Seedy ideas for Connecticut edible gardens

Choosing which variety of tomato or other edible to grow from seed can be overwhelming, particularly for gardeners new to seed starting. If, after following my earlier recommendations, your head is  still spinning here’s some of my favorite edible varieties.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Tomatoes: I grow standard, paste and cherry varieties. My absolute favorite for flavor and color is one I tried for the first time last season, the heirloom Cherokee Purple. The vines were prolific, produced solid, heavy, meaty fruit of a wonderful purplish red color and the sweetest ever flavor. Until Cherokee Purple took the top  spot on my favorite tomato list, Pruden’s Purple, also an heirloom with large fruit and a sweet taste, was number one.  I will continue to grow both of these full-size tomatoes plus the yellow heirloom, Manyel (smaller fruit, later maturity). These varieties are available from many seed suppliers, mine came from Pinetree Garden Seeds.

For paste tomatoes I like Roma (Pinetree Garden Seeds) and Milano Plum (Kitchen Garden Seeds). For cherry tomatoes I choose Sweet Million – it lives up to its name. Last season I grew an additional tomato, Super Bush, from Renee’s Garden bred specifically for container growth. It produced late, two- to three-inch sized fruit, but lacked the intense, sweet flavor I expect from homegrown tomatoes. Try it if you have limited space for a tomato that remains about three feet tall, but don’t expect the flavor of an heirloom.

Note: I grew standard, plum and cherry tomatoes in large pots filled with rich compost-based potting soil. All did remarkably well and produced lots of fruit with monthly fertilizer applications of liquid fish emulsion to the soil and as a foliar spray.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Peppers: Most of my peppers are the hot variety, Early Jalapeno, Hot Hungarian Wax, Italian Pepperoncini (all from Pinetree Garden Seeds). Last year I tried a mild habanero chili pepper from Renee’s Garden called Orange & Red Suave. It did not germinate as well as some of my other hot pepper varieties and the cool, wet spring set it back a bit, but the plant was s a lovely addition to a perennial bed and it eventually produced attractive orange fruit. Habanero peppers are normally very hot. I’d rate these as milder than normal but still packing serious heat, not for the faint of tongue.

For sweet peppers I’ve had good luck with Sweet Banana (Pinetree Garden Seeds) and Romeo Bell (Kitchen Garden Seeds).

Eggplant: I often transplant eggplant seedlings directly into perennial beds. The plants alone add structural interest, as to the fruit.  My favorites for full size fruit include Ichiban and Lavender Touch (both from Pinetree Garden Seeds). Last season I tried the container-sized variety, Little Prince (Renee’s Garden). The container-grown plants produced abundant and adorable single-serving, tasty fruit under less than ideal conditions – lots and lots of rain – so Little Prince gets another shot this year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALettuce: I’ve grown multiple varieties over the years – Green Ice, Red Deer’s Tongue, Oakleaf, Red Fire, Buttercrunch, Winter Density, Rouge d’Hiver Romaine, Rouge Grenobloise Batavian, Tom Thumb, and I’m sure there’s more. Of all, my absolute favorite is Merveille de Quatre Saisons, a French heirloom available from many suppliers (mine came from Kitchen Garden Seeds and Renee’s Garden). The other lettuce types are all good and perform well, I’m just enamored by the looks and taste of Merveille. Beyond this beautiful looking and tasty bibb lettuce, I am also quite impressed with the adorable small crispy heads of Tom Thumb.

Beans: My favorite bush beans are Sequoia and Purple Queen – both grow delicious purple pods that turn green when cooked (Kitchen Garden Seeds) – and Pencil Pod, a yellow Heirloom (Pinetree Garden Seeds).

Peas: I’ve struggled to get a good supply of snow peas from each spring sowing. The voles love the tender plants as much as I love the tender pods and, so far, attempts to grow a bumper snow pea crop in pots have not been highly successful. Still, I would not want to go a year without trying. You simply cannot match the sweetness and tenderness of freshly picked snow peas so, even if my yield is small, I’ll always plant edible podded peas. My current favorites are Snowflake Pea Pods, a self supporting upright bush-type growing about two feet tall, and Golden India Edible Pea Pod, with six foot tall vines of flat pods (both from Kitchen Garden Seeds). In a previous garden with more space and fewer voles I had great success with sugar snap peas. These should be on every new gardener’s planting list. They are prolific producers that bring early success.

This is not a comprehensive list of the edibles I grow. It’s just a good place to start. Here are links to the seed suppliers mentioned above: Pinetree Garden Seeds, Renee’s Garden, Kitchen Garden Seeds.

Garden thoughtfully … and please share the vegetable varieties growing well in your Connecticut garden.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry

Misjudged collaboration causes an NWF GOOPs

I’ve made a lot of gardening oops – GOOPs for short – over the decades. I’ve placed plants into unpleasing combinations, forgotten where I planted bulbs, and neglected to deadhead prolific self-seeding perennials. I fess up to these GOOPs here on the first of each month hoping that, by sharing my mis-steps, other gardeners may avoid doing the same. My GOOPs may wreak havoc on my discerning eye, my gardening budget, or my gardening time but my faux pas don’t hold a candle to the the pile of sewage the National Wildlife Federation stepped into when it announced collaboration between it and Scotts Miracle-Gro.

That the NWF, a much-followed wildlife habitat and wildlife protecting organization, was joining forces with Scotts Miracle-Gro, a dealer of lawn and garden chemicals, caused much of the garden writing world to scream a collective “What the … huh!”  The NWF was dancing with the devil.   This did not sit well to those who followed wildlife-friendly recommendations made by NWF or developed NWF-certified Wildlife Habitats using organic, environmentally sound garden and land care practices.

Go to the NWF website. It oozes nature. It boasts “working for wildlife” in programs to bring bison back and protect otters. It claims “victory for wildlife” in helping stop the Keystone Tar Sands pipeline. It claims donation money is “Inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.”

So why consort with Scotts Miracle-Gro, a company reporting $3 billion in worldwide sales from their products branded under the names Scotts, Miracle-Gro, and Ortho, and as sole North American and European marketer of Monsanto’s Round-Up? The NWF claimed money from Scotts would support a shared vision … to encourage children and families to spend more time outdoors. NWF suggested their cozy relationship with Scotts might influence Scotts to change some of its chemical-pushing ways.

I may be skeptical here but I suspect, as many do, that Scotts has a $3 billion reason to not change it’s chemical-pushing ways.

A ‘Scotts’ lawn would never look like this …

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filled with violets and other non-grass greenery.

With no intention of ignoring the hypocrisy of the NWF taking money dangled in front of them by Scotts, garden writers responded with blog posts, tweets, Facebook comments, emails, petitions and phone calls castigating the NWF for this misguided collaboration. They questioned how the NWF could expect to maintain any credibility as a protector and promoter of environmentally sound wildlife habitats while taking money from a company that makes its money on the very chemicals believed to harm wildlife and soil-life.

Read some of these posts yourself at:

In the midst of all this Scotts was fined $4.5 million for distributing wild birdseed coated with chemicals toxic to birds. Does this sound like a company bent on protecting wildlife, or just its own bottom line.

Well, in yet another example of people joining voices to express outrage over the actions of an organization, a company, or a government, collective fury and indignation worked.   On January 29, 2012, the NWF  announced its turn-around.

The NWF had a “Good job, Brownie” moment. They committed a monster GOOPs, then thankfully saw their blunder.

I don’t see a GOOPs of this monster proportion in my future or yours so next month I plan to resume my relatively minor GOOPs tales. In the meantime, tell me about a GOOPs you’ve made. Either share it in a comment below or post it on your blog and leave a teaser-link below.

Let’s help each other  … let’s garden thoughtfully …

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry

Connecticut’s new planting zones

The USDA just released a new plant hardiness zone map. Plant hardiness zones are listed on plant tags to communicate the regions in which plant should survive without extra winter protection.

Many will find their zone has changed by a half – mine went from zone 6a to zone 6b, slightly warmer.

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Will this alter how I garden or what I plant? No. The map does not take elevation and cover-, slope-, or hardscape-related issues into consideration. Only eyes and experience can do this. I know my property. Plants, shrubs and trees listed as borderline in zone 6 may not survive tough winters without coddling (this means extra winter protection and extra work). If I must have a plant that is borderline in zone 6, I do so with the full knowledge that coddling/extra work will be part of my regular gardening routine.

This is exactly what the USDA recommends on their Maps & Gardening page.

The new map considers 30 years of climate data – a longer period than the 15 or so years previously used and used in other plant hardiness zone maps. More about how the new zone map was created is on the USDA’s What’s New page.

The new map is more interactive than previously. After choosing to view by State, Region, or Nationally, and choosing a size (try Standard then move on to larger versions), you can preview, open or save your map choice.  If you start here, and type in your zip code your zone will pop up under your zip.  Or, for a closer-up view, click on the Interactive Map tab and type your zip code. In the interactive map you can activate a satellite image that shows up under the zone colors. If you increase the transparency of the zone color layer it’s easier to locate your property on the satellite image.

This is particularly useful when trying to determine planting zones in areas near zone borders. For instance, my property, listed as zone 6a in the older USDA map and in the Arbor Day Hardiness Zone Map, is now located very close to the edge of zone 6a in south-central Connecticut but is newly listed in zone 6b.

Follow the various links above and play with the features, but don’t forget that we still must garden thoughtfully. Hardiness zones are guides. Gardeners with the time, experience and where-with-all to push a hardiness zone – say by planting a zone 7 perennial in a zone 6 garden – can be quite successful. Gardeners looking for less maintenance and fuss should stick to their zone or acknowledge that a perennial listed hardy in a warmer zone should be planted as an annual or overwintered with protection.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry