Monthly Archives: November 2016

You Can Homegrown In The City

Cucumbers are cool and peppers are hot as many people are showing renewed interest in growing their own vegetables. Today’s vegetable gardens come in a variety of sizes, shapes and styles, and can be found in a backyard, on a patio, even on a rooftop.

A national survey from the Garden Writers Association Foundation found that vegetable or fruit plants are second on the list of plants gardeners plan to purchase this spring – up from fourth place just a year ago. Thirty-nine percent (39%) of consumers plan on buying vegetable or fruit plants, behind lawn and grass (54%) but ahead of both annual (35%) and perennial flowers (31%), as well as trees and shrubs (35%).

There may be several reasons for this increased interest in vegetable gardening. Skyrocketing gas prices and increasing food costs at the grocery store are pinching our wallets. Food-borne illnesses and safety issues make us unsure about the food we buy and where it comes from. Concern about the environment is forcing us to look at how best to use our natural resources.

Vicki Nowicki of Downers Grove, Illinois, a gardener for more than 25 years, loves to grow her own vegetables because “I can just walk outside my door and pick my vegetables.” Vicki says she doesn’t have to use gasoline or pollute the air driving to the store and the vegetables are ready to eat at their peak of freshness. Better variety and flavor are other reasons. “I can grow what I want to grow and not be limited to the few “tastes” you find in a grocery store.” She finds homegrown food to be fresher, healthier, higher in nutrition, and feels it simply tastes better than store-bought produce.

While many of her vegetables are planted in the ground, others including herbs, lettuce and peppers are growing in containers to keep rabbits from eating the plants. Gardening in containers gives Vicki greater flexibility too. Vicki moves the containers to take advantage of the changing sunlight throughout the seasons and finds they are great for filling in the empty garden spaces after a crop has been harvested. Flowers are planted among the vegetables for the color they add to the landscape and the beneficial insects they attract for a healthier garden.

In addition to tending her own garden, Vicki supports a national movement to create Liberty Gardens as a way to grow delicious, organic food that nourishes both the family and the land. This may be one of the answers to today’s economic uncertainty, just as the World War II Victory Gardens were 65 years ago when fuel rationing made it difficult to harvest fruits and vegetables and transport them from the farms to the city. Back during that time almost 20 million people, many of whom had no idea how to plant seeds or use a hoe, grew a Victory Garden. It is estimated these gardens produced an amazing 8 million tons of food representing 40 percent of all the vegetables that were consumed.

Gayla Trail of Toronto, Canada is an adventurous city gardener with three different urban gardens. The rooftop of her apartment building has containers of all shapes and sizes filled with a bountiful selection of herbs, vegetables, fruit plants, and edible flowers. Heirloom tomatoes, lettuce and other greens, hot peppers, and a variety of basils along with raspberries, strawberries, violas and nasturtiums provide a harvest of delicious food from spring through fall.

In a nearby vacant lot, Gayla’s “guerilla garden” has sprung from the dead, contaminated soil of the inner city. It is filled with drought tolerant perennials that can withstand the lack of water and threats of growing in an urban area. While many of her neighbors have come to appreciate the beauty of the garden, there are others who take the flowers and damage the plants. Despite setbacks, Gayla continues to care for and replenish the garden as her personal contribution to creating green space in any area where there isn’t much to look at.

Gayla’s third garden is in a community garden, which gives her the opportunity to grow vegetables in the ground and to enjoy the interaction with other gardeners. Any extra produce that she cannot use is often traded with another gardener or given away to friends and neighbors.

Gardening has changed many of Gayla’s perceptions about the environment, making her more aware of the changes that come with each season. Like many others who enjoy nature, Gayla finds gardening is good for her spirit. Where there is not a lot of greenery, her garden has created a green space where “I have the opportunity every day to step out on my roof and enjoy nature.”

Urban Gardens
A new and often extreme approach to vegetable gardening is occurring in cities across the U.S. and Canada. Urbanites are replacing lawns, even entire front yards, with vegetable gardens. Supporters of these “mini-farms” feel growing food is a better use of land and water resources than cultivating an expanse of grass. In addition to growing vegetables for personal consumption, many of these urban farmers are generating income by selling their produce at farmers markets or to restaurants. However, these front yard gardens are not without controversy as neighbors and homeowner’s associations may oppose them saying the vegetable gardens detract from the general appearance of the neighborhood.

Community Gardens
Community gardens offer many city dwellers access to land where they can grow their own productive garden. As food costs rise, families, especially those with a low or limited income, find that fresh vegetables and fruits become unaffordable. Community gardens not only provide fresh, nutritious produce for nearby residents, they offer a place for the neighborhood to come together and interact, and bring a sense of pride and ownership to the community. Some community gardens are specifically for children to help them understand the importance of where their food comes from, ecology and to make a connection with nature; while others use the garden as a way for kids to earn money by selling the fresh vegetables they have grown.

Benefits of Gardening in the City
Whether it’s a small backyard garden, containers on a rooftop or a large community garden, urban gardens contribute to the community in many ways. The green space adds to the quality of life in the city and can contribute to increased property values. It is estimated that green vegetation reflects as much as 25% of the sun’s radiation, reducing the heat island effect found in cities. Gardens also provide areas for rain runoff, minimizing soil erosion as well as recycling water back into the environment. The open space, food and water found in a garden provide important areas for wildlife inhabiting urban areas.

Help Feed the Hungry
We hope all successful gardeners will consider donating excess garden fruits and vegetables to Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR), an excellent program based on the simple concept of people helping people. If every gardener plants one extra row of vegetables and donates their surplus to local food banks and soup kitchens, a significant impact can be made on reducing hunger. Food agencies will have access to fresh produce and the hungry of America will have more and better food than is presently available.

PAR’s role is to provide focus, direction, and support to volunteer committees. They coordinate the local food collection system and monitor the volume of donations being conveyed to the soup kitchens and food banks. PAR is proving that every individual can make a difference in his/her community. For more information please visitwww.gardenwriters.org/par or call toll-free 877.492.2727 or email Par@gardenwriters.org. PAR is sponsored by the GWA Foundation.

For More Information
Seed companies, garden centers, books, magazines, and gardening websites provide a wealth of information about garden designs, variety selection, gardening techniques, harvesting and even recipes. The National Garden Bureau’s website (www.ngb.org) has a gardening section filled with fact sheets containing detailed information about growing a variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers. Your local county extension office has extensive resources about gardening specific to your area of the country. To locate an extension office near you, go towww.csrees.usda.gov/Extension. Or if you are interested in community gardens including locations in your area, visit the American Community Gardening Association at www.communitygarden.org.

Urban areas offer as many ways to garden as there are people who live there. Start small, have fun and enjoy all the benefits of growing your own, healthy and flavorful fresh vegetables.

Herbs At The Name Game

Etymology (the history of a word; tracing its development and transmission from one language to another) is fascinating. And nowhere more so than in the names of herbs—culinary, medicinal, dye, and other useful plants. Many herb names (botanic and/or common) have their roots in Latin or Greek. This often reflects its original purpose, which may be quite different from the modern application.

The common name of a plant can vary from region to region and country to country while the botanic name is the same throughout the world—only the accent varies. Of course, what can be tricky is that the derivation of the moniker, such as bloom time, may hold true in the region where it was named, but varies in other climates and latitudes. For clarity, the best-known common name as well as the botanic name are included here so that we are all focused on the same plant.

Carl von Linné, the Swedish botanist (1707-1778), who introduced botanical nomenclature (all those Latin words which can seem like Greek to many of us), even gave himself a Latin name—Carolus Linnaeus. One of his projects was a planted floral clock. He included chicory (Cichorium intybus) because its blue flowers reliably open and close their petals at the same time every day. Four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) owe their appellation to him, as in Sweden they open at four o’clock in the afternoon. However, most American gardeners cannot synchronize their watches to these fragrant, evening bloomers, as they open much later in the day—generally at dusk. Four o’clocks are not herbs—although the loose definition of an herb is a useful plant. However, the four o’clocks in my garden that are getting ready to bloom begged to be included; would you dare to jinx a plant?

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is derived from the Latin calensmeaning “the first day of each month,” since it can bloom every month of the year in mild regions. Another common name, pot marigold, came from the fact that calendulas were often grown in containers, andmarygold—the name early Christians gave it as it bloomed at the time of all the festivals that celebrate the Virgin Mary. Calendula’s culinary roots date back to ancient Rome when the use of saffron (the powdered stigmas of the exotic saffron crocus, Crocus sativus) was a sign of wealth and power. The common people couldn’t afford to buy “pure gold,” but they discovered that powdered calendula petals were an excellent culinary substitute. Hence, another common name—poor man’s saffron—as chopped calendula petals (fresh or dried) infuse food with the same golden color and slightly acrid flavor as the expensive saffron.

Sage is derived from the Latin salvare, meaning “to save.” For centuries, sage was reputed to have great curative and healing properties. The old Latin proverb, “Cur moriatur homo, ciu calvia crescit in horto?” (“Why should a man die while sage grows in his garden?”), pays homage to the high esteem in which the herb was held.

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) gets its common name from the Latinnasus for “nose” and torquere, which translates “to twist.”Nasturtiums certainly are nose twisters, although whether this refers to the fragrance of the plant or the peppery quality of the leaves and edible flowers that can twitch the nose is uncertain.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) and its Allium relatives have been honored herbs for millennia. The botanic species name is derived from the Greek schoinos, meaning “rush,” and prason for “leek.” Indeed, the hollow narrow stems do resemble a stand of rushes and have the same oniony scent and flavor as their cousin, the leek.

Borage is likely a derivation from the Latin burra meaning “a shaggy garment,” referring to the rough foliage of this lovely herb once believed to have great powers. According to Pliny the Elder (noted Roman scientist, 23–79 A.D.), it brought happiness and joy wherever it grew. In Gerard’s Herball, published in 1597, Gerard quotes the belief carried down from the Greeks and Romans, “I, Borage, bring always Courage.”

Pliny named the pungent herb Rosmarinus, a Latin derivation of ros maris meaning “sea dew,” for its native habitat—the rocky coasts of the Mediterranean. Purportedly, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis—the wordofficinalis is a nod to a plant’s medicinal use) can restore memory. Its role has varied over the millennia—to bring good luck, fend off witches, and disinfect the air.

The botanic name—Origanum vulgaris—and the common name—oregano (also known as wild marjoram)—have the same Greek roots.Oros is “mountain” and ganos means “joy.” The purplish-red tufts of flowers are indeed a joy to behold—spectacular on their native Mediterranean hillsides. Such a sight must evoke a smile; historically, oregano has been a symbol of happiness. In both ancient Greece and Rome, the bride and groom wore wreaths of oregano to symbolize the joy of their union.

Dill derives its name from the Old Norse word dilla, meaning “to lull.” The oil derived from the seed has long been used to soothe colicky babies and settle adult digestive upsets. Ancient Romans wove the yellow flowers into wreaths that served a double duty in their banquet halls. The pretty decorations had a unique aroma, which was at the same time fresh and spicy. Perhaps we would be better off using dill flowers than electric “plug-in” air fresheners for our homes.

Technically speaking, dill seeds are not an herb; they are a spice. Generally an herb comes from the leaves of a temperate-climate, herbaceous (non-woody) plant, while a spice comes from the bark or seeds of a tropical tree. So it follows that dillweed (leaves) is an herb, while the seed is a spice. Dill is not the only herb to have a dual personality. Mustard does too—the greens are a culinary herb, while the seeds are the spice that is ground into the pungent paste most commonly slathered on hot dogs. In the case of cilantro/coriander(Coriander sativum), the same plant has two different names, depending on what you harvest. Cilantro leaves are a popular herb used in Mexican and Asian cuisines, while coriander seeds—the spice—are most popular in Middle Eastern and Indian cookery.

Herbs continue to increase in popularity. Novice and expert gardeners realize there is a vast amount to learn about herbs, spices and the difference between the two.

This Vegetables The Fresher The Better

Even in the dead of winter, you can recall the juiciness and delightful sweetness that burst forth in your mouth, as you tasted the first sun-warmed cherry tomato picked straight from your garden. The first bite is most memorable, yet the superb flavor is there in every tomato you harvest through the season. In fact, the quintessence of any homegrown vegetable or fruit is superior to comparable store-bought veggies, or even those purchased at a farm stand. The fresher, the better—taste, texture, and especially nutrients.

While small vegetable plants are available at garden centers, nurseries, or stores, often these plants have been stressed or outgrown their pots. It is less expensive to buy a pack of seeds, which may contain dozens of seeds, than a tomato plant. Growing from seed is so much more rewarding; sowing the seeds, keeping the soil lightly moist, waiting for the first signs of life emerging from the soil, nurturing the plant as it grows, feeding, weeding, pruning, and finally harvesting the fruits of your labor. For some people, the idea of growing vegetables from seed is daunting. Yet it shouldn’t be. It’s easy when you sow the seeds outdoors at the proper time, rather than starting them inside. A few veggies may be challenging to grow, needing special soil preparation, or may not be suitable for your environment, so focus on the easy ones like beans, tomatoes or squash. Most seed packets have all the information you’ll need to grow the plants: a United States map showing ideal planting time, planting directions, how long it has to grow before harvesting, and more. Taking the time to read the information on the packet, in the catalog or on the net before buying will help you choose the right variety for your garden.

Many gardeners prefer seed. The choice of varieties seems limitless, whereas the selection of small plants or starts is limited. For example, there may be as many as ten different tomato plant varieties (often less) at the garden center, while you can find a greater variety of tomato seeds on the revolving racks and shelves inside the store. For an even greater selection, check out seed catalogs; or you can find most of the seed companies on the Internet. Between the luscious color photos and the lively description online or in print, you can practically conjure up the flavor of the tomato and the tangy scent of the stems and leaves. There are even two mail-order companies that specialize in tomatoes—offering more than 400 varieties. From raisin-size currant tomatoes to two-pound beefsteaks, tomatoes come in a range of sizes, shapes, and colors and hues—yellow, red, orange, green, and purple—solid color, striped, or bicolor. The choices are many and varied—but only if you choose to grow them from seed. Seeds planted directly in the garden will usually catch up quickly with transplants purchased or started indoors. An easy way to add early color to the garden is painting the tomato stakes or tomato cages bright colors—yellow, blue, orange, purple, even gold or silver.

Exciting and unusual forms and colors exist in many vegetables: yellow or purple carrots, red celery, purple-podded beans, purple Brussels sprouts, red and white (like a peppermint stick) beets, yellow lemon-shaped cucumbers, white eggplant, and others are only available from seed. There are so many colors and flavors in these diverse varieties that you would miss out on some remarkable veggies if you didn’t grow from seed.

It’s surprising how few people—adults and children alike—really know where vegetables come from: Mother Earth. In this day and age, when inch-and-a-half peeled carrots come in lunch-size plastic bags, anyone would be hard-pressed to conceive that carrots are a root vegetable grown in the soil. Children are the gardeners of the future; encourage them to take part in the total vegetable gardening experience. Too many children have been relegated to weeding, and grow up without an appreciation of gardening. Yet, when kids plant seeds, nurture them, and finally get to harvest the vegetables, they are in awe. Watch a child’s eyes pop as a carrot emerges from the soil when he pulls on the greens.

Interestingly, children who grow vegetables they normally spurn on the dinner table—even broccoli and spinach—will eat their own homegrown veggies. Kids will munch them in the garden; keep a source of water nearby for rinsing before eating.

It’s easy to share the “secrets” of gardening casually with friends and neighbors—learning by imitation. Integrate vegetables into a front or backyard garden for edible pizzazz. Use your imagination. For instance, line your walkway with mixed salad greens. Toss an assortment of seeds: non-heading lettuces, spinach, dill, corn salad, red mustard, cilantro, mizuna, and curly endive all together in a bowl, and then sprinkle the seeds on bare soil. Within a few weeks, the seedlings need thinning. Cut off the roots and they’re perfect for a salad. You’ll find neighbors who are curious about the plantings. Let them have a taste. Encourage them to stop by in the late afternoons to help themselves to some fresh greens for dinner. The only rule is to only take as many leaves or stems as you need for immediate use, harvesting one or two outer leaves from any plant. It’s fun for them, as well as educational.

Growing vegetables brings out the best in all of us. Our nourishing instinct, patience, sharing, serenity, and a connection to the Earth and soil, and, of course, all the exercise involved, provide the best reward—food. Vegetable gardening from seed has a positive effect on all our senses. Sight – watching the seed grow from planting to harvest. Smell – the sweet perfume of a ripe melon. Taste – the superior flavor of fresh-picked veggies. Touch – the feel of the prickly skin of a pickling cucumber. Sound – if you sit quietly in the late afternoon, you really can hear the corn grow.

Nurturing Seed

The tragic events of the 11th of September 2001 changed the world, the way we view it, and how we relate to it. In the aftermath, more and more people are seeking solace and tranquility-their own quiet personal space. Many have turned to gardening for solace. Any time spent in the garden is beneficial-to the gardener, humanity in general, and to the Earth.

With all of the various aspects to gardening, it affords universal appeal-to young and old, males and females, beginners and experienced gardeners. Gardening affects people in a variety of positive ways. It can be calming, soothing to the soul, clearing the mind at the end of a day (explore the Zen of weeding and pruning).

As far as I’m concerned, anyone who gets his hands in the soil is a gardener. The very contact of skin with the soil helps to ground us (literally and figuratively) to the Earth. Getting down and dirty working in a garden-from planting seeds to watering them, from feeding plants to managing pests and diseases, and even cutting flowers to enjoy indoors-is one of the healthiest pastimes to engage in. Gardening incorporates good exercise with relaxation. Time in the sun supplies natural vitamin D.

Growing flowers has some distinct advantages. The colors show off an area, inviting us outdoors to admire them. Blossoms encourage us to slow down, admire, and smell the flowers. Flowers can set the mood. Bright hot colors-red, orange, yellow-add pizzazz, while cool colors-white, blue, purple-tone it down, which can be refreshing in the heat of summer.

It is “a good thing,” whether purchasing seedlings, small plants, or starting them yourself from seed. Yet it somehow feels more rewarding when growing the flowers from seed. The process brings out many of our good personality traits that are often concealed under the outward visage of today’s harried, stressed life.

Planting a seed brings out nurturing instincts. As the seed germinates and grows, it’s impossible not to become attached to the plant-if you want it to survive and thrive. With each passing day, your emotional investment in the plant grows, as does the plant. And then, the first flower bud appears and opens its petals. It’s so exciting! That first blossom is the ultimate reward for your diligence-a wonderful sense of accomplishment boosting your self-esteem. The enjoyment and feeling of fulfillment continues as the days and weeks pass and flowering keeps going.

If this is fun for adults, imagine how exciting it can be for a child to witness the wonders of nature firsthand. However, too many adults don’t have fond childhood memories of themselves in the garden; their parents gave them chores such as weeding or watering. To a child, chores are not fun; they are to be avoided if at all possible.

Give a child a sunflower seed and tell him or her that before long, the seed will turn into a plant that will grow so tall as to tower over him or her. Unbelievable but true! Sunflowers are the best flowers for children to grow. Their fast growth habit is impressive and will keep the child’s interest. Adults, who fondly remember time in the garden as children, often recall starting out with a sunflower seed. The gardening experience was so significant that it is permanently etched in their minds.

Adults can get as much pleasure from growing sunflowers as a child does. The dinner-plate flowers are extraordinary in varied hues of yellow-some marked with green, brown, or red. Yet all sunflowers are not mammoth giants. Their height can range from two to twelve feet or more, depending on the variety. Excellent and long lasting as cut flowers-striking in a vase-whether solo or as a bouquet. Sunflowers are unique for their delicious seeds.

A planting that includes the five following flowers-all members of the daisy family-is guaranteed to enliven any garden from late spring to frost. Old-fashioned flowers (and newer cultivars), they all grow relatively tall-three to four feet (with some lower-growing varieties), and are good as cut flowers. In fact, cutting flowering stems actually encourages more blooms. Best of all, each is easy to grow from seed planted directly in the garden. Although the seeds can be sown indoors and then transplanted into the garden after spring thaw, it is easier and more reliable to start them outside. In addition, they all have the tendency to self-sow; it is often only necessary to plant seeds the first year as they may come back. Take photos of the seedlings as they emerge from the soil to provide a reference for the following spring, preventing accidentally weeding out “good” plants.

Zinnias, Zinnia elegans, (pronounced zeen-yuz in the Midwest and South, and zin-ee-uhs in the East and West) are also exceptional cut flowers. Old-fashioned varieties can reach two and one-half to three feet-right at a child’s eye level. Even a small planting of zinnias creates a riot of color in deep reds, oranges, magentas, pinks, and even some bicolors-all summer long. Although often included in a cutting garden, if space is limited, a small planting provides enough flowers to enjoy indoors while painting a pretty picture in the garden.

Traditional bachelor’s-buttons, Centaurea cyanus, are sky blue, resembling chicory that grows wild along roadways in late spring and summer. The one-inch-wide flowers have a somewhat shaggy look with their roughly overlapping petals. Newer cultivar colors are white, pink, and maroon.

Mexican sunflowers, Tithonia rotundifolia, (also called Mexican hats) are not sunflowers, yet their vivid orange, two- to four-inch, daisylike blooms rival the impact of sunflowers. There are short or tall varieties available. In rich soil with ample space, a single tall plant can be mistaken for a shrub at 6 feet. Cultivars come in varying shades of orange, and, more recently, yellow.

Cosmos bipinnatus (Mexican asters) have a lovely light, airy look with their dainty, fernlike foliage and daisylike flowers. Traditionally, the flower colors are pink, white, or magenta, all with yellow centers. Cosmos add a cool touch to the garden. Orange blooms are now part of the color palette.

Lastly, remember to include Gloriosa daisies, Rudbeckia hirta. Resembling Black-Eyed Susans, they harmonize well with Mexican sunflowers, orange cosmos, and sunflowers-each with a similar form, distinguished by flower size and hue.

All of these easy-to-grow flowers can be found in mail order catalogs or seed packet racks in retail stores. Go to the Member Directory in www.ngb.org to locate retail seed sources.