Archive for December, 2008

2009 seed and plant selection

December 29, 2008

This is a page that will be updated as I go along. I am currently in the process of examining my existing seed and ordering new seed. I’ll organize the selections by where they are coming from rather than just alphabetically by variety. BTW … I am doing this so I can block and copy the selections from the web ordering process, put them in a text editor (NOT MS WORD!), clean them up and then paste them into this post. We’ll see how well it works. AhHa … works well as you can see below.

From Baker Creek Seeds

BT110      – Beet Detroit Dark Red
BT114     – Beet Crapaudine (new for me … old and very dark, almost black)
CR114     – Carrot Amarillo (new for me … spring carrots will all be non-orange)
CR119     – Carrot Snow White (ditto above)
CU111     – Cucumber Japanese Long (new for me … used to do an English “burpless”. Will trellis for straight fruit)
EG129     – Eggplant Pandora Striped Rose (new for me but a subtle change from usual “oriental” eggplants)
LK105     – Leek Bleu of Solaise (new for me but supposedly very winter hardy)
LT103     – Lettuce Speckled (One of my standard bib-types. Gorgeous when fully developed as a head)
LT126     – Lettuce Dark Lollo Rossa (I always do a Lollo Rossa and this is just darker)
OK120     – Okra Bowling Red (new for me … have usually done green)
PP102     – Sweet Pepper Quadrato d’Asti Rosso (new for me I think .. may have bought plants. Yellow to red)
PP119     – Sweet Pepper Red Cheese Pepper (had a variation on this .. block shaped pimento type)
PP128     – Sweet Pepper Red Belgian (New for me)
PR101     – Parsnip Hollow Crown – standard
SP101     – Spinach Bloomsdale Long Standing – standard
SQ112     -Winter Squash  Butternut – Waltham – I’m new to winter squash because of space
SQ126     – Winter Squash (acorn) Table Queen – ditto

From Territorial Seed Co.

CR273 – Red Samurai Carrots
CR275 – Rodelika Carrots (Very orange Fall storage carrots)
CR280 – Purple Haze Carrots
KL358 – Winterbor Kale (the BEST)
KL363 – Nero Di Toscana Kale (try it as an ornamental but protect it from cabbage whites)
MS504 – Rhodos Endive (a frisee)
MU519 – Golden Streaks Mustard (new for me … as an edible garden ornimental)
MU523 – Ruby Streaks Mustard (ditto)
OV573 – China Express Chinese Cabbage (old favorite … for me and 1000 other flying,crawling bugs)
PE625 – Oregon Giant Snow Peas (old favorite)

From Botanical Interests

Lettuce Romaine Cimmaron Seed (my #1 favorite Cos type)
Bean Bush Tavera (French Filet) Organic Seed (new favorite bush bean from last year)
Bean Bush Pencil Pod Yellow     (new to try)
Radish French Breakfast  (old favorite)

From Seeds from Italy

Arugula, Ortolani (new improved domestic arugula)

Fillet Bean, Koala (new for me … concentrating on bush beans this year)

Fava Bean, Super Aguadulce, (for eating, too $$ as cover crop)

Savoy Cabbage, Verza Pasqualino (new variety for me)

Broccoli of Calabria (both heads and side shoots)

Radicchio di Chioggia (classic red radicchio)

Fennel Montovano (large bulbs)

Tomato, Red Pear (pear shaped beefsteak type … gets raves, new for me)

Espaliered pears

December 27, 2008

I have a few fruit trees in my current garden and since I have a limited amount of space I have espaliered them along the back fence. Briefly, espalier means to train the trees to grow only in two dimensions. It allows you to grow in restricted space and it gets more sun directly on to the parts of the tree that are there since the sun does not have to penetrate through any other parts the tree.

The trees are now about 5 years old. I will admit that I have done better in  past espaliers because the back fence does not get a full day’s worth of sun. Never the less, I got a decent crop of peaches, apricots and quince last year. This year looks promising for most everything.

I am particularly excited about the pears. They have been slow to develop and only this year are they loaded with fruiting buds. I have two of them, one a Comice and the other a variety of D’Anjou. I have espaliered them differently. The D’Anjou is a 45 degree espalier and the Comice is a 90 degree. The number refers to the angle the branch makes from the trunk of the tree. Pears are exceptional candidates for espalier because of their susceptibility to fire blight. In hot humid conditions, fire blight ravages the soft growing tips of pears. It can be controlled naturally by slowing the growth of the pear branches and one does that by moving the branch from vertical growth to somewhere between 45 and 90 degrees. If you have seen pears growing wild they have a rather columnar appearance. That’s because they love to grow straight to the sky. Espalier controls that. It should also help budding because budding is enhanced by the same technique.  So, now that my pears are getting established at a lower growing angle they are starting to set fruit buds. Here are some pictures.

D'Anjou at 45 degrees.

D'Anjou at 45 degrees.

buds ... sorry bad focus

fruit buds ... sorry bad focus

You can easily see in the espalier picture the scaffold I use to hold the branches in place. The uprights are 2X2 treated posts and the horizontals are 1X2’s … cheapest I could find. The boards that go at 45 degrees are simple wood lath. All of it is held together with small drywall screws. The branches are selected when young and supple for being in the right place and then held in place and angle as they grow with gardener’s velcro tape.  It takes about 12-18 months for the branches to hold the shape you put them into on their own. Every winter you have to prune them to take out the branches that are growing in the third dimension, the branches that are growing up straight or those that are growing where you don’t want them.

Here is the 90 degree Comice … not as vigorous because 45 grows more like vertical than does 90 degrees.

Comice trained to 90 degrees

Comice trained to 90 degrees

Next is a picture of my wife’s quince. It is harder to work with because it is more shrub-like and thus puts out branches like crazy. It also fruits on new wood so you never quite can predict what you will get or where the fruit will grow. You can see the size of the branches I pruned out especially at the top which gives you an idea of the raw vigor in this plant. They were new branches just last spring.



Finally, here is my Gravenstein Apple … the single best apple for sauce there is and a good eating apple for early September. BTW all of my trees came from Raintree Nursery

Gravenstein Apple

Gravenstein Apple

There is a lot to cover about espalier. If you have specific questions, drop a comment

Winter Squash

December 24, 2008

We don’t grow winter squash (yet … might have room in the new garden that is planned for the Oberlin house). But we are big eaters of winter squash grown locally and usually bought at our local apple orchard … for us historically acorn and usually roasted in North African or Middle Eastern styles. We also like pumpkin done the same way.  We got to wondering recently why we choose to eat acorn and what the difference was in the taste of winter squashes. So we bought a small butternut, already had an acorn and had a small pumpkin. We roasted all three blind … nothing on them. Then we tried them and the difference was significant. The butternut had the mildest flavor (too mild?) but the smoothest consistency. The acorn had the best flavor but was stringier than the butternut. The pumpkin was strong flavored and a bit stringy. All, of course were better with some added fat and all were even better with the combination of a sweetener (sugar, honey, etc.) and some form of acidic hot sauce … sweet-sour-hot. I want to expand my trials to other varieties now that I have some baselines … except for spaghetti squash which I deplore as a stringy, tasteless mass and I say this while admitting that I usually eat anything.

Winterbore Kale

December 24, 2008

Just a quick note on my planting of Winterbore Kale … which in a recent post I noted had been munched-on fairly heavily by the deer.  I did say that the tender new growth was left by the deer.  Well, since that “deer” post, temps here in NE Ohio went down to 3F with a wind chill much below zero.  I thought that the kale and collards were done for … they had to have freeze burn. WRONG!  We had kale for dinner last night and it was terrific.  Winterbore is “the best” … takes a lick’n and keeps on tick’n. Now we have to check out the collards that are still out there … 3 degrees is a wee bit cold for any form of collards.  I also left a head of savoy cabbage in the garden and it is probably done for.

Always catching up

December 19, 2008

I remember a while back I was listening to something … radio maybe … and I heard some music that I really liked. It was one of the songs by 10,000 Maniacs. I had never heard them before … and they had been recording for so long by then that Natalie Merchant was already out on her own. I couldn’t help but wonder where in the heck I had been for the past 10 years. It bummed me out that I had not only missed 10 years of listening to them but, more importantly, I had missed out on being aware of their arrival on the scene and on following their rise. I had been clueless with respect to something that I really liked. Shame on me.

Well … I did it again. I was looking for some open pollinated onion seed and I stumbled on the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds site. I thought that it looked reasonably comprehensive and I decided to order a catalog. Where have I been??? Why didn’t you tell me!?  It is clearly the best seed catalog I have ever seen. Not only is it a treasure trove of heirloom seeds but it is as gorgeous as a Patagonia catalog.  (I wish they gave photo credits. )  If one were in a gardening rut all you would have to do is pick up this catalog and you would be ready to plant things that you have never planted or move to varieties that you have never tried. I will order a good many things from them this year and they deserve the business. You can’t help but appreciate the effort that goes into their seed business.

I can’t say that I resonate with the whole Bakersville shtick but I can certainly tolerate it or just ignore it. I have always been  just a bit leary of folks who push an expected lifestyle with their product … maybe I was just counter-cultured out in the 60’s.

Deer Damage

December 18, 2008

My kale had a run-in with the local deer herd the other night … making me wish the local deer herd would have a run-in with … oh well, they are just deer doing what deer do do.  We live in an old suburb that has a lot of green space and even a community forest. The herd has a daily movement pattern that takes it around most of our village in 24 hour cycles. My house is across the street from a generally wooded route into the forest and the lot next to me was, until about 18 month ago, the only vacant lot in our old village. So, the lot next door was the deer’s path from the area behind me to the forest. I never had deer problems because it was just easier for the deer to stay in the lot and eat the vegetation there rather than to hop my fence and come into my more constricted and dog-smelly yard. Now there is a big ole house next door and the deer herd’s movements are more varied. So, several times this year they have hopped my fences and mowed some stuff down. The last big damage was to take my Travisio Radicchio down to the crowns in mid-season … no problem since killing radicchio by cutting the tops is akin to killing a dandelion by cutting its tops.

But this time they ate our kale. The interesting thing is that they only ate the big, coarse, lower leaves (being deer who prefer browse). That means that I still have the tender and more desirable smaller inner leaves.  They also ignored the collards right next to the kale … go figure. I was once worried about leaving these plants in the garden for fear that it would get too cold but now it is for fear that the deer will remember where they fed well.

No picts since I am too angry. But, thanks to a friend, things do even out. We made Bigos last Sunday. Bigos is Polish Hunter’s Stew … wonderful stuff with game, fowl, sausage, dried wild mushrooms, kraut … and anything else that fits the hunter theme. We had a very nice piece of venison in it. Maybe I should schedule our next Bigos dinner and invite the herd to participate.

BTW … when I lived and gardened in Connecticut, I lived on 10 wooded acres surrounded by 40-50 wooded acres. Deer were as thick as stones on the ground and my garden, therefore, was surrounded by an 8′ fence. In comparison, this deer episode is somewhat trivial.

Public policy moment number 1

December 11, 2008

Since I live in North East Ohio and since the recent case of the “SWAT Team attack” on a food co-op in NE Ohio exploded on the web I thought I would take a moment and discuss the issues that seem to be at play in this event. The details are sketchy, largely because the family that runs the co-op has not yet made itself available for interview. Here is the article about the event in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer (with no assumption that it is authoritative). However, it does seem to be a case of a loosely formed co-op of families coming together to deal/trade in food products that are affected by State laws reflecting issues of food safety. I say this because the warrants seem to have been obtained by the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture. My guess is that the issues are largely related to meat and milk.

Like many people who grow our own, who sometimes raise food animals and who make/prepair food stuff in our homes, I do not always see things in the same way as the Department of Agriculture (either the Fed. Dep. or those of the various States). I am quite comfortable with voluntary State Dept. of Agriculture certifications. If I produce food and my customers want to ensure that it meets certain standards for production then I seek certification and adhere to the certification standards. But, such certification usually comes with two huge negatives.

The first is that the cost of meeting certified production standards is usually more than small producers can meet. A meat processing plant, for example, not only has to have massive amounts of equipment and sanitary infrastructure but it also must employee full time inspectors. My understanding is that these inspectors cannot even be  part time or shared among several boutique processors who might process only when it is their turn for the inspector. We all suspect that this is so in order to keep most processing funneled through large corporate processors but the “why” is another story.  The point is that most “standards” based food production, even farms being designated as “organic”, carry huge financial barriers to entry and huge overhead costs.

The second issue is that many food safety standards preclude the use of  food ingredients or certain food processes necessary for the production of certain food stuffs. The two most common examples are cheese and cured meats. Most cultured milk products require that you start with raw, often whole, milk. Milk that is pasteurized or otherwise processed or added to will not either work at all or will yield greatly inferior products. On the meat side, it is very difficult to get specialty breeds slaughtered locally, with custom butchering and with humane conditions necessary to get the quality products one needs for quality preserved meats. Additionally, many European styled processes actually require that the meats be exposed to beneficial bacteria to obtain the highly desirable result.

This is all by saying that we have gone much too far in our attempt to wrap food production with a cloak of safety that is dependent upon the industrial model. We know, from example after example, that the industrial model fails. The recent incidents of contaminated meat come not from backwoods butcher shops but from industrial plants. Farmers, who are permitted to drink the raw milk of their own dairy animals, are not dying from doing so in any statistically notable rates. Consumers who actually want access to raw milk and locally butchered and specially processed meats are among the most informed consumers we have.

I have, off and on through my life, been a smoker. I say this so that you know that I am not moralizing one way or the other. But … to not regulate tobacco use while we over regulate food production and distribution, both in the name of safety, is simply ludicrous and hypocritical. It is not, and cannot, be about safety. It is about protecting the markets of corporate food producers from local agricultural entrepreneurs.

While the Manna Storehouse may have violated Ohio laws, I suspect they did so because they wanted to do what they thought was reasonable and locally sustainable; and for which they had no legal alternative.


December 4, 2008

A while ago I wrote an e-mail to Bill McKay at Grow Italian about raising fennel bulbs. I noted that on a trip to Italy last Fall I observed that Italian gardeners trench their fennel so that they can get more water to it in the late summer when it is starting out, can blanch it and can mulch it for in-ground winter storage. I told him I was going to try it this Fall and see how it worked. I did a 4′ by 4′ bed of fennel, direct seeded, in trenches about 4″ deep.  I kept them well watered and thinned them twice. I wound up with about 20-24 plants. I pulled dirt over them in about mid October and in mid November I packed the rows with leaf mulch. Soon after that we got about 5″ of snow. Then temps dropped down near 20F.  When it warmed up, I put more mulch on top from the ground-up remains of our asparagus patch. Here is a picture of the bed all mulched up.


From the soil level to the top of the mulch is about a foot. The fennel fronds at the bottom are from ones that I just harvested. An interesting aside, when I harvested these bulbs, the snow below the mulch was still there.

With my raised beds I have to always harvest the plants closest to the edge of the beds because the cold penetrates in from the outer sides of the beds for maybe 6 inches inward.  So, I pulled out a few fennel bulbs. Our sons were home for the Thanksgiving holiday, all be it a week late due to work schedules, so we called it Mis’giving. The day they were scheduled to fly out we had a lunch of capon tetrazzini with roasted fennel. The capon was left over from the main meal the day before ’cause we don’t think much of turkey. So, here are the bulbs I harvested.


The knife in the picture is a 4″ paring knife. The bulb on the right weighed in at 2 lb. 2 oz. At current prices in the market for fennel, the bulbs in the picture were $14.50 and the bulbs in the store had much more unusable tops. To prepare them for roasting I only had to remove one outer layer from each side.

Roasted fennel is one of my favorite winter vegetables. Here is a picture of the final product.


They were delicious.

So … the technique seems to work. I got terrific fennel bulbs and I can now keep them in my garden for the rest of the Winter.  I estimate I have about 16-18 bulbs left. It is set to go down to the lower teens tonight but the bulbs in the garden are secure at about 34F or so with very high humidity.

What’s left in the garden?

December 1, 2008

I may get to some pictures in a few days … or maybe not. Perhaps my written descriptions will suffice.

I still have a few things hanging around that are a real garden stretch. I have about a 4′ row of Rosso leaf lettuce. I have about 20 spinach plants which are quite harvestable but I may just thin them and try to get them to spring … I’ll watch the weather and if it looks like it will get brutally cold, I’ll harvest them. I have a couple of rows of arugula … mostly gone to stem now but capable of giving flavor to a salad. I have about 4-5 escarole plants … I’ll watch the weather on these too. All of these are doing well under several layers of floating row cover and, while it was down to 20F, under 4-5 inches of snow. The snow is gone now but there is always more where that came from.

One of the houses near us is vacant and for sale. The landscaper who is tending it left a really nice pile of leaf and lawn clippings near the curb. I took my gardenway cart over and got several loads … it was already composting. Since it was shredded, it makes great mulch for keeping things from freezing. So …

I mulched a 4′ by 4′ bed of leeks about 8″ deep. They will keep very well there throughout the winter. I did the same with a 4′ by 4′ bed of fennel. I have some great fennel bulbs in there. In both of these, the very tops will freeze but I don’t use those tops anyhow. I have a 4′ by 4′ bed of storage carrots that I piled a bunch of mulch on just to keep the ground from freezing. And, I have a small planting of parsnips (should have been bigger but the seed was old) and I mulched them like the carrots.


From bottom to top you can see the fennel bed mulched, the parsnips mulched, some arugula unprotected and then the spinach and L. Rosso covered with row cover.

I still have a LOT of kale and collards. We will let them fend for themselves unless it threatens to go below 10F in which case we will re-evaluate our position on letting them fend. And, we still have a couple of great winter-hardy savoy cabbages (Territorial’s Tundra ) that we will harvest relatively soon.

All in all, we are fairly well set for the winter. By the way … in case you are new to storing crops in the garden, ALWAYS wait until it is nearly too late to mulch vegetables for storage in the garden. The longer you wait the less likely you are to have problems with rodents that have yet to settle in for the winter. If you want to make storage even better, cover the mulched beds with plastic to keep the mulch dry and thereby more insulating. This is only essential if you have no snow cover or if the temps get REALLY low.