Tag Archives: Baker Creek Heirloom

New Favorites for 2013

6 Jan
Echinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit'photo courtesy AAS

Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’
photo courtesy AAS

Not only do I love getting the new garden catalogs for the year, I love to learn about the new varieties that are available.  Even though I have my favorites that I will forever plant year after year at My Urban Farmscape, I can’t wait for the season to begin so I can try something new.  I have already started my seed sowing calendar and have realized that it’s almost time to start the majority of my veggie, herb and flower seeds.  It’s this time of year when my family learns to deal with my obsession and continuous conversations with them (and sometimes, well mostly, with myself) about what gardening or plant related thoughts are in my head.

Really, just this morning I blurted out, “I need to get those seeds planted in the next few weeks if they are going to bloom this year.”

My husband’s eyes glazed over as he asked, “What are you talking about?”

“This Echinacea ‘Cheyene Spirit’  is absolutely beautiful, and I need to find a place grow a big patch of it, just a few feet, maybe five along the fence, and it should bloom the first year when planted from seed, but I have to get it sowed by the middle of this month.  Oh my!  Look at all the colors, red, pink, yellow, orange, purple and white which will grow really good in that hot sunny spot next to the house.  Oh!  The bees and butterflies will LOVE them, I can see that late summer cut flower bouquet now..…..”  I realized he wasn’t listening, but continued to talk out loud to myself.  “It’s also one of the 2013 All-American Selection winners!”

Tomato 'Jasper'photo courtesy AAS

Tomato ‘Jasper’
photo courtesy AAS

My excitement continued with another 2013 AAS winner that was bred by Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  A bright red cherry tomato ‘Jasper’, an F1 hybrid which is also certified organic.  Nice!  An intermediate growing cherry tomato needing to be staked which should produce fruit 90 days from sowing seeds.  Johnny’s and AAS described the flavor having a “sweet, rich taste”.  I think that I need to try this one.  I’m sure I can fit it in somewhere.

Now thinking about tomatoes reminded me about the grafted tomato plants available from Burpee.  I called out to my husband, “Can you believe they are grafting tomatoes like they graft fruit trees?!”  No response.  I have found this to be very interesting, reading about it for the past few years and decided this is the year to buy a few plants.  Simply put, an heirloom variety is the plant on the top, so you get the delicious heirloom flavor, but the roots are from a hybrid that will provide increased disease resistance.  Wow!  The original pink Brandywine will be my first choice.  You can purchase these directly from Burpee.com or possibly your local garden retailer.

Burpee's 'Bumper Crop' grafted tomatophoto courtesy Burpee

Burpee’s ‘Bumper Crop’ grafted tomato
photo courtesy Burpee

I came across a new heirloom pickling cucumber ‘Miniature White’ from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  Not only is the flesh a creamy white, but the skin is also a creamy white.  That should look nice against the green foliage.  I thought that this may make an interesting addition to the garden as they say it is a high producer and grows good in a container.  I was even more excited when I read about it seldom growing more than 3 feet!  A true bonus for any Urban Farmscape.  I became distracted wondering what color container I should plant it in and decided to go outside and rummage around the garage.  I could always paint it if I didn’t have the right color.  Orange?  Maybe purple.  That would really stand out.  Not too many purple things in the garden.  I don’t know.  I decided to go in and ask my husband what color he thought would look good.  I don’t know if he’ll respond, but I know that at least he’ll smile.

rAdiSh

10 May

Radishes, Raphanus sativus L. are a very fast growing cool season crop belonging to the Brassicaceae family. Originating from Asia, their flavors can range from mild to hot. The most familiar radish to Americans may be a round red radish with white flesh and a mild flavor. I don’t like them. When I was growing up, my mother would ruin a perfectly fine potato salad by smothering the top with layers of sliced radishes. I learned how to pick them off and out of things fast. I will grow them, but I really don’t like harvesting them either. Their leaves are covered with fine hairs that feel a lot like thorns poking my flesh. They are there for a reason, and just because I don’t like them doesn’t mean I won’t grow these in my garden. I just won’t eat them. They are a great veggie to grow and share.

Radishes before thinning

There are mainly two types of radishes. Like I mentioned above, the round fast growing radish that is best grown in the spring, and the Daikon radish which should be grown in the fall and is best for winter storage. There are many colors and shapes but all germinate best when soil temperatures are between 45-90 degrees Fahrenheit, with the optimum temperature being 60-65. The soil temperature in my garden right now is 55, so I will be sowing radishes without cover (cold frame) this weekend. Ideally, you want to direct sow about 1/4 to 1/2 inch below the surface in rows spaced about 8” to 18” apart. Sow the seeds in a line. After they have germinated, you will notice that they are too close together, so you need to “thin” them. You will know how much just by picturing the size of the radish when you will be harvesting it. That is how much space it will need to grow, with a little extra in between. If you continue to plant every 2-3 weeks, you will have a continuous harvest for most of the year. Radishes don’t grow very well during hot summers, but if you interplant them between other plants that may shade them to keep them cool, you might surprise yourself with how long you can grow them. For winter radishes, start them at the beginning of September and you will be harvesting through late fall. Daikon radishes are good to grow through the winter in a cold frame and also grow well in raised beds. Traditionally, radishes are the first crop harvested and the last crop sown.

Radishes after thinning

Harvest when they are about the size of a large marble except for Daikon radishes which are so large you need to loosen the soil with a garden fork. If you wait too long, they get too large and mealy. You may wonder how I know this without eating them. Well, I do have radish testers living in my house. So I get my information from them. And if you slice them, they should be nice and crisp. Remove the leaves and wash. Some people like to eat those hairy greens. Do as you choose. Store washed radishes without drying too much in a plastic bag or container in the refrigerator to keep the humidity high and temperatures cool.

Radish “Easter Egg”

Radishes are susceptible to flea beetles and cabbage root maggots. You can avoid this by rotating crops, not planting anything from this plant family in the same place for three years. Using a floating row cover can also help by deterring cabbage moths from laying their eggs on the plants.

Interesting is that the U.S. standards for radish grades hasn’t changed since 1968. It reads “Tenderness, cleanness, smoothness, shape, size, and freedom from pithiness and other defects; tops of bunched radishes fresh and free from damage.” So, if you are growing radishes for someone, these are the standards you should be following.

Want something weird. Grow the radish from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds called “Rats Tail”. It is an edible-podded radish that produces large seed pods that are good for stir fry and pickling. Maybe I would like this radish? If you grow it, let me know how you like it. For now, I’ll stick with fewer plants from this family in my garden, and learn from all of you brassica lovers.

Rats Tail Radish. Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Tomato, Tomat, Tomaat, Tomate, or Pomodoro

22 Apr

No matter what common name you call it by, botanically the tomato is called Lycopersicon esculentum and is a member of the Solanaceae Family, AKA, the Nightshade Family. Probably the most favored garden vegetable grown, it was first discovered in the Andes before finding its way to Europe, then to the U.S. Worldwide production in 2005 was led by China, followed by the U.S. then Turkey. In the U.S. tomatoes are the second most consumed vegetable following the potato. California grows the most, Indiana, then Ohio. Florida may be on the rise if not already ahead of Indiana and Ohio. On average, an acre of tomatoes yielded 37.20 tons of fruit!

tomato seedling showing first true leaves

Tomatoes are an annual and need to be transplanted into the garden on or about a week after the last frost date, so now is the perfect time to start seeds indoors if you like. I use a heat mat for best germination. Soil temperatures can range from 70 to 95, and seeds will germinate within about 5-8 days. Make sure you keep evenly moist, and remember to turn on the grow lights once they have germinated. Transplant into small containers once the first true leaves appear.

There are basically two types of tomatoes. Determinate types, which don’t have to be staked, or Indeterminate types, which need to be staked. Most of the greenhouse grown tomatoes sold “on the vine” are indeterminate types grown in a greenhouse. These types are also great for Urban Farmscapes since they take up less space horizontally, and can be trained to grow up as high as you allow them. When you transplant into the garden, make sure you cage or stake your tomato right away. Pruning is also recommended, but I will show you that later in June. For now, starting your seeds is the most important thing to do. Don’t want to start seeds, no problem! Tomatoes plants are plentiful in the garden centers. Even several heirloom favorites such as a pink variety called Brandywine.

 

Heirloom Tomatoes. Photo courtesy of The Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

 

When you transplant your tomato into a container or plant a mature plant into the garden, you can plant it deep, covering much of the stem. You are breaking all the rules of transplanting when doing this. But the tomato will form roots on the stem planted below the soil line, thus creating a stronger root zone, and stronger plant in the long run. So don’t worry if your seedlings get a little “leggy” a term used when they stretch and may fall over due to low light conditions.

Tomatoes also like a lot of fertilizer. Don’t over fertilize with nitrogen fertilizers as this will cause the leaves to grow really big and lush, but little fruit will form. Higher amounts of phosphorus are needed (remember N-P-K from previous post). Johnny’s Selected Seeds recommends using a liquid fertilizer when transplanting such as Neptunes Harvest Fish Fertilizer 2-4-1 which is certified organic and OMRI listed. Garden centers should sell this, but if not, check with your local hydroponic stores. They will most likely have it, or something equivalent. While you’re at it, look at the hydroponic supplies. Tomatoes are a great plant to grow hydroponically. Look at this one at Disney’s greenhouse in Epcot’s “Living with the Land”. Amazing! I want one!

Tomatoes are pretty tolerant of chlorine and very tolerant of fluoride so makes a good plant to grow with city water. As far as diseases go, Late blights or Early blights have been a problem for farmers. The best thing to do is to grow varieties that are resistant. If you start to see signs such as brown spots on leaves or a white powdery substance under the leaves, remove, destroy (do NOT compost), and apply an organic fungicide per directions. If the plant looks too bad, pull it out and remove it totally. This disease will spread rapidly under wet conditions (like rain). Eliminating overhead watering will help to deter also. And what about bugs? Don’t worry, you won’t have too many problems. But if you see the leaves being munched on, or black droppings on the leaves, you probably have a tomato hornworm. You’ll know it when you see it. If eggs are left to winter in the soil, they will turn into moths next spring. If you have ever seen a hummingbird moth, you may not want to kill your tomato hornworm. But then again, if it is eating all of your tomato plant, then pick it off and destroy as you wish or not.

Tomatoes are so good for you and are wonderful eaten fresh, canned, sauced, whole, sliced, or fried. This is my favorite and one that you will be reading more about as the growing season progresses. Here’s a little secret. Grow them on the dry side. Research has shown that the more you water, the less flavor the tomato will have. I’ve never tasted a bad tomato, but have had some tastless ones. What’s your favorite type or variety of tomato?

Peppers

1 Apr

Pepper, Capsicum annuum, belongs to the Solanaceae family, also known as the Nightshade family. Peppers originate from the warmer regions of the Americas and are used in kitchens all over the world. You may prefer the fresh cool crisp of a sweet bell pepper, or the spicy flavor of a hot pepper. Whichever it is, peppers are easy to grow in the garden, in containers and make a great addition to your Urban Farmscape. There are even some varieties used primarily for ornamental purposes.

If you like to start seeds indoors, now is the time. Plant seeds about 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep in a shallow container of a sterile seed starting media. Once the seeds are planted and watered it is important to keep moist at all times during germination. This can be achieved by using a plastic dome or with plastic wrap. I keep a spray bottle of water handy so I can mist the seeds as they germinate, almost daily. Peppers germinate best if you use a heat mat with temperatures ranging from 68 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, with the ideal temperature being about 86. Pepper seeds germinate in darkness, so light isn’t necessary until after you start to see them growing, and then light becomes crucial to growing great peppers. Once you see the first set of true leaves you can remove them from heat mat and transplant to a small container or a 4-cell pack type container. A 4-cell pack is the plastic container that most annuals are planted in. If you are using recycled containers, make sure you have cleaned and sanitized it with something like a bleach water solution to kill possible diseases that may be transferred from the recycled container. Don’t be in a hurry to transplant into a larger pot. Best to plant in a small container, and then save the larger container for the final planting outdoors. Transplant outside in well-drained soil after all danger of frost. This is one of the plants I put outside in the garden last. Peppers like to grow in warmer weather in full sun. They also have a higher need for phosphorus and calcium so if your soil test shows a deficiency in either of these, make sure you add something like bone meal to your soil when planting. To find out more about how to get your soil tested, contact your local extension office. Refer to the earlier post from February 19, 2012 titled Starting Seeds Indoors for more tips.

Ornamental Peppers

I haven’t experienced any diseases or insects with peppers, but they may be susceptible to a few. Watch for signs of irregular growth or discoloration on the leaves for early signs of viruses. The best thing to do is plant varieties that are resistant. Keep an eye out for any insect problems, but don’t worry about any unless they are actually damaging your plants. There are a lot of good bugs in the garden too.

Jalapeno

You can expect to harvest your peppers about two to three months after planting. Sweet peppers will ripen first followed by hot peppers. In general, harvest your fruit first thing in the morning. For sweet peppers, wash and store in the refrigerator whatever you don’t eat right away. I freeze excess by cutting in half, removing the seeds, and placing in a freezer baggy. They will be soft when thawed, but work great for sauces and stews. My dad cans jalapeno peppers every year and gives them away to anyone that will take them. I love to dry cayenne chili peppers. I haven’t made a ristra yet, I just dry them and store them in a paper bag to later grind and use when I am cooking. It’s like my secret ingredient. Dried peppers whole or ground in a jar would also make a great gift. I also make Jalapeno pepper jelly. This sweet hot jelly is great spread over the top of cream cheese and served with crackers as snack. Maybe my dad and I should start a pepper gift basket. Hmmmm, I could be onto something.

In the U.S., California grows the most sweet peppers that you see in our stores, followed by Florida then New Jersey. As for chili peppers, California is first, followed by New Mexico then Texas. China is first in world production, followed by Mexico then Turkey. Pay attention when you shop during the winter months and see where the sweet bell pepper you have in your hand is grown. Check the label or the box. You may be surprised.

Lightning Bolt Peppers-Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has such a great variety of peppers with a wide range of colors of both sweet and hot. It’s still not too late to order from them. You may be able to find their seeds at some retailers. Starting your peppers a week or so later only means your harvest will be later, so if you want to grow something unique, check out their heirloom peppers at www.rareseeds.com Or if you would like to buy their book, click on the picture below.

Is it the Seed or the Plant?

5 Jan

Think about it. You need seeds to grow plants, but then you need flowering plants to make fruit that holds the seeds. What came first? The seed or the plant?

And how do you grow seedless vegetables and fruit? Companies are actually creating plants that flower, and make seeds, but they aren’t viable. It’s a flowers job to reproduce and create lots of seed to ensure it continues to exist. Think dandelion. Does that make sense?

Long, long ago, in the Kingdom of Plantae, there first existed non-vascular (no xylem or phloem to transport water or food or roots) plants called Bryophytes (think mosses and liverworts). They reproduced with the help of water splashing male gametophytes to female gametophytes. Soon evolved Seedless Vascular Plants (plants with xylem and phloem) that reproduced by the production of thousands of spores that drop to the ground at the right time ( brown spots under leaves of ferns). Lastley, plants evolved into Seeded Vascular Plants producing seeds in cones (pine trees) and seeds in fruits of flowering woody and herbaceous plants (trees, shrubs, fruits, vegetables, flowers). Oversimplified, yes, but does it answer the question? Maybe.

Moss sp. showing reproductive organs.

Moss sp. showing reproductive organs.

Photo courtesy of Derek Shiels

While you contemplate on this, you need to get a jump on getting your seed catalogs if you haven’t already. Whether you are going to start seeds or not (I will teach you how later, so you might as well order some) the catalogs offer a lot of great cultural information. You can order seed catalogs or download them from the company’s website. While thumbing your way through, pay attention to container or climing tall varieties. They take up less space which is something you need to think about when planning your Urban Farmscapes. Look for seeds and seed companies that are certified organic. Starting with organic seed is the best choice. They should carry the standard logo on their label such as I have here.

Also look for heirloom, open pollinated seed. This way you will be able to collect seed to use for next year (I will teach you how to do that later too). Heirlooms are old fashioned varieties that pollinate freely and have been collected and saved over time. These would be the plants our grandparents and great grandparents grew. If you see a hybrid, sometimes called an F1 Hybrid, this means it is a cross between two or more other varieties. In flowers for example, if you cross a white petunia with a purple petunia, you may get striped white and purple petunias or lavender colored petunias. Is this bad? Nope. People have been creating hybrids throughout history trying to improve something about them. Tomatoes have been bred to last longer on the grocery store shelves, thus sacrificing flavor. Who wants a tomato that doesn’t taste good, but can sit on a shelf for a long time? Can you get organic F1 hybrid seed? Yes. But you won’t want to collect hybrid seed because the seed you may get could be the original variety that was crossed to get the hybrid. Make sense? Again, I am oversimplifying while trying to explain the world of plant genetics and seeds. Send me a question or comment if you want to discuss further.

I have become obsessed with growing heirloom varieties and collecting seed, but still need (well, want, maybe not need) seed each year. Here are a few of my favorite seed companies.

photo courtesy of Johnny's Selected Seeds

Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers a large selection of organic and heirloom vegetable, herb, and flower seeds as well as fruit plants. They also carry small farm and gardening supplies,along with tools designed by Eliot Coleman. Great quality and service in business since 1973. The employee owned company is located in Maine. The best resource I have found so far for cultural information. You will save this catalog and use as a reference! Awesome online resources. In my garden I will be growing many peppers that are recommended by Johnny’s for containers, along with many other yummy things. Johnny’s has been my favorite seed source for as long as I have been gardening.

www.johnnyseeds.com (877) 564-6697

Photos courtesy of Baker Creek

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. The life forces behind this fourteen year old company are Jere and Emilee Gettle who produce only heirloom varieties. You should buy their book and to learn more about heirlooms and their whole story. The Heirloom Life Gardener by Jere & Emilee Gettle with Meghan Sutherland is available on their website and other book buying venues. Not only is it a story about Baker Creek and the importance of growing heirloom varieties, it has an A to Z Growing Guide for their favorite fifty crops that include the history and uses of the plant, growing tips, pests and diseases, seed saving and preparing it to eat. AWESOME! In my garden this year I am going to grow their Top 10 Favorite Container Plants that is discussed in their book in chapter 7 titled, “City Farmer”. Buy the book. You won’t be disappointed.

www.rareseeds.com (417) 924-8917

While I’m on the subject of heirloom and open pollinated seeds, check out Seed Savers Exchange. I would definitely have to agree with them as being the nation’s premier seed saving organization. Located in Decorah, Iowa since 1975, they are a seed saving non-profit member organization collecting and selling seed to help fund their preservation efforts. I have always wanted to visit their Heritage Farm headquarters or attend one of their special events. If you don’t want to start your own seed, then you could opt to buy transplants from them. They grow and sell several heirloom pepper transplants as well as heirloom tomato varieties like Cherokee Purple and Hungarian Heart. These won’t be at any garden center I know of. You don’t have to be a member to order from their catalog, but if you do become a member, you will receive 10% off of your order!

www.seedsavers.org (563) 382-5990

Seeds of Change. Located in New Mexico, probably one of the first organic seed companies in business since 1989. They have taken the Safe Seed Pledge and donate 1% of their net sales to advance the efforts of sustainable agriculture across the world. A very philanthropic company. They have identified vegetable varieties for “Space Challenged Gardening” which is what most of us Urban Farmscapers are dealing with.

www.seedsofchange.com (888) 762-7333

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. Based in California. Organic seeds, plants, tools and fun gardening stuff. You can even get 10 Fruit Trees delivered for $199 ! That is, if you have room. I planted four varieties of garlic and one type of shallot this past autumn that I ordered as a Garlic Combo Pack. If you want to grow garlic, keep in mind that you plant it in the autumn.

www.groworganic.com (888) 784-1722

Order your seeds soon to make sure you get the variety you want. Soon I will guide you through successful seed starting indoors!

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