May Snow

snow 2

A foot of snow. That’s what fell on my garden last week. Twelve inches of heavy, wet, icy snow covered our lawn, bent the branches on our trees, and broke the tender new shoots on my perennials. Yes, I had already planted annuals, but I put them in pots on our deck, which I hauled into the warm house when I saw the forecast. I managed to cover my lettuce and chard, which were already in the ground, but they’re reasonably hardy and did just fine, although they may still decide that they’ve endured a winter and it’s time to bloom, producing a flower stalk instead of the leaves I want. All things considered, however, we did well. Many of our friends and neighbors lost entire trees. I can’t complain.

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Garden Advice: Blossom End Rot

blossom end rot - public domainYou’ve put in the effort and grown your own juicy tomatoes. But when you finally go to pick them, you realize that the end opposite the stem is sunken and oozing. Yuck—it’s disgusting. Who wants to eat a tomato that’s rotting on the vine?

What you have is a tomato with blossom end rot (BER). It’s just what the name suggests—the blossom end of the tomato (where the flower fell off long ago) is decomposing, ruining the fruit. (Yes, we all know that tomatoes are fruit.) The question isn’t identifying the problem, it’s solving it. How can we keep our tomatoes (and peppers, watermelon, cucumbers, and squash) from succumbing?

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Going Seedless

vitis labrusca - grapes @tacomawa 14oct07 lah 004I sat munching my seedless grapes, enjoying the sweet juices. I bit one in half, and focused on the tiny, immature lumps that would have been seeds in another variety. I’ve always taken seedless grapes for granted, but now I wondered—why didn’t the seeds develop in this cultivar? It clearly goes against a plant’s nature to grow fruit without seeds.

And what about watermelon? Is the same process involved? And those name brand tangerines we just polished off didn’t have seeds either. These days, even bananas are seedless. I miss the little black dots that used to decorate my banana bread. Then there are seedless tomatoes and cucumbers, two more fruits, at least from a botanist’s perspective. I had never stopped to consider how many seedless fruit crops are now available.

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Giving Thanks for Corn

Indian Corn_DBG-CO_LAH_9050Corn pudding and hush puppies, cornbread stuffing and succotash. If anything qualifies as authentic American cooking, it surely involves corn. We eat it fresh—still on the cob, creamed, and as the critical ingredient in corn chowder. We eat it dried and ground into cornmeal—in corn pone and muffins, as fritters and johnnycake. Domesticated for millennia, corn has come a long way from its teosinte roots.

Today have six types of corn, five of which are the result of selective breeding: pod corn, flint corn, popcorn (this could be considered a subset of flint corn), flour corn, dent corn, and sweet corn. (Pod corn is a mutant that forms leaves around each kernel, and isn’t commercially useful.)

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Slimy Lady’s Fingers

Okra @DC LAH 229I’m really not a fussy eater. While I draw the line at some animal parts (Rocky Mountain oysters, anyone?) and various invertebrates (no deep-fried scorpions in my diet!), I’m not nearly as fussy about dining on plants. Of course, I think some plants taste better than others—I’m a big fan of broccoli, artichokes, and papayas, for example, while I tend to avoid cucumbers and those bitter Italian greens—but for the most part, if it’s prepared well, I’ll eat it.

Except.

I don’t do okra. I’ve had okra (also known as lady’s fingers or gumbo) in soups, stewed, curried, stir-fried, roasted, deep fried, and in various other random recipes that my friends—skilled in the culinary arts—assured me I’d love. All I can say is, they were wrong. I admit, I like the flavor. No problem there. But the slime gets me every time.

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Green Tomatoes & Purple Carrots

Indian Corn_DBG-CO_LAH_9050Green beans. Orange carrots. Red tomatoes. How normal. How boring. One of the joys of growing your own veggies is that you can have some fun and mix up the colors. Beans come in yellow and purple as well as green. Carrots can be white, yellow, orange, or purple. Tomatoes come in green (such as Green Zebra), purple, orange, yellow, or even sporting saucy stripes. Even fresh corn on the cob (as opposed to the dried stuff) now comes in fun colors. Why settle for growing what you can easily find at the market, when so many other options are waiting?

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Yellow Green Beans

Some gardeners plant the same varieties year after year, depending on past performance to guarantee future success. Why mess with something that works? Others, myself included, like to try the latest cultivars. We’re always searching for that new and improved flower or vegetable that will make this year’s garden the best ever.

When several of my seed catalogs proudly featured a new pole bean, Monte Gusto, I was eager to try it out. How would it compare to my usual choice, Emerite? (Emerite is an awesome bean—long, straight, early, prolific, and delicious!)

Then I discovered that my favorite catalog had discontinued Emerite. How could they? Not wanting to order elsewhere (I’d have to pay shipping for a single seed packet), I ordered Fortex, a variety that has received rave reviews in past years.

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