few more from seed a couple of weeks ago (just to be on the safe side).

The tomatoes:

Also outside, the cilantro.  The cilantro used to look like this:

And now looks like this (at the top – the smaller plants in the front are chammomile):

Lastly, the sunflowers… which used to look like this:

Now look like this!:

Also, the nasturtium, which I’d all but given up on… finally sprouted.  I must have planted them outside just over a month ago.  Just this week I FINALLY saw them emerge.  I had no idea flowers could take so long to sprout.  I’m really happy (they’re one of my favorite flowers!) that it looks like we’ll be seeing their happy orange faces in the space between our raised beds.  Success.

I planted these because they’re pretty… but it bears mentioning that they are another edible in the garden.  Oftentimes people find the bulk of the plant too bitter, and so stick with only the petals – but they can be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen.

One website (www.herbalgardens.com) shared the following recipes:

Stuffed Nasturtium Flowers

Mix 8 ounces softened cream cheese with 2 Tablespoons finely minced chives or other herbs of your choice. Stuff the mixture into nasturtium flowers and place on a tray that has been lined with nasturtium leaves. Serve at room temperature.
Nasturtium Vinegar

1 cup nasturtium leaves, flowers, and buds

1 pint champagne or white wine vinegar

Place the ingredients in a clean clear glass jar or bottle. Tightly seal. Let sit for at least 3 weeks before using. Place a new nasturtium in the finished bottle for decoration, but you should make sure the vinegar always covers the flowers or they will mold. Makes 1 pint vinegar to use in salads, sauces and flavoring in other dishes.
Nasturtium Lemon Butter

This lovely butter has a mild lemon/pepper flavor and a colorful appearance. It is wonderful on fish, chicken and vegetables. This is also great on those small party breads, pumpernickel especially.

1/2 cup unsalted butter softened

1-2 teaspoons grated lemon peel (according to taste)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

3 tablespoons finely chopped nasturtium blossoms

Mix all of the ingredients well until smooth and well blended. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to serve. Makes 3/4 cup flavored butter.
Pickled Nasturtium Seeds

Use green nasturtium seeds, and in picking retain a short length of stem on each. Lay the seeds in cold salted water for two days (two tablespoons salt to one quart water), then place them in cold water for another day. Drain well and place the seeds in a glass jar, cover with vinegar heated to the boiling point, and close the jar tightly. In a few days the seeds will be ready to use. They are an excellent substitute for capers.

I’ve also seen them in stir fry, cooked with pasta, or used as a garnish in a variety of ways. (Particularly lovely: on top of a cupcake)

And then I stumbled upon this recipe for nasturtium mayonnaise (I wonder if the mayonnaise-only store that just opened in my old ‘hood is going to have this!…. yes, a mayo-only store… WTF).

Nasturtium Mayonnaise
makes 8 servings as a sauce for fish
T his recipe is the perfect compliment to chilled summer salmon, or any fish, fresh off the grill. Also makes a great spread for tea sandwiches, or any sandwich needing some zip.

1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 tsp. finely minced garlic
2 tsp. coarsely chopped capers
1/3 tsp. grated lemon peel
2 tsp. chopped nasturtium leaves

 

Combine all ingredients. Keep chilled until ready to use.

Mail Order Seeds!

At precisely 5:01 p.m. today our new seeds arrived at my desk in a yellow envelope.  I was on a boring conference call.  The sky outside my window had just gone cloudy.  These seeds injected some much-needed excitement into an otherwise dreary day.  I immediately opened the envelope and found that, in addition to our Southern Giant Curled Mustard Greens, Giant Cape Gooseberry, Wrinkled Crinkled Cress, Blue Curled Scoth Kale (fyeah kale chips!), Leeks, Red Wonder & Yellow Wonder Wild Strawberries, and Ali Baba Watermelons, we also received a free gift of “Love-in-a-Mist Mixed Colors”… which appear to be flowers and are described as “a splendid mix of colors, with wispy, feathery foliage surrounding the beautiful blue, white, pink, and purplish-blue blooms.”  Apparently these blooms date back to English gardens of the 1570s!  So we can look at them in the yard and pretend we are in Game of Thrones (ish)… 

Because Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is the bomb, they also apologized for their delay in processing my order, which was wholly unnecessary since I think I placed it on Thurs. or Friday before this holiday weekend… and today is Monday!

Anyway, they also sent this pamphlet about the National Heirloom Exposition, World’s Pure Food Fair. The guy on the cover is a) bleeding from his wrist (?!) and b) exactly how I hope Ken looks about 35 years from now when we are living on our own farm.

Shopping trip & What’s Going On In The Garden

Today, Ken spread his seed all over the yard.  His grass seed.  He was explaining to me during our bike ride to the gardening store in Red Hook that he used a mixture of shade-loving grasses and Kentucky Blue Grass.  He’ll have to blog more about this himself – because grass isn’t really my thing.

Anyway, after he seeded the lawn, we went to Chelsea Garden Center (which is not in Chelsea, but in Red Hook.)  Specifically, I wanted to get some window boxes to hang on the bars that cover our windows.  As it turns out, the boxes hook nicely on to our fence, and now that I know this we need to get about 7 more.  The added space they’ll afford us will double the kinds of plants that we can have – so I’m excited to get a) more flowers to attract bees & butterflies and b) some smaller vegetables (cayenne peppers?).

We purchased two window boxes, 3 sizable pots (most likely for my kale, mustard greens, and cress – when the seeds come), one sage plant (because I read they attract bees, and we don’t have any sage in our pretty extensive herb collection), one shade marigold, five seed packets and 3 ferns.  The ferns are now planted behind our wine bottle garden edging in the back (depicted below).  They’ll love the shade and I hope that they fill in quickly and give the back part of our yard a distinctive woodland feel.

The sage is in one of the window boxes, and I have to decide what to put with it – maybe some more herbs?  Maybe some small peppers?  One entire window box is going to be devoted to the yellow & red strawberry seeds I already purchased.  And then we’ll go from there…

I’m excited about the seeds I bought.  They’re flowers; and this really goes back to my “roots” gardening in high school, when I pretty much just put flowers in random places around the yard and hoped they’d take off.  Now that we have a vegetable and herb garden, we will want to attract pollinators – so I appreciate the flowers for the very important purpose they serve.  I did some research and determined that good plants for attracting bees & butterflies are agastache, salvia, & lamb’s ear (obviously, among others); and good plants for repelling mosquitoes are marigold, citronella grass, and horsemint (among others.)  A lot of these plants weren’t available at the store, but I got a shade marigold plant, agastache seeds, and seeds for both French marigolds and African “Crackerjack” marigolds.  I also got a packet of gaura seeds (called “butterfly gaura”), which look pretty, delicate, and white and expressly say that they are hearty plants and attract bees and butterflies.  Lastly, I got a packet of Icelandic poppies.  I LOVE POPPIES and the variety I got appears mixed in color and ruffled in its petals (my preference is for the classic, clean red poppies – but, whatever).  I seeded the poppies just along the edge of our above ground planters Ken built, hoping they’ll add color and attract bees.  The planters are made with treated wood, so they should be okay in the rain.  They are also staked into the ground in the corners, so they should hold their shape.

We had planned on putting some of our seedlings in the beds today – but time got away from us, so we plan to tomorrow.  Here are our babies, sitting outside getting acclimated to the cooler air:

These are dill, basil, bok choy, mache verte, radish, spinach, hot peppers, peas, and three kinds of tomatoes.  I think all of these are going into the ground tomorrow (April 8), except for the tomatoes.  We have thyme growing inside, which isn’t ready yet, and some back-up plants. And our squash seeds seem to be failing indoors – so we’re going to put some of them directly into the ground.

Thyme:

Existing Plants:

While outside, I took stock of what’s been going on in the garden.  The wisteria is beginning to bloom (picture these interwoven throughout the already-blooming cherry blossoms – it’s really something to see):

Some of the rose bushes already have buds!

Our onions already look close(ish) to being ready to harvest!

The iris bulbs we planted (in the completely wrong season – they should have been done in the fall) look like they are going to come up:

We noticed the fig has some tiny figlets on it already, and we transplanted it in the hope that it will happily grow near the back of the yard and not become a fully established tree in the front where it makes no sense to have it.

We also transplanted one of our seven roses to a pot out front, to make room for the gooseberry bush I hope I’m able to grow.  I’m not sure it’s going to make it.  Some of its younger leaves look wilted after the transplanting.  We watered it and fed it compost and have our fingers crossed.

And our many mints, lavender, and rosemary are doing just fine.

The sunflower seeds I planted are sprouting – so excited!

And the chamomile and cilantro seeds I put into one of our window boxes two weeks ago have started sprouting as well.

FINALLY, I planted a shady flower mix around the back edge of our yard (which, last year, was a wasteland) and these seeds seem to have taken off!  I’m really looking forward to life & color back there this year.

To find out more about plants that repel mosquitoes, click here.

To find out more about plants that attract pollinators, click here (NYT) and here.

My friend’s Brussels Griffon, Max, helped me to blog this, as I was dogsitting him this weekend.  He has a blog and you can view it here.  🙂

The Roster

I ordered a few more seed packets online today, thinking that we didn’t have an eclectic enough mix of things to eat and look at.  Now that there are so many plants in the mix, I think it’s a good idea to catalog them, while noting some tips on spacing and size.  This will help us make sure that when we plant our baby plants outside in the next week or two, that we put them all in a place that makes sense and where they will fit as they continue to grow.  For example, I hadn’t quite appreciated that the tall telephone garden peas can grow up to 6 feet tall!  Clearly they are going to need something to climb (I haven’t yet decided if I want to use a pole or some kind of netting) and should probably be separated from the tomatoes, which are also going to be imposing.

Corn Salad / Mache-verte D’Etampes – (So excited about this one!)  Will yield rosettes of 4-8″ in diameter, and should be planted in rows about 10″ apart.  How close the plants are kept to each other will, to some extent, determine the size of the rosette.

Garden Pea (Tall Telephone) – Can grow up to about 6′ tall (though I read some reviews on the site I purchase seeds from, and people reported their vines growing even taller) – will require a structure for them to climb.

Spinach Monstrueux de Viroflay – space 6- 12″ apart, in rows 18 – 24″ apart.  These leaves can grow up to 10″ – but if snipped with scissors, so as not to disturb the heart of the plant, they should produce for a while.  Spinach loves nitrogen and will require a rich fertilizer.

Oriental Greens Ching Chang Bok Choy –  This is a baby bok choy, so it will only grow about 5″ tall.  Space 6-12″ apart, in rows 18- 24″ apart.  Harvest at 5″ tall.  And they produce early, so be prepared.

French Breakfast Radish – Thin to 2″ apart once the seedlings are established, and they prefer cool weather (so sow the seeds as soon as the ground is workable).  The other interesting thing I learned is that they shouldn’t be planted where lettuce/cabbage was planted the prior year, or they will be more susceptible to root-eating, nasty insects.

Onion, Noordhollandse Bloedrode – These survived the winter, so we don’t have to re-sow.  I did, however, just learn that they are ready to harvest when the plant is about the thickness of a pencil and falls over at soil level.

Summer Squash (Greyzini Zucchini) – Sow seeds about 36″ apart.  Our one viable seedling was accidentally squished, so we are going to put some of the remaining seeds right into the ground this weekend and hope they take.  These grow quite large, and what I’m reading recommends planting them about 24″+ apart.  That seems like a lot of space for squash… so we might have to move these to outside of the raised beds.

Basil – 6- 12″ apart, and thin the plants when they are about 2″ tall.  Basil doesn’t love the cold and won’t come back next year.  But the most important thing to note is that once a stem flowers, it will stop producing leaves.  So flowering stems should be pinched off to encourage more leaf growth.

Cilantro – These were started in a window box, and though they recommend that they stay about 6″ apart, I planted them slightly closer (probably about 4″ apart), with a row of Chamomile running parallel.  We’ll see how it goes. In cooler climates the cilantro will be productive only for about 6 weeks, and should be sown every 2-3 weeks to increase the length of the crop time.  The taller the plants get, the fewer usable leaves they produce.  It actually sounds like cilantro can be a tricky one to cultivate, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we are successful because I LOVE cilantro.  (I just read on another blog that cilantro seeds are used to “flavor European pastries and breads, liqueurs, gin, and middle-eastern coffee” – so we will definitely have to try this re: liqueurs/gin, coffee, and bread (now that we make our own bread… sometimes).)

Chamomile – Full disclosure: I bought chamomile because it’s pretty, I have no idea what we are going to do with it.  The plants prefer the sun, don’t require a lot of fertilizer, and would do well with a 12″ pot all to themselves (so I’ve definitely squished them in too closely in the window box I started them in; but it’s not a big deal and I’ve noticed them sprouting today, so I’ll just plan on transplanting them.)

Thyme – 5 seeds every 10″ and thin them when they become about 1″ tall.  The thinning isn’t really an issue for us, since we started them indoors and have already selected the heartier ones and transplanted them to larger containers.  Full sun/minimal fertilizer, and plan to harvest this herb around mid-summer.

Reisentraube Tomato –  These will grow to about 4-6′ tall.  (And it’s name means “Giant bunch of Grapes”!) If planted in a pot, include only one plant per container.  We were planning on putting them in one of the raised beds, so we’ll probably select the heartiest plant and do it that way.

Black Krim Tomato – These should be ready to harvest early summer, and will require 3-5′ of space.  I also just read that they have a naturally salty taste and so do not require salting when eating – hmmmmm.

Brandywine Tomato – Same shizz as with other tomatoes.  Tomatoes, in general, shouldn’t be the first plants to transplant outside (if started indoors) – they are on the delicate end of the plant spectrum.  The Brandywines, it seems, can grow anywhere from 3 to NINE feet tall.

Hot Pepper – These are warm weather plants and should be planted about 12-18″ inches apart.  I don’t like spicy food much, so I’m kinda secretly hoping these pepper seedlings we have wind up kicking the bucket.  They’ll be pretty, but I don’t want them popping up in my tomato sauce.

AND, as of today, the following seeds are on their way (from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds, cuz they rule):

Blue Curled Scotch Kale (this is supposed to be one of the smaller kales, so I’m hoping we can squeeze it in one of the raised beds – if not, I’m envisioning some larger pots with a few kinds of veggies inside, which will be pretty and very hodge-podge in the style of British gardens.)

Southern Giant Curled Mustard Greens (Ken is gonna kill me, as these grow to be like 2′ tall – but this variety won some kind of farmer’s award once and will undoubtedly be lush and delicious.)

Yellow Wonder & Red Wonder Wild Strawberry (These are going directly into window boxes that we are going to hang on the bars across our back window.  They’ll be tasty and pretty and won’t mess with the valuable and sparse real estate left in our raised beds.)

Bleu de Solaise Leeks (I actually got these not to plant now, but to fill space in the beds later in the season because they’re really hearty and can be harvested almost into winter.)

Wrinkled Crinkled Cress (Despite the nursery rhyme name, I think cress is great and we will be glad we have it. It’s a spicier-flavored green.  And I am planning on putting this one in a pot all its own.)

Giant Cape Gooseberry (This is actually going to be an experiment.  I’m toying with the idea of moving one of our rose bushes (one of the smaller ones) to a large pot by our front door (could work?!) and growing a gooseberry bush in its place.  I don’t know a lot about them.  They sound neat and I’m a sucker for things that remind me of and/or are directly named after animals.  If it works, they are tangy and taste vaguely of pineapple – and that would be rad.)

Ali Baba Watermelon (We, in fact, have nowhere to put this guy, but I couldn’t help myself.  Plus, in trying to learn more about it, it came up on a list of “Three Great Watermelon Varieties To Plant Before You Die“… come ONnnnnnn, I couldn’t say no to that.)

The veggies

When we moved in late July, there were tomatoes, eggplant, squash, corn, and zucchini more-or-less making the best of a bad situation in our new backyard.

As testament to the possibility that we may be living on radioactive, toxic, mutant Gowanus soil, we plucked this freak zucchini out of our yard in August:

The corn we ultimately uprooted and discarded.  While it was kind of pretty and immediately evocative of a sort of Americana nostalgia (or, in the alternative, horror film creepiness) – it was also big and floppy (in a bad way) and the corn cobs that it produced were atrophied and not really worth the yard space:

The tomatoes, on the other hand, were plentiful and healthy and of many varieties.  It was such a pleasant surprise to find some interesting heirloom varieties (which I’ve tried to recreate in this year’s garden).

Last year’s heirloom:

I think we sliced up the above tomato (and those like him) and ate them for what they were.  But we had quite a few tomatoes last year, and so we wound up making a lot of delicious, spicy tomato sauces.

Some of our other tomatoes:

This year, we’ve stared our tomatoes from seed (ripping the old ones out of the ground once the season ended – as you’re supposed to.)  We are looking forward to:

Reisentraube Tomato

This old German heirloom was offered in Philadelphia by the mid-1800’s. The sweet red 1-oz fruit grow in large clusters, and the name means “Giant Bunch of Grapes” in German. It is probably the most popular small tomato with seed collectors, as many enjoy the rich, full tomato flavor that is missing in today’s cherry types. Large plants produce massive yields.  (Can be ordered here)

Brandywine Tomato

Brandywine, which dates back to 1885, is the heirloom tomato standard. One taste and you’ll be enchanted by its superb flavor and luscious shade of red-pink. The large, beefsteak-shaped fruits grow on unusually upright, potato-leaved plants. The fruits set one or two per cluster and ripen late—and are worth the wait. Brandywine’s qualities really shine when it develops an incredible fine, sweet flavor.  (Can be ordered here)

Black Krim Tomato

Originally from the Isle of Krim on the Black Sea in the former Soviet Union. This rare, and outstanding tomato yields 3-4″ slightly flattened dark-red (mahogany-colored) slightly maroon, beefsteak tomatoes with deep green shoulders. Green gel around seeds. Fantastic, intense, slightly salty taste (which is great for those not wanting to add salt to their tomatoes).  Black Krim is one of my best black tomatoes. Also suitable for container/patio garden. Perfect choice for slicing, salads and cooking.  (Can be ordered here)  Isn’t there something pomegranate-like about them and their dark seed spaces?

And I haven’t fully excluded the possibility of growing another variety in a pot out front 🙂  But I eat at least 1-2 tomatoes a day, on average – so there’s definitely a demand in our home that would support such a supply.