Winter Kale with Cranberries and Apples

Winter gardens are often brimming with kale sweetened from a few frosty days. There are many ways to serve this hyper nutritious vegetable. Young tender kale needs no special preparation other than removing stems thicker than a pencil. Over mature kale can be tough if the leaf veins are over developed. If so, remove the stem and most obvious veins, chop the kale and parboil six minutes. Strain, and braise in skillet following the recipe below. Parboiling is a traditional Mediterranean method and your kale will be more tender and milder in flavor.

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1 1/2 lbs kale, prepared following above directions
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, to taste or 1 teaspoon Siracha sauce (optional)
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons white balsamic or cider vinegar
2 tart firm apples sliced vertically into ½” thick pieces Remove core but don’t peel

 Take a large skillet fitted with a lid and place on medium high heat; Add oil, and chopped onion and sauté until translucent. Now add coarsely chopped or parboiled kale and garlic. Cook ten minutes or until tender. Toss in a handful of dried cranberries, a touch of hot sauce and salt and turn with spatula. When kale is cooked add slender vertical slices of two unpeeled tart apples, Cover, let sit ten minutes and it’s ready to serve. The objective is to have tender kale and semi cooked apples.

Welcome Earth Day 2013

Today is Earth Day and a time we think about our beautiful earth and what we can do to help and maintain it.  Of course as gardeners and readers, the simple act of sowing seeds or planting is a benefit. Because I’m preparing a talk for our local museum about the gardening and seed production heritage of Western Oregon,  I’ve been giving some thought about “knowing our place”.  Know your place is usually a negative disciplinary phrase.  But let’s reassess this and do what we can to better know the place where we live and how it relates to the food production, beauty, preservation and history of our earth.  By knowing the tremendous value of seed crops here in the Willamette Valley I’m very afraid of canola seed being planted on or near fields where it can cross-pollinate or the dropped seeds will contaminate the soil for future crops. The better we know our place the more able we are to understand and speak out the occasional big issue that does appear. I will continue to express this concern along with hundreds of farmers and gardeners and hope it will make a difference. Know your place!   ~ Rose Marie
For suggestions on food gardening and Earth Day click on the image below and read this Huffington Post piece to which I happily contributed.
R-KITCHEN-GARDEN-HOW-TO

Our helpful Predators – Cinnabar Moths

The predatory bugs, beetles and in this case the lovely Cinnabar moth are in full force in summer months. Before the Cinnabar Moth was introduced to control Tansy Ragwort, this plant was the bane of farmers with grazing cattle or horses. animals commonly died upon eating Tansy Ragwort. Sheep are curiously unaffected.

This plant, a member of the Senecio family is highly toxic and grew with abandon throughout Western Oregon until the introduction of this moth by Oregon State University researchers in 1960. The moth is native to western Europe and parts of Asia. the moths seek our the tansy plants, lay eggs and in a few weeks their larval offspring are denuding the plants of flowers and foliage. It has proven a positive introduction to our region. Like all predators they don’t exterminate their source of food. We do notice a cycle of tansy showing up along the roadsides and the following year an increase in Cinnabar Moths.

Talking about Herb Gardening @ awaytogardening.com

Join us atawaytogarden.com in an interview with  Margaret Roach at her blog/gardening magazine. Today Nichols Garden Nursery is featured. Keane is holding two fine specimens of Oregon Sweetmeat Squash Homestead. Notice the beautiful color and thick walls.  Grow it and you’ll also taste how sweet and tender it is. I am holding our very new Ruby-Gold Flint Corn and branches of true Mediterranean bay, Laurus nobilis, Rosemary Blue Gem, a Nichols introduction. Read her article, join the giveaway and learn a few herb gardening tips. Leave a comment on her blog and join the giveaway. Margaret is the former senior editor and Martha Stewart Living Magazine and author of the new and highly reviewed “and I shall find peace there” her latest book. Click the link to Margaret Roache’s article

http://awaytogarden.com/giveaway-rose-marie-nichols-mcgees-herb-qa#comments

Forcing Winter Branches Into Bloom

Every New Year I cut branches of shrubs and trees to force into early bloom. Think Spring! Now we have vases and jars of  Flowering Quince, Forsythia, Dogwood, Daphne, Hazelnut, and Willow.  A branch of Snow Berry adds a little substance to it all. When I brought in the branches the stems were gently scrubbed and recut before placing in water. The first few days it’s best to change the water daily. After three or four days if the buds are swelling I ease up. If buds are not swelling and branches are not using water your house may be too dry and a misting will help the buds open. Also cut off 1/2″ of stem to give them a fresh start. These are meant as simple directions for casual enjoyment of what’s in the garden at the beginning of a brand New Year. Place one variety per container since they bloom and leaf out on different schedules.  I’ll put up more photos when we have color. Place these flowering stems in a bright area but out of direct sun.

Planting The Gardener’s Fall/Winter Pantry

Helen, who does much of our photography planted  her fall/winter pantry in early September. It’s 20 feet long and covered in light polyspun row cover. She used 6″ boards. bed is 36″ wide but wanted to make it unattractive to cats. Her materials were sawed off 5/8″ deeply set and 10″ above the ground. wood dowels pounded into the ground and PVC pipe.

She was indignant that cats had been pawing through the bed as soon as she prepared the soil. Polyspun was initially effective until a cat or raccoon dive bombed it one night. Critter control that’s not cruel or lethal seems a constant issue for gardeners. Helen solved her problem by covering the polyspun with bird netting just to see if that would deter the cats and that has worked.

The beds stand 2′ high.

Lettuce 10 varieties

Chicken scratch mix, Italian parsley and single parsley, green wave mustard, five or six different radishes, water cress, mountain cress, and garden cress were all planted in early December.

Her bed is watered twice daily two twenty minute periods. Part of her lawn system.(now that we are in October the water has been off for several weeks)

Medium size ‘Garden Clips’ and used three on each span to keep everything in place

She has done all of this herself and this post will be followed up with pics of her current garden in a few days. Most areas of the US have what I call shoulder seasons when we can grow cool weather crops that actually taste better when grown in lower temperature. The cool temps encourage plants to generate more sugars which act as a natural anti freeze.

Sugar Meat Squash Muffins

Sugar Meat Squash Muffins
Some varieties capture our imagination and become ones we grow each year. Katy Stokes Sugar Meat is a solid,Sweet Meat type and has become a customer favorite. This 6-10# winter squash is versatile, nutritious and delicious.
One of our Albany customers brought in a batch of muffins with this delicious recipe.
Katy’s Sugar Meat Muffin Recipe

2 eggs
1 cup cooked Katy Stoke’s Sugar Meat Squash
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup milk
1 ½ cups sugar (adjust to taste) I use ¾ cup
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt may reduce to ½ teaspoon
1 ¾ cups unbleached flour
½ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees:
Place eggs, oil, cooked, cooled squash and milk into a bowl and mix. Sift sugar, soda, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and flour. Mix until lightly moistened. Stir in walnuts. Fill muffin or cupcake pans 2/3 full. Bake for 25 minutes. Yields 12 regular muffins. Give these try these and we think you’ll find they become a standby.

Katy Stokes selected this variety from her annual Sweet Meat squash plantings. For more than ten years she saved the seed of her very best flavored and sweetest squash. Only these seeds were replanted. Over time this selection stabilized and now Katy Stoke’s Sugar Meat Squash represents a classic model of seed saving and selection. Squashes freely cross pollinate with the help of those busy bees in the garden. This variety was originally selected from a first spectacular squash “Cucurbita maxima” several years ago. A friend who was sharing some of the gardening space on her farm had planted various squash and it is possible this selection developed from an unexpected cross pollination. Now of course, our plants for seed are carefully protected from any possibility of future crosses and the field is checked for any plants that do not seem true to type. In my opinion, seed saving is an art and always requires the discerning eye and palette to maintain a great variety.

Walla Walla Onion Sandwiches

Sweet, juicy and mild, Walla Walla Sweet onions came from Corsica to this Eastern Washington valley in 1905. Today this large, delicately flavored heirloom is considered by many to be the world’s sweetest onion. We sow these seeds in August and use the thinnings all through spring. We spring plant onion starts. In June, bulbs mature and we enjoy them through the summer. Gardeners grow this celebrated onion from Southern Missouri to British Columbia, though only those grown in The Walla Walla Valley may be sold as the true onion. Our Nichols Garden Nursery seeds and onion starts come from a Walla Walla Family that has been growing these onions for many generations.
James Beard, a native Oregonian, pioneered the movement to use and celebrate local foods. He created this simple sophisticated canape’, ideal with summer drinks.
This sandwich has only five ingredients and is a snap to put together. The key is locating the right bread. It needs to be thinly sliced and firm. If you can find Pepperidge Farm thin white sandwich bread that works well. A loaf of brioche and some baguettes will be quite satisfactory. Avoid a standard slice of white sandwich bread, these are delicate tidbits.

Ingredients:
Thin sliced white bread cut into rounds with crusts removed. Rounds may range in size from 1″ to 3″. You will need two slices for each sandwich.
Unsalted butter at room temperature
Thinly sliced Walla Walla or other sweet mild onion. If you can successfully cut and remove a slice the diameter of your bread that works. If not, cut into quarters and make a small dainty pile on the bread.
Salt, sea or kosher
Mayonnaise…the real stuff is best
A pile of minced curly parsley,previously washed and removed from stems.
Preparation:
Lightly butter bread rounds, cover with onion, sprinkle with a touch of salt. Gently press on sandwich so pieces adhere. Cover the edges with a light coat of mayonnaise. Now roll the edges in parsley. You want a generous coating of parsley to get that herbal flavor balanced against the onion.
When I made these for our staff, Helen and I added a few nasturtiums for the photo. I came by a few minutes later to see only a few wilting nasturtiums remaining on the plate. Nasturtiums, I find are a good addition to these sandwiches when layered in with the onion but I wanted to give you the true James Beard onion sandwich.

YaYa Carrot & Spinach Beet

YaYa F1 Carrot is a Nantes type, delightfully crisp and sweet. The bright orange roots are so tempting I like to pull them fresh from the ground, and eat while  standing in the garden. Our last summer trial plantings were so popular we hardly had any left for cooking.

YaYa Carrot is a great example of modern selection and breeding. For such a sweet carrot it is unusually crack resistant. The texture has a perfect crunch that makes it a pleasure to eat. It draws admiration from all who may have forgotten how good a fresh carrot can be. It requires no complicated preparations with Vichy water and butter to coax forth flavor. Scrub and cut this carrot into sticks for enticing before meal snacks.

I’ve listed these two varieties together because they share top selling honors on our Nichols Garden Nursery website. One is a brand spanking new outstanding hybrid, the other, Spinach Beet, is an ancient green.

Spinach Beet is a variety we have fought to maintain in our seed collection. When there is a variety you love the best way to ensure it’s continuing existence is to grow it, eat it, share it, and talk about it. Heirloom seeds must be planted, eaten and enjoyed if the selection is going to endure.

Too tender to travel to markets it almost disappeared from the seed trade for several years. Spinach beet has a small taproot with large tender leaves and stems. It combines characteristics of both spinach and Swiss Chard with lots of tender leaves and excellent tolerance to heat and moderate cold. The planting I recently made will last through the summer and into early winter. It is marvelously productive and I recommend it for container growing since it can be recut so many times. The flavor is milder than spinach and not quite as earthy as chard.

Nichols Plant Day 2010

Every May, we at Nichols, have our annual Plant Day, the Saturday after Mother’s Day. May 15th is the date for 2010. This is when we bring out unusual plants, run a good sale, and get our gardens spiffed up for company. Shopping is always interesting, we’ll have a huge selection of tomatoes, peppers and other veggies and flowering annuals.

Of course a few herbal or fresh from the garden treats keep your strength up as you watch Jennifer Ewing show how to build a raised bed in only a few minutes. I’ll demonstrate planting in straw bales. An addition this year is a herb spiral garden that is under construction. This is a great way to fit a large collection of herbs into a small space.

I’ll do a short demo on how to sow carrots. We all love those fresh from the garden carrots but they take their time in becoming established. It’s important to keep them moist and I’ll share a few tips with you.
Hope you can join us. Our gardens and retail shop are open Monday through Saturday, closed Sundays.

Violet Jelly

The elusive sweet fragrance of violets tells us spring is really here to stay. I love the way they naturalize in a garden with clumps spreading here and there. Not only are violets charming they are edible. I recently made a single layer cake, dusted it with powdered sugar and sprinkled it with violets.
Our old website had a number of archived recipes that I will gradually add to this one.
Violets are beginning to appear in our garden. When we first saw our present home, the garden was awash in violet blossoms. Our daughter, who was then barely three, knelt down in the purple carpet to smell their perfume, forever creating a picture in our minds. In spring, we like to make violet jelly. This recipe is adapted from Stalking The Healthful Herbs by Euell Gibbons. If you are interested in additional violet recipes, look for his book which contains six more.
2 cups fresh violets
2 cups boiling water
juice of one lemon (4 tablespoons)
1 package of powdered pectin
4 cups sugar

Make an infusion with violets and water by placing your blossoms in a glass jar and covering them with boiling water. Put a lid on the jar, and set aside for 24 hours. The infusion will turn a murky bluish green. Strain and discard the violets. Add the lemon juice to the violet infusion, and it transforms to a clear lavender pink. Stir in powdered pectin, and bring to a boil. Add 4 cups sugar, bring to a boil again, and boil vigorously for one minute. Skim if necessary. Pour into sterile jars and seal. Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups jelly.

Anniversaries-Let Us Celebrate

Nichols Garden Nursery is celebrating our 60th year of offering seeds and plants by mail for home gardeners across the country. It’s been a joyous ride as our family has introduced and developed scores of unique selections for home gardeners. We’ve just returned from the Portland Yard, Garden, & Patio Show and are inspired by the vitality of a gardening renaissance that includes children to great grandparents.

Today Keane and I learned our good friends, Pat and Becky Stone, publishers and authors, have announced the 20th anniversary of their own publication, GreenPrints “the weeders digest”. This delightful quarterly has published articles from an array of some of our finest garden writers. I find reading it contributes about equally to an understanding of gardening and humankind leaving me feeling a bit better about both. Congratulations to the GreenPrints Team!

And a Partridge In a Bay Tree

Years ago I gave a Golden Bay “Laurus nobilis” to a friend whose daughter’s name is Laurel. We dropped by last night with a little Christmas token. They’d strung their Christmas tree with lights in anticipation of Laurels arrival Christmas Eve. As my daughter, Katie, and I were about to leave there was a cry of you must come into the garden. It was dark and somewhat cold so hard to imagine what it might be.
In the back corner the bay tree was dazzling with dozens of lights. The branches seemed filled with hanging pears. What a delight to see such a wonderful transformation. Four of us began merrily stumbling through The Twelve Days of Christmas.
Only the next day did I learn the pears were actually Satsuma Oranges wrapped in netting and hung. These photos give you a view of the tree. Once more the darkest time of year is transformed by friends, gardens, lights, song and sharing. A Merry Christmas to all.

Frozen Pipes – Disconnect the Hose

Have you ever wondered why we’re told to disconnect the hose from pipes during a hard freeze? We usually did this but I always wondered why thinking the worst that could happen would be a split hose.
Yesterday, we saw why we always get this warning. In our case the hose froze solid forcing water to back up into the faucet and pipe and they broke. Other pipes were disconnected, this one is fairly hidden in a yew hedge. It formed this dramatic water sculpture and fountain. We’ll forever faithfully disconnect hoses when we no longer need to water.

We know there will be plant losses revealed as weather warms. Our demonstration salad gardens are worse for the weather and we do love salads. The tunnels warmth will encourage greens to regrow. As soon as there is a warm spell a light fertilizing of seaweed or fish emulsion will give plants a kick start.
Recent winters have been warm and we’d stopped taking all the necessary precautions against cold. We’re still learning and relearning the lessons we forget and winter does have it’s distinct power and beauty.

Plants, Plants, Plants

Spent the day packing plants for my Bountiful Container Gardening talk at the New York Botanical Garden on June 27th. Preparing for a cross country trip with more than a hundred vegetables and herbs in various stages of growth is a challenge. Fortunately, Helen, our nursery shipping expert has it all down. Last summer she test packed plants in various ways for shipping and took their temperature to learn the best way to avoid heat buildup. When shipping in warm weather ventilated plants arrive in good condition and grow best. There is a science to everything and healthy plants mean happy customers. My plants are vented, have ice packs, cushioning, and are separately boxed.
I am looking forward to my time at NYBG, it’s our first visit to this famed historical garden. Keane and I will be taking photos and will post them when I return. I’m taking Amy Stewart’s new book “Wicked Plants” to read on the trip and Keane and I will visit the poisonous plant collection at Cornell. It’s maintained by the veterinary science department and should be very interesting.

Bountiful Container Talk@New York Botanical Garden

The New York Botanical Garden, in the Bronx, has scheduled a summer long series on food gardening. See special admission offer below. The weekend of June 27/28th 2009 is the kickoff event. I’m very excited to do a talk and demonstration on how to NY botanical garden conservatorygrow the foods you like in containers. I’ll show how to plant a container garden for SE Asian cookery, a summer salad garden, a multi- season herb garden and more. My talk is at 3:00 on the 27th, mid-morning I’m participating in a Q&A session and at noon I’ll be signing copies of my book, McGee & Stuckey’s The Bountiful Container.

Gardeners can harvest fresh, organic, beautiful food in the smallest spaces with just a little know how. I hope some of our Nichols Garden Nursery customers and blog readers in the New York area can come to my talk and if not visit the New York Botanical Garden this summer. Edible gardening maven, Rosalind Creasy, has overseen the planting and design of a demonstration family food garden and Martha Stewart has been busy with a herb garden she has installed. This is a rare opportunity to learn and talk with a variety of horticulturists and garden writers who are experts dedicated to home food gardening.

The Metro-North Railroad Botanical Garden station is directly across from the Mosholu Gate. Harlem Line. Driving directions are here.

For a special offer to this event go to http://www.nybg.org/promo/ and enter code EGDIG09 Buy one adult ticket pay 1/2 price for the second. This is a summer long offer with this promo code.

Plant A Row For the Hungry “PAR”

Plant A Row For the Hungry is a program we like to mention this time of year. When those delicious fresh vegetables start producing faster than your household can use then think about donating to your local food bank or soup kitchen. The economic downturn has caused hardship for many. Gardeners everywhere are helping provide a little extra food for the groups and agencies that help the food needy. And as my good friend and former Victory Garden host, Jim Wilson says, “if you don’t have surplus vegetables think about dropping off a few fresh flowers at a nearby soup kitchen. The folks who dine there probably don’t often see flowers on the table and flowers feed the spirit.” This morning Jim told me he dropped off a few heads of cabbage that were at the “ready to pick or they’ll bolt” stage.

PAR began at Bean’s Soup Kitchen in Anchorage, AK. Garden columnist, Jeff Lowenfels, thought, what if surplus food from home gardens could be donated to soup kitchens and food banks. Get those fresh fruits and vegetables into the food chain instead of the compost.

In May, Keane and I were in Anchorage, AK where I spoke at a Master Gardener conference. Jeff kindly took us by the soup kitchen where it began in 1995. To date this program of The Garden Writers Association has provided over 50 million meals to help feed the hungry.

jeff rose marie at bean's cafe

There is more information on the Garden Writers Association website. Jeff and I are in front of Bean’s. We were careful to not photograph anyone waiting for a meal because of privacy concerns.

Salad of Swiss Chard, Beets and Fruit

Swiss Chard and Beet SaladCooked greens make a delicious salad base. This was an evening to find a purpose for accumulated ingredients. We had leftover multi-colored Swiss Chard which was braised in a little olive oil and garlic. The stems and garlic were cooked for three minutes before coarsely chopped leaves were added.

Our other ingredients were also ready:
2 medium baked beets
1 orange, peeled
1 mango, peeled
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1 tablespoon walnut oil
1/4 cup crumbled goat or feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt to taste

Slice beets, orange and mango into a dish. Dress with vinegar and oil. Layer over greens, sprinkle first with parsley and then cheese. A few added walnuts would be good. Another version for  beet and salad would be sliced pears and a sprinkling of dried cranberries.   Fresh tarragon would be a good herb along with parsley.

Our Neon chard is large leaved and quite beautiful in mid spring. This is from last year’s planting and chard makes great regrowth once spring arrives. Chard belongs in every garden and is pretty enough to add to a flower bed. Leaf miner can be a problem in some areas and now is safely controlled by using organically approved spinosad applied as a light spray.  We use and offer it as Monterey Garden Insect Garden Spray.

Nichols Plant Day 2009

Nichols annual Plant Day is Saturday, May 16, 2009. I will demonstrate straw bale gardening. Our newest demonstration garden is a living example of food gardens from The Bountiful Container-a complete guide to growing veegtabels, herbs, fruits and edible flower in containers. It is still a work in progress but the basics are installed with a couple Adirondack Chairs for relaxing in a home garden-like setting. I will be available to sign and inscribe the Bountiful Container, a 400 page guide to growing food in containers.

Linda Zeidrich will sign her new books, The second edition of Joy of Pickling and The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves 200 New Recipes Showcasing the Fabulous Flavors of Fresh Fruits.

Master Gardener Jennifer Ewing will demonstrate how to easily construct a nearly weed free raised bed and how to use the hoop system to support deer netting, shade cloth and plastic. These beds provide a new easy, efficient approach to raised bed gardening.

We will be offering a discount on all in store purchases. Come join us for a little garden time and light herbal refreshment.

Garden Greens of Many Colors

Green leafy vegetables are packed with nutrients and flavor. Grown for salads or cooking, there’s no easier faster crop for the home gardener. This spring I’ve been stir frying Kale, Swiss Chard, Bok Choy, Purple Broccoli, Raab, and Beet Greens in a little olive oil and minced garlic. I trim my pickings, chop and rinse. The skillet is hot and ready, I add oil and garlic, wait a few seconds, and then add the chopped greens with a little water still clinging, stir and toss until tender and sprinkle with a little salt. This usually takes no more than seven or eight minutes. If my chard stems are broad and beautiful I start cooking these first and then add the remaining greens.

My good friend, Al Modena, of Italian parentage,  owns an old family wholesale seed company in San Francisco. He asked me how I cook my Swiss Chard and I gave him this preparation. He enthusiastically nodded his head, saying “that’s right, but you need to add just a little anchovy instead of salt and it makes all the difference”! It’s as good as he says.

When I return from my Anchorage talks on Container & Small Space Food Gardening and Straw Bale Gardening we’ll cook up a few different greens with photos. Now is the time to start sowing seeds of all these “greens of many colors”. My family business, Nichols Garden Nursery is having a month long sale on many of these seeds. Often it is best to sow a row and come back in three weeks and plant again. It’s a little early to talk about fall planting but most of what we’re eating is from late summer and fall plantings of last year.

Garden Talks

Keane and I are leaving for Central Oregon today where I will give talks on Successful Food Gardening in Central Oregon and a demonstration talk on Edible Container Gardening. Of course I’ll be signing copies of McGee & Stuckey’s The Bountiful Container. A few more talks are coming up, May 9th I’ll speak in Anchorage at a Master Gardening conference on “Growing Food in Containers & Small Spaces” and “Straw Bale Gardening”. June 27th I’ll be at The New York Botanical Garden for their kickoff event on a program series on edible gardening. I will present a demonstration and talk on growing “Food Plants, Herbs & Edible Flowers in Containers”. This speaking season then winds up with a talk at the annual Oregon State Master Gardener mini college on “Successful Food Gardening in Container & Small Spaces”, Thursday, August 7th.

Our annual Nichols Garden Nursery Plant Day is Saturday May 16th 2009. We always have an annual sale, light refreshment and demonstrations. This year I’ll be demonstrating straw bale planting and we are working on a new garden in the style of a home garden planted all in containers with a couple Adirondack chairs for visitors to sit, relax and enjoy the surroundings. As this comes along I’ll post photos.

It’s been a busy year and I’m so impressed with this renaissance in food gardening. There has been much interest in vegetables and cooking but now people seem to be taking it to their own homes whether it is the backyard or front yard they are planting gardens. A healthy well grown plant is always a thing of beauty whether it be a gorgeous muticolored ruffled lettuce or the latest petticoated heauchera. Gardening keeps us in contact with nature and that part of ourselves that grows a little more as we nurture our gardens, our loved ones, and ourselves.

Tomatoes-Blossom-end Rot in Straw Bales

Most tomato gardeners have seen or experienced blossom-end rot on tomatoes. It appears at the base of the tomato…the portion that is fastest growing and forms an unattractive black decayed appearance. Also a fruit so affected generally ceases to grow or grows slowly.The following information applies to all tomato gardeners, whether growing in ground, containers, or straw bales.

Generally, it is the oblong Roma or paste tomatoes that are most often affected. I have never seen blossom end rot on a cherry tomato plant and I think it is because the fruits growth cycle is faster.

First it is a physiological problem not a disease. A lack of soil calcium or a defect in the  plant’s utilization and uptake of calcium is considered the cause. A few controllable conditions lead to this.

A simple lack of calcium is a factor which can be remedied by adding lime, gypsum, bone meal or in small gardens even ground up eggshells to the soil before planting.

An excess of ammonium nitrate can be a problem…straight substantial amounts of chemical nitrogen which some old articles on straw bale gardening recommend. Don’t use it. An excess or imbalance of potassium or magnesium. All these minerals and nutrients are needed by tomatoes, just no one in excess so use a balanced fertilizer along with compost. Consider also applying foliar sprays of liquid seaweed , Maxicrop is a good product.

The third and perhaps most significant cause is fluctuations in watering. Plants which dry out are not absorbing nutrients or water. This is followed by a heavy watering. Cycle through this a few times and it sets the stage for blossom end rot. If your climate is somewhat humid this moisture problem may be compounded. Drip or trickle irrigation either with emitters or leaky pipe will maintain even and optimal moisture. With straw bales and containers I like to give plants a thorough soaking from time to time.

The more oblong Roam or San Marzano tomatoes are most susceptible to blossom end rot. If your plants are producing defective fruits consider picking everyone that looks as though it will have this condition. The fruits will likely have a very poor taste and by picking plants nearly clean new fruits will set.

Chowhound Indoor Herb Gardening

Recently our daughter Katie, who lives in a San Francisco apartment with good western exposure asked for tips and plants to start an indoor herb garden. She has no outdoor growing space but lives close to Golden Gate Park where a nature is never far away.

I began looking at the new style fluorescent bulbs, some are daylight and some are full spectrum, great for growing plants. Screw these into a reflector with clamps that squeeze open and it’s pretty simple to develop an economical indoor herb garden. Fluorescent lights don’t have the heat buildup of incandescents and are economical to use.

Serendipity often occurs. While I was in the midst of figuring out how to do this, Roxanne Webber, an editor for Chow.com called with a few questions about growing herbs indoors for city dwellers, just like my daughter. She was writing an article that would be posted in a few days. I offered to watch for comments to her article an trouble shoot if needed.

When I was in San Francisco, a few days ago, I met Roxanne and we visited about chowhound, gardening, and all those things discussed with a new friend. Her article is posted at Chow.com. My dialogue and Q&A follows at Chowhound. I will answer questions until next week.

The discussion has been lively and I do encourage questions on indoor herb gardening.

White House Food Garden

This week, First Lady, Michelle Obama, and a group of local school children broke ground on the first White House Lawn Food Garden since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden during WWII. This organic garden will feed the Obama family, be used for White House events.

The children from Bancroft Elementary School will continue their involvement with this garden by helping plant and later with harvesting. Ms. Obama frequently discusses food issues and speaks in terms of fresh and nutritious. Her particular focus on enticing children to eat and enjoy fruits and vegetables because their variety and fresh flavor is so delicious sends an important message to everyone.

On the sidelines there has been a steady campaign from gardeners, chefs, websites like kitchengardener.com and food and garden writers. We all appreciate this wonderful example.

Portland Yard, Garden Patio Show

I’m in Portland at the annual YGP show at the Oregon Convention Center this weekend. If you’re looking for a jumpstart on spring and summer this is the place to be. What first caught my eye was  a fence of espaliered apple trees surrounding a flourishing potager garden. In the corner is a cozy chicken coop, one chicken laid an egg yesterday and happily announced her achievement to the world. However, my heart went pit pat when I saw all our Nichols Garden Nursery seed packets used as row markers for the peas, mizuna, mustards, lettuce and more. To our happy surprise the vegetable garden was planted entirely with Nichols seeds. We are not able to down load this photo until we’re back home but I do want everyone to have a chance to see how a productive urban garden can be packed with comfort and charm. This garden from Barbara Simon Landscape Design and Alfred Dinsdale Landscape Contractors received the prestigious “Best of Show Award” features an outdoor cooking and eating area and is an inspiring mixture of enchantment and practicality. Top garden speakers, a multitude of garden products, including Nichols Garden Nursery seeds, plants, bulbs and more  signal we are quickly moving  to the longer days for spring and summer. Come to the show to look, listen and shop and learn. I may even have found some beautiful concrete pavers to easily build a new patio.

Go  to this blog by Kym Pokorny, from the Oregonian for a wonderful garden photo with the potager somewhat hidden.  http://blog.oregonlive.com/kympokorny/     Since I’m not at home with some of my tools you may need to cut and paste this url.

I see it’s time to begin sowing tomatoes, peppers, celeriac, leeks, eggplant and in a couple of weeks get basil started so all will be ready for May transplanting. If you’re sowing leek, onion or shallot seeds go back and see Easy Gardening tips from March 4th 2008 for an easy start on these valuable vegetables.