Saturday, December 13, 2014

Planning for Next Year

We are still tidying up here and there from last season's garden, and what should arrive in the mail last week but the new catalog from Park Seed (Greenwood, SC). I have awaited this catalog with great anticipation for more than 50 years, and each holiday season it never fails to delight. Only a few years ago did they modernize some of the photos. The pictures of children that used to appear, holding a giant sunflower, for example, or a really large tomato, were so old that many of those people no doubt have grandchildren by now. For sure, some were older than I am, because I remember seeing them in the catalog when I was a child.

Seed catalogs remind us that the best time to plan next year's vegetable garden is right after the holidays. Not only do the catalogs fill your mailbox, or inbox, at that time of year, but also thinking about a lush garden of vegetables and flowers is a great way to fight the post-holiday blues.

I note with pleasure that this year's catalog offers many new varieties of vegetables that are compact enough for container growing, something that is becoming every more popular in urban and suburban settings. When space is at a premium, a few large containers on a patio or balcony can produce a surprising amount of food. Besides a wide variety of herbs, lettuce and other greens are an excellent choice for containers.

Among the new cultivars that caught my eye in the Park Seed catalog:

Nasturtium 'Phoenix' is an interesting new selection with flame-like flowers in a variety of colors. Trailing nasturtiums are great "spillers" for a container herb and veggie garden.

Pak Choi 'Toy Choi' grows only 6 or 8 inches tall, perfect for a porch box or planter. Ready in 40 days, you can raise a crop before the weather warms up, getting double duty from the same container.

Tomato Genuwine from Park Seed
Arugula 'Speedy' provides another opportunity for a quick crop ahead of warm season vegetables like tomatoes. This new arugula selection matures in only 30 days.

Carrot 'Atlas' produces roots somewhat like radishes. It would make a good companion, in fact, for 'Park's Beauty Blend' radishes.

Among warm season crops, I am anxious to try Eggplant 'Patio Baby,' which produces mini-eggplants on plants remaining under two feet tall.

Pepper 'Sweet Pickle' and its hot, spicy cousin 'Cayennette' would look great flanking an entryway in 16-inch pots.

Another intriguing trend that plant breeders seem to be following: crossing two heirloom vegetables to produce a new hybrid. A great example is 'Genuwine' (pictured) which is the offspring of Costoluto Genovese and Brandywine. Expect higher yields, hybrid vigor, and excellent flavor.

We'll have more suggestions from the catalogs as they keep rolling in.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

New Vegetable Gardening Book

My new gardening book is out. Idiots Guide: Vegetable Gardening would make a perfect gift for the gardener in your life, especially if, like so many other Americans, he or she is planning to grow some food next season. Although the book won't be available until January 6, 2015, you can pre-order from Amazon  now. It is available in paperback or e-book format. The book covers all the basics of growing vegetables in containers or raised beds, and gives detailed information for all the most popular vegetables for backyard production. Advice on when to plant, when to harvest and what to do with the harvest make the book a useful compendium, even for experienced gardeners. If you want to grow part of your food next year, my new book is a great place to start! 

Home food gardening has for the first time surpassed flower gardening as a popular pastime, and the only thing we Americans spend more time at that gardening is watching TV. Therefore, food gardening has become a huge trend. It is easy to understand why.

Many people have concerns about pesticides or chemicals used in food production. If you grow your own, you know exactly how it was raised. Further, nothing can beat fresh, homegrown vegetables for taste or nutritional value. The moderate exercise involved in growing a great garden helps your joints, burns calories, and can be managed by people of all ages. Perhaps most importantly, you will get a lot of satisfaction from growing and cooking food for yourself and your family. Scarcely any other activity is more uniquely human than growing food.

When the holidays are over, the bleak days of January provide opportunity to read and plan for a bountiful garden in spring. With the help of my new Idiots Guide: Vegetable Gardening, even your very first vegetable garden will reward you with fresh, delicious produce all season long.