How do you save seed from a favorite tomato? Will bean seeds dry fully in the yard? How do you keep birds from gobbling all your flower seeds?
Those practical issues, along with a bit of science and philosophy behind saving seeds, will be the topic of my talk this Saturday at City People’s Garden Store in south-central Seattle.
“Saving Seeds of Your Favorite Edibles” is the sixth of seven classes in our Edible Year series. It’s 10-11 a.m. Please pre-register with the nursery.
On Sunday I’ll head the other direction, both literally and figuratively. Going north to Swansons Nursery, I’ll give a slide show and presentation on what to grow now.
In “Edibles for Fall and Winter” I’ll detail what crops you can get started now from seed, what to look for in the nursery, and when to plant them for fall and winter harvests. We’ll also discuss “overwintering” crops that you start now and plan to eat next spring. That talk, also free, begins at 11 a.m.
Contest alert: $1,000 Available
Do you work with a community garden that could use some new supplies, or has big plans for next spring but could use plants? Then you should apply for the City People’s Garden Store Urban Garden Contest! The chosen entry will get a $1,000 gift card that can be used at the nursery over the next year. Deadline is Aug. 31, so there’s still time to apply.
I knocked my head against a hanging braid of garlic the other day, and instead of the predictable response, I had to smile. That ceiling rack in the garage holds the spice of many meals. And the harvest is the result of nearly effortless planting.
Please grow garlic. It’s so easy, and it’s so good.
In a post last November, I went through the steps of planting it, which is done at the end of fall, when there’s plenty of open bed space and not much else happening, besides watching the winter vegetables grow.
I planted four varieties of garlic, one head of each. They went into 6-foot-long rows. Here’s
what is now hanging in my garage, finishing the drying process so it will last me through the winter:
Inchelium Red — This is a softneck garlic with fairly large heads of 12-15 cloves each. I got 10 heads, but 6 are somewhat small and immature.
Spanish Roja — My favorite garlic, this Northwest heirloom (sometimes called Greek Blue) is a hardneck that provided us with a nice meal of “scapes” this spring, the flower heads that you cut when they curl up out of the center of the plant. The yield was 13 heads, with about a third of them smaller than expected.
Killarney Red — A new variety for me, this hardneck garlic shows a soft apricot color beneath its papery skin, belying its name. I haven’t peeled any yet, so a brighter red might be under there. It yielded 8 heads, uniformly on the small side of medium.
Lorz Italian — This reliable softneck garlic braided beautifully. It also produced 10 wonderful heads of a generous size, two of which had irregular bulbils growing along the stem.
Those irregular growths on the Lorz, as well as two or three heads that came out of the ground soft or damaged, went straight to the kitchen to be used immediately. The rest are pretty much dry now, and soon I’ll cut them down and store them in mesh onion bags, hanging in a dry, cool spot in my basement. As I go to grab a new one for cooking, I’ll run my hands through each bag to make sure none have gotten soft in storage.
There are few edibles easier to grow than garlic. Plan now to devote a space in your winter garden to this spicy allium. Next year, the chef in you will thank me.
Don’t you just love a rainy day?
Our respite from warm-and-sunny couldn’t be more welcome in my garden. The parched corners not quite reached by the watering system are greening up. A friend mentioned over coffee that she noticed marigolds really don’t like the heat, as they looked stressed but now are bright and, well, sunny again. It leaves the sky but shows up in the flowers – go figure.
So I took the opportunity to wander my wet garden with the camera, because the newly refreshed plants photograph well in the flat light of a cloudy day. Here’s my veggie photo review.
Purple Sprouting broccoli (my favorite winter vegetable) takes an incredibly long time to mature. A reader comment prompted me to think again about this amazing biennial plant.
Annual broccoli planted in spring or summer can produce in as little as 65 days, but Purple Sprouting needs to get started during the heat of the summer and size up a bit before fall. If started by mid-July, you should have plants that are knee-high before the days get so short and cool that growth grinds to a halt. But in late winter they’ll take off again and start pumping out the purple in very early spring (February) on plants that can be waist-high.
First you’ll get a small central head, and after you cut that, numerous shoots will appear from the axillary buds at the base of the leaves. Cut when 6 to 10 inches long and look for more to appear. I can often get a half-dozen meals out of one plant, and the harvest time can stretch over three months.
Compared to summer or fall broccoli, Purple Sprouting is an all-star producer, and well worth the wait.
Crops seeded now, during the warmest, driest part of the year, need extra-close attention.
A note on the cabbage butterfly:
Actually called the imported cabbage worm (Pieris rapae), this is the common white butterfly with black wing dots that jerkily careens around our gardens. It is looking for plants of the Brassica genus.
This pest lays its eggs (tiny white or yellow groups of them) on the underside of the leaves. When they hatch, the larvae (a tiny green worm) feed on the leaves. Their feeding can destroy a young plant,
so I keep the floating row cover on until the plant is large enough to defend itself.
Another nice thing about winter gardening: this pest is much less prevalent. I rarely see them after about early October.
Today we are celebrating the radish.
Not just any radish. Oh, sure, there are round globes of red white, and the elongated French breakfast variety with both red and white. Lately we’ve been seeing designer colors ranging from cream to yellow, pink to purple. There are long white tapers of Japanese daikon radishes, which are pretty impressive, too.
Perhaps about this time your spring radish bed looks like
But wait, what is that lurking behind the thinned rows of Cherry Belles? You can almost see The Radish. Behold:
That, my friends, is the Black Spanish Radish.
An Heirloom Radish
A European variety dating to the 1600s, this radish was introduced into the U.S. before 1828. You can commonly find the round variety, shown here, or seek out the less-available long tapered root. Either will produce a lot of radish for the seed. One taper can be 5 to 7 inches, and I eat round ones that are turnip-sized, up to 3 inches in diameter. The one above, grown for its seed pods and not for the root, was larger than a softball.
The tough exterior skin is dark as compost, but slice it open to reveal a snowy white interior with an
entrancing pattern of rings in the flesh. Check it:
On the left is a product of this radish that suits me the most: its pods. These are pickled pods from last year’s harvest, paired with this year’s roots. This photo is from last October.
Here’s a photo I snapped today that shows the relative size of the Cherry Belle and Zlota radishes with the overwintered root of the Black Spanish:
I always leave one or two plants in the ground and let them go to seed. People who’ve attended my gardening talks in the last couple of years know — I often drag along a big bag of dried radish pods to give away as seeds, and I hope they’re now being grown in many Northwest gardens. But I’m not leaving them in the ground just to get the seed — we eat the immature pods.
Here’s another photo taken today that shows a bit of the voluminous pod production from that giant root in the picture above:
The Black Spanish is best as a winter radish, so planting it in mid- to late summer will mean you can start harvesting the roots in October, or mulch them and let them sit in the ground through the winter, pulling as needed. (I’ve also planted them in late winter, like end of February, and have gotten smaller plants with pods by the end of June.) If you’ve let them overwinter, as the days lengthen they will begin to swell, and in early spring start putting on a lot of top growth. By April the tops are tall and rangy, eventually reaching 6 feet.
A halo of purple-and-white, four-petaled flowers will get the early pollinators buzzing. Then come the pods. We begin harvesting when the first slender pods get a baby bump. Even the smaller ones are tasty, but there is a sweet spot in size and maturity that is great for eating fresh. In salads, they add a hint of radish zing and a pleasant crunchiness. Or just set out a bowl of them for a unique snack.
Pick and use daily, because they pretty quickly lose their flavor in the fridge. Also, as they get too mature, the skins become tough and the centers fibrous.
Besides the taste, this unique plant is good for you. The root is used as a medicinal whole food supplement. The respected Standard Process company says it “provides support for the body’s organs” because of a “high concentration of glucosinolate metabolites which induce detoxification enzymes.”
So we eat them fresh, we can them, and we save plenty of seed to make sure there’s always a little Black Spanish Radish lurking in our garden through the winter.