Early peas and cabbage

Early peas and cabbage

It’s slightly more complicated than your fourth grade biology project, but a whole lot more rewarding: starting your own garden plants from seed indoors.

“It’s a lot of fun,” says veteran gardener Tina Beneman. “There’s nothing more exciting than seeing the seeds sprout, especially when everything outside is dormant and gray.”

For years Beneman has been starting seeds for everything from vegetables to annuals and perennials. One reason is cost. “I love abundance but the cost a packet of seeds versus what you’d pay to buy the plants is incredible.”

Starting your own offers a much broader choice of varieties too. Though garden centers are rapidly expanding their plant and seed varieties, few will offer things like fluted Costoluto Genovese Tomato, Bolivian Rainbow Pepper, or Ragged Robin ‘Jenny’ (Lychniss flos-cuculi), a retrieved Elizabethan favorite whose blossoms are a scrim of tattered pink pompoms.

“When you get the seed and start plants yourself, you can get exactly the varieties that you want,” says Mark Willis, vegetable seed production manager at Harris Seeds in Rochester, NY.

Catalogues, whose jewel-like photos beckon with promises of gorgeous summer gardens and marvelous meals, offer a fantastic range of choices. In addition, many also offer recipes, generations-old garden wisdom, and mini-portraits of vegies, flowers, and herbs, including plant history, seed provenance, taste and hints on cultivation. Yet the wealth of choices can be overwhelming. To winnow, consider what you really want in your garden and on your table.

Heirloom tomatoes just waiting for meals

Heirloom tomatoes just waiting for meals

“We can get a lot more variety through local farmers’ markets now,” notes Ellen Ogden, former owner of The Cook’s Garden in Warminster, PA. “So I chose what to plant [at home] based on what I like to cook and can’t get at the local farmer’s market [or supermarket].”

In addition to salad greens and annual herbs for daily harvest, Ogden always plants Sungold Tomatoes, which can be hard to find in garden centers, and Bright Lights Swiss Chard, which is beautiful, delicious, and produces for months.

Rainbow Swiss Chard, courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange

Rainbow Swiss Chard, courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange

“You can also choose what to plant based on your garden size, location, and soil type,” says Erica Renaud, home gardener and research farmer at Seeds of Change. A north-facing garden will do better with spinach and salad greens than with sun-worshipers like eggplant, basil, tomatoes and squash. Soil type matters too. “Carrots grown in the clay soil I had when I lived in Ohio just didn’t taste good,” says Renaud.

“It’s a good idea to check with your extension service to find out what varieties do best here and what ones not to plant,” suggests Cindy King, horticulturist at Kingstown Farm Home and Garden Center in Chestertown, MD.

“We’re so lucky in Maryland. All the tomatoes grow well,” says Jon Traunfeld of the MD Cooperative Extension Service. Even so, Traunfeld has some favorites: Amish Paste and San Remo paste for sauce. Celebrity, a good all-round tomato whose plants grow a manageable 4-5 feet tall, Rutgers, Jetstar and Big Beef are good slicers. In heirlooms, he recommends the early-fruiting Russians — Black Krim and Black Tula.

“Prudence Purple is like Brandywine but seems to produce better than Brandywine,” he says. “And we’ve had really good luck with Golden Queen, a yellow tomato from Landis Valley Farm Museum in Lancaster Co. It’s smooth, doesn’t crack and has really good flavor.”

Traunfeld says all eggplant varieties do equally well here in Maryland, but recommends the Italian frying peppers over the bells, which take longer to ripen and don’t produce as prolifically as the Italians. The Italian frying peppers are also beautiful.

Pingtung-long eggplant courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange

Pingtung-long eggplant courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange

“They come in different colors when ripe,” he says. “And they have very

thin skin not like the thicker skin of the bells.” Marconi and Corno di toro (bull‘s horn) peppers are trusted favorites.

In choosing what to try starting from seed, consider production factors, too. If you have limited indoor growing space as well as limited garden space, you may want to forego the Brassicas [broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts], which take lots of room and produce lots less food per plant than tomatoes and peppers, which keep coming and coming. And remember: something old; something new works for the garden too.

“I always try a little something new to keep experimenting both in the garden and in the kitchen,” says Renaud.

Start peppers, which are slow to germinate and grow indoors, 10-12 weeks from when you plan to set them out about mid-May.

“Start eggplant maybe 10 weeks before you put them out,” advises Traunfeld. “And tomatoes only need about 6 weeks.”

“I’ve learned a lot about plants just by starting seed indoors and watching them grow,” says Beneman. “You get an intuitive understanding about what they need. And you don’t have to contend with rabbits and deer and other attackers – at least until you put them in the ground!”

Catalogue Sources for Seeds

(Some also have seed starting supplies).

Seed Savers Exchange, 3094 North Winn Rd., Decorah, IA 52101, 563-382-5990



Harris Seeds, 355 Paul Rd., P.O. Box 24966, Rochester, NY 14624-0966, 800-544-7938



Seeds of Change, P.O. Box 4908, Rancho Dominguez, CA 90220, 888-762-7333



Select Seeds, 180 Stickney Hill Rd., Union CT 06076-4617, 800-684-0395



Burpee, Warminster, PA 18974, 800-888-1447


Early peas and cabbage

Early peas and cabbage


Seed Starting

The best way to grow the exact varieties you want is to start your own transplants from seed indoors. Equipment can range from the simple (small tabletop germination station at $20) to a major investment. Regardless of scale, there are four keys to success.

“Start with a good quality seed starting mix,” says Mark Willis, vegetable seed production manager at Harris Seeds in Rochester, NY. Some mixes are sterile to prevent inadvertent disease and bacteria infestations. Others include micro-nutrients provided by worm castings and mealworm guano. Also make sure containers are sterile.

Tomatoes seeded March 15 last year (2015)

Tomatoes seeded March 15 last year (2015)

To germinate well, seeds need bottom heat, which can be supplied by the top of the frig or a heat mat. Once seedlings have popped through, unplug the mat.<

Light is critical for sturdy transplants.

“You want at least 10-12 hours of direct natural light,” says Willis, “or supplement with full spectrum florescent lights.” Artificial light should stay within two inches of plant tops. If light is weak, or too far away, seedlings will ‘stretch’ (grow tall and weak-stemmed).

Seedlings need to be kept just-moist, never sodden. Too much moisture will cause tender plants to rot and die off.

Finally, plant early but not too early. “You have to calculate backwards from the outdoor planting date so you’re not trying to hold transplants in the house too long,” says Thierer. “We have handouts to tell when to plant which seeds, when to start hardening them off and when to plant out.”


Gardens Alive!

5100 Schenley Place, Lawrenceburg, IN 47025, 513-354-1482


This place has the best seed starting mix I’ve ever tried.


Maryland Local Garden Centers

seeds and seed starting supplies:

Behnke Nurseries, 11300 Baltimore Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705, 301-937-1100


They also have a month-by-month to-do list for gardeners


Valley View Farms, 11035 York Rd., Cockeysville, MD, 410-527-0700



Kingsdene Nurseries and Garden Center, 16435 York Rd., Monkton, MD 21111, 410-343-1150



Homestead Gardens, 743 W. Central Ave., Davidsonville, MD, 410-798-5000



Kingstown Farm, Home, and Garden Center, 7121 Church Hill Rd., Chestertown, MD 21620,

410-778-1551, kingstown farm home and garden

  • This article first appeared in The Baltimore Sun


NFB ctr delft bl muscari

Delft muscari –perfectly masculine!


For a long time, REAL MEN not only didn’t eat quiche, they didn’t get flowers. Imagine John Wayne on the receiving end of a dozen long-stemmed red roses.

Enter bright-eyed delivery boy with the bouquet.

Wayne, scowling: “Wal, whuddaya got THERE?”

Delivery boy, wilting slightly: “Roses, Sir.”

Wayne, leaning forward menacingly: “Wal, who are they FOR?”

Delivery boy, now shaking in his boots: “You, sir?”

Wayne, swaggering across the room to snatch the roses, stabbing himself painfully on the thorns – though he won’t let on – and stuffing them head down into the trash: “The hell they are!”

Nope. No flowers for men in Wayne’s day. But times change. Today, some florists estimate that 20-25% of their delivery calls are for men.

“There’s been a real upsurge in the last couple of years,” notes Lynn Green at National Flora, a nationwide floral delivery service. “Last Valentines Day, particularly, there were quite a few women ordering for men.”

Chris Wilkins, owner of Flowers by Michael in Baltimore, agrees.

“I’ve seen a definite change, especially in the last 5-6 years,” says Wilkins, who has been in the business for two decades. “Flowers used to be considered a feminine gift. Men would feel terribly embarrassed. But this whole push on men being more sensitive has had an effect.”

Maybe men are more sensitive, or more confident in their masculinity. Maybe it’s generational – few older men admit to ever having received flowers (and a couple snarled that they wouldn’t want them, either, when I asked). Or maybe, the more that men get flowers, the more acceptable it becomes. Shipwright Richard Emory remembers the first time he was given flowers. He had sent a bouquet to a (then) girlfriend who reciprocated by picking a bunch of flowers, putting them in a canning jar and leaving them on his doorstep.

“At first, I thought: “Hey, guys don’t get flowers,”” he remembers. “It’s that macho thing. But I liked it. I was flattered.”

Phaelanopsis 3

Phaelanopsis for quiet, sensitive types


One reason for men’s changing attitude is society’s gradual redefinition of what constitutes exclusively male or female behavior. Men are no longer the only ones who slay the dragons, and women aren’t the only ones who appreciate a loving gesture.

“Gender roles have been changing,” observes Laura Moore, PhD candidate in gender and equality roles at University of Maryland. “The attitude about men and women and their roles has been merging over time. Some men appreciate women taking on a more assertive role.”

Yet even if they appreciate a woman’s assertiveness, some men may be embarrassed by a public display. An understanding of the individual man – or a little lucky guesswork – goes a long way toward making the gift successful. Some men love flowers at work, while others prefer a more private sign of affection.

“I dig it [at work] because I tell everybody it came from a chick,” says Gregg Henderson of Country Floral Supply. “I boost that whole male ego thing.”

Editor Steve Millburg, received his first flowers at his office, which was overwhelmingly male.

“I got teased about it some,” he laughs, but notes that in the ribbing, there was also a little envy.   “I don’t know of any man who’s ever gotten flowers who hasn’t had this goofy little grin on his face,” he says, “no matter how much teasing he got.”

Businessman Jack Handy has received flowers at work from his wife.

“It was fun,” says Handy. “Where I work, the atmosphere is friendly, so I wasn’t upset by it at all. I’m not sure everyone would feel the same way.”

“It can either be a bragging tool or it can be a sissifying type of present,” agrees Laura Moore. “You really have to think about the man receiving it.”

“Lots of people send Valentine flowers to the office,” says Chris Wilkins. “This year, we’ll make a lot of our Valentine’s Day deliveries on Friday so the recipient will get them at work.”

The visible sign – which can be simultaneously claiming and honoring – is important to both sexes. But there is still a difference in how men and women receive a public gesture.
“Men really want wives and girlfriends to get flowers at work,” says Wilkins, “but I’d say 50% of guys would rather get them at home.”


Christmas cactus.JPG

Christmas cactus, for a macho macho macho man.

  1. Consider the Context

“If it was a very testosterone-y area, a construction site [for example] and he’s going to have to hear it from the guys you have to consider: is that going to be good or bad?”   says Laura Moore.

  1. Consider the Man

“Some would really rather have something more guyish, like electronic equipment,” Moore observes.
In response to the need for ‘guyish’ things, many florists also offer plants, balloons, and gift baskets that appeal to men.

“Food is always popular for men,” says Karen Hayes of Florist Network.   “We have a junk food basket and we can send beer. It’s perfect for something like the Superbowl.”

  1. Consider the Flowers Themselves


    Echinacea for outdoorsy, environmentalists

Though most people have long forgotten what individual flowers are supposed to represent, there is still a vague sense of the significance of red roses, which have always signified passionate love.

“I might look sideways at a bouquet of red roses from a friend,” says Jack Handy. “I’d think: either she doesn’t know what’s going on, or I’ve got a problem!”

However, Karen Hayes offers another perspective.

“A common question we get is what the flowers mean,” she says. “I always say that doesn’t really matter. What matters is what it says on the card.”



Flowers by Michael

12058 Glen Arm Rd

Glen Arm, MD 21057

410- 593-7187






Gordon Florist, Inc.

6707 York Road Baltimore, MD 21212
410-467-6116 /800-541-2372

Bloomin’ Wild

335a High St, Chestertown, MD 21620 · (410) 778-5300

Flowers n Things

302 Cedar Street
Cambridge, MD 21613
(410) 228-6331
National Flora Delivery.com



If perchance the man in your life has a favorite flower, send that. Husbands and boyfriends often get red roses for Valentines’ Day.   For a less romantic, more light-hearted gesture, some women send one balloon and one rose. There is a whole language of flowers, which goes back to medieval times and was brought to a hyperbolic boil in the Victorian era. Internet Florist (www.iflorist.com or 800-600-9882) has a list of flower meanings beginning with acacia ( concealed love) and ending with white zinnia (goodness). Two books, The Meaning of Flowers, by Gretchen Soble, and Tussie Mussies: The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in the Language of Flowers by Gerladine Adarnich Laufer offer specifics too.

Barring such detailed research, plants and balloons are popular for men as which is a fruit basket, or a specialty basket designed for the fisherman, golfer, or football fan.

  • This article first appeared in The Baltimore Sunpapers Home and Family section in 2011




Bad photo of stocked pantry

Darkish photo of stocked pantry

One of the reasons I love to can is the bounty you end up with in the dead of winter. As long as there are jars of last year’s produce safely tucked away on the pantry shelves, I feel safe (smug even) when the weatherman starts talking about Snowmageddon and urges everyone to rush out to stores. I must admit, I made sure the wine and chocolate were sufficient to a few days’ cabin fever – but otherwise, we were pretty much good to go with what I had stockpiled from last year’s garden.

I know a lot of people don’t can tomatoes – they freeze them instead. But I do both – partly for space (only so much on the pantry shelves, only so much in the freezer) and partly for flavor and convenience of use. I like the flavor of canned tomatoes and you don’t have to thaw them. I can quart and pint jars of tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, salsa V-8 (or my equivalent) and Bloody Mary mix, which is just as delicious in soup as in vodka.

Pantry produce for the soup pot

Pantry produce for the soup pot

There are pickled dilly green beans, which are nice when someone stops in for cocktails – also one of the imperatives when someone slogs through snow or mud to come visit because they’re going nuts at home after several days of shoveling. There are also dried herbs – oregano is particularly easy as is thyme and they taste so much fresher and more flavorful if you do it yourself – and dried beans – calypso beans and tiger’s eye, which I particularly like. (My husband very sweetly shells them out in the evening in late fall).

Sauteed leeks, onions and celery for tomato white wine soup

Sauteed leeks, onions and celery for tomato white wine soup

To complement these home-grown and home-canned things, I stock other dried peas, beans and lentils and tins of things like sardines and tuna, chipotle peppers, and anchovies.There are jars of bread and butter pickles (which is lovely on a tuna melt to say nothing of with chicken sausage or turkey sandwiches or just out of the jar for a sweet-sour snack), pickled lemon peppers for adding to virtually anything needing a little kick, and lemon peppers in sherry for black bean soup, curried red pepper jelly (a great hostess gift when you’re rushing out the door to a party your forgot you were invited to) and great on goat cheese and crackers or mixed into venison stew. There’s raspberry jam, raspberry shrub and raspberry vinegar.  Tomato bullion, a spicy mix of tomatoes, onions, black pepper, a little brown sugar and celery seed is called Ma Comp’s Soup Seasoning in Maryland’s Way Cookbook. A couple of tablespoons in a mug of hot water is a delicious and quick mid-morning pick-me-up.

Tomato white wine soup about to simmer

Tomato white wine soup about to simmer

I freeze a lot of things too, and not just the things that aren’t safe to can in a water bath. Last year I had plenty of tomatoes and peppers and so sautéed a kind of quick sofrito, a tomato-pepper-onion seasoning you can pull out and throw into a frying pan full of chicken or chorizo and rice with a little white wine and have supper in no time flat. I also did something I saw on TV years ago – put about four large tomatoes and one big onion into a Dutch oven with about 2-3 tablespoons of melted butter and let the whole thing simmer on the lowest possible heat until it’s all soft. Maybe 35 minutes. Puree it, cool it and stick it in the freezer in a quart bag or container. Pull it out to make a quick vodka sauce for pasta, or in my case, use it as the very quick base for red pepper soup. I happened to find three beautiful fresh red peppers (when I went back out to the grocery story AFTER everyone had picked the shelves pretty clean), chopped them up, threw them with three cloves of chopped garlic into a pot of that tomato-onion-butter base along with a chicken bullion cube and voila! Soup!

Tomato-and-onion soup base

Tomato-and-onion soup base

Why am I gloating? (AM I gloating?  I like to think of it as encouragement). Because NOW is the best time to start planning what you can plant to have a full pantry next winter, when Snowmageddon 2017 comes. The seed catalogues are here now, you can look with starry-eyed wonder at the perfect garden that you will plant (in your dreams), and you might be looking around your pantry – or whatever shelves or storage you have for what they could hold. (Marisa in Philly keeps hers in the closet along with her shoes).

Having a stocked pantry, or closet or whatever is like money in the bank.


Meyer lemon and lime trees in greenhouse

Meyer lemon and lime trees in greenhouse

Three years ago, I fell victim to a sale for something I really didn’t need. Well let’s face it, many of us do. This one was from Logee’s Plants for Home and Garden in Connecticut. It offered a three-fer on little citrus trees. It was like I’d been sucker-punched and went into an auto-order daze. I love Meyer lemons. They cost the moon in the shops — when you can even find them — and limes are a staple here for all kinds of reasons (gin and tonic in the summer being one, fish tacos another). I bought three little trees – a Meyer lemon, a sweet lime and a key lime — in a daze of bargainry, not really thinking about how I’d look after them or the limited space in the small backyard greenhouse that I use primarily to start my vegetable seedlings.


I’ve left the trees outside in summer. The first year I brought them into the greenhouse for winter they were only mildly crowded with the vegetable seedlings. Last spring I repotted them (how they’ve grown, I’m so proud!). Now, it’s like I’m trying to cram a four-pound sausage into a two-pound casing and I’m not sure how I’m going to have room to grow all the little seedlings for the garden while they’re still there until the weather warms enough to shove them outside again. But that worry is for another day (coming soon).Meyer lemons and the fruits of our labor


At the moment they’re feeling peaky, what with a little bacterial mold (aphid-borne, I’m guessing) and a lack of moisture on the leaves. (They loved it when I hauled them outside on a warm day in December and vigorously hosed off their leaves, but they are as large as I can manage on my own, and even then, I purposely let the root ball dry out a little to make them lighter — every gardener needs a cast-iron back with a hinge in it). I’ll hit them again with an insecticidal soap this weekend and hope for the best.


Despite being a semi-clueless tree-mom, those little guys have been generous. We’ve got a bag of little key limes in the crisper, though we’ve finished the 30 or so sweet limes the lime tree gave us. (Not all on gin and tonics, honest). But the Meyer lemon was the start — 40 sweet fruits! I made preserved lemons to use in a Moroccan lamb recipe I’ve been eying for some time, and Meyer lemon curd and Meyer lemon marmalade. But mostly, I’ve been making little Meyer lemon sponge custards. They’re a super little dessert or breakfast. Tartish, sweetish, delicious and, I gotta believe, good for you.


Meyer Lemon Sponge Custard


3 Meyer lemons

¾ cup sugar

2 Tblsp butter

3 Tblsp flour

½ cup whole milk

2-3 eggs, separated


Preheat oven at 325-350. Butter 6 custard cups and put in a bain marie (a water bath in a Pyrex dish or something like it – water about halfway up the sides of the cups). Grate rind of lemons gently, since the skins are thin, and you don’t want pith, which tends to be a little bitter. Then squeeze them into the same container. You should have about ¼-1/3 cup of juice and rind. Cream butter and sugar together, add egg yolks, beating until they are well incorporated and the batter is beautifully smooth. Add the flour, then gradually add the lemon juice and rind, and finally add the milk gradually, beating the whole time. Whip egg whites, and gently fold into the batter. Pour into the custard cups and bake for about 25 minutes or until puffed a little and slightly browned on top. Remove from the water bath and let cool. Chill if your family doesn’t scarf them all up immediately or if you’re keeping them for breakfast.

Meyer lemon custard

Meyer lemon custard


Early peas and cabbage

Tall Telephone peas; cabbage in the background

I really didn’t think spring would come this year. But we’ve had a couple of warmish, hopeful days in between storms, just enough of a taste at the tail end of an appalling winter to be able to at least imagine spring up ahead. It’s encouragement enough to start some seeds.

Farmers’ and old gardeners’ wisdom around here says to plant peas and potatoes in the ground on St Patrick’s Day. Not a chance this year. We’ll be lucky to get them in by Easter, I think, unless you’ve got a protected sunny spot that drains really well. I don’t. My garden’s open to whatever the northwest wind can throw at it. And we’ve had plenty of bitter NW wind this year and rain and snow and sleet. But I keep reminding myself: If winter comes, can spring be far behind? (That’s right, Shelley, encourage us!).

Most people direct-seed peas into the ground, but I’ve learned that I can push the season a bit if I plant out pea vines, so one sunny day I seeded a couple of new (to me) varieties of shell peas into flats in my little backyard greenhouse (which is, as I always tell those who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, cheaper than Prozac).

Easy Peasy peas

Easy Peasy peas

You don’t need a greenhouse, however, to start peas (or anything else for that matter). They would also work under grow lights in a cellar or bright south-facing room. Peas are particularly easy though, because they’re pretty fast and, as early and late-season crops they are geared to less light, so it makes them ideal candidates to start indoors when even the full-spectrum lights can be less than optimal.


The two shell pea varieties I started are: Easy Peasy and Tall Telephone. I got Easy Peasy from Burpee. According to the literature, it won taste tests and is very high yielding – 12 peas per pod as opposed to the usual 6 to 8 and ‘likely to be the best yielder in the garden.’ The vines are bluish and pretty, which is a bonus. The other variety, which I seeded a few days after the Easy Peasy, is Fedco’s Tall Telephone aka Alderman. These are meant to grow 5-6 feet tall, produce well and are heirloom to boot — introduced by pea breeder Thomas Laxton around 1891 and first sold by Burpee in 1901. I only seeded one flat of them. Unfortunately, the germination wasn’t great – about 6 out of the total 24 cells failed to produce anything so I stuck a single pea in each of the empty cells after about a week of waiting past the emergence of their companions. The second seeds are beginning to emerge now.

Sauteed peas, shallots and prosciutto

Sauteed peas, shallots and prosciutto

I use a seed-starting medium from Gardens Alive! And while I’ve tried others, this one seems to work well for me. You damp it before you use it. I stick a portion of the 16-quart bag in a 5-gallon bucket and sprinkle it liberally with water drawn from the rain barrels that sit at the edge of the garage, mix well, as though I were making an extremely dry muffin mix, and then let it sit for a while to moisten the whole thing through. Fill the flats and smooth over the top, poke a pea seed into each cell, smooth it over again and voila! (Well, voila after they germinate).

The Easy Peasyes, which are now up about 10 inches, really do need to go in the ground, but the soil isn’t ready. Too wet, and too cold, so I’ll hold ‘em. They are sending out grabby little tendrils and clinging to each other tenaciously, so I gently separate them every day to make it easier to plant them out singly when the weather finally cooperates. It’s like easing the tats out of long hair. Running my fingers gently through them is – for them – a bit like being outdoors in the breeze, which tends to strengthen the vines. And they smell deliciously pea-like. These are not the only peas I will grow this year. Mammoth Melting Snow, Sugar Anne Snap, Oregon Giant Snow and Masterpiece peas, which are bred for their foliage and are supposed to be ready to clip in a month, will all get direct-seeded once I can get into the garden. But I start some inside because I love having them as early as I can possibly get them – sautéed fresh from the garden with shallots and a little prosciutto OMG!

Peas are one of the coolest-weather crops, but you still don’t want to put ‘em into the ground until the soil temp has reached about 45F. Otherwise, they’ll simply rot. Also, especially after a winter like the one we’ve had, the critters will be on the lookout for anything to eat, so if you’re planting out your pea seeds in another week or two or three, you might want to throw some row cover over them to keep the birds from plucking the seeds right out of the ground. Crows especially can discern patterns. And, you might want to leave that row cover on until the vines start to blossom to keep the rabbits from eating them down to nubbins. At least that’s been my experience. Once they’re big enough to blossom, they’re also usually tougher, higher than the rabbits reach and there is other stuff for them to savage.

A variety of tomatoes just poking through in their flat

A variety of tomatoes just poking through in their flat

Meanwhile, the snow’s melting and I’ve seeded the tomatoes and peppers into another flat. The tomatoes are JUST starting to poke through. I guess eventually we ARE gonna have spring (at least I’m counting on it), and if we have spring, can summer be far behind?





Garlic bed planted on 24 November

Garlic bed planted on 24 November

It’s a little late for garlic, planting-wise, but I’m looking at the garden and thinking I may still have a little time to shove in a few more cloves before we reach what is predicted to be a cold January and February. Since I first learned about hardneck garlic from Colchester CSA manager and grower, Theresa Mycek probably nine years ago, and started planting it in my own garden, I’ve come to depend on it. Hardneck garlic is terrific because it’s delicious, beautiful in the garden (those tall green tops with the curlicue scapes are such a nice visual counterpoint to the clumpy greens and beans), and like a culinary Double-mint gum: it’s two, two, two garlics in one.

The first one is the scape.

Wait; let me back up a little. First, sometime in late-October through November, you sit outside on a nice autumn day, separate garlic bulbs into cloves and plant the cloves about 8 inches apart – I plant in a grid, others do it in rows. Tuck them in gently beneath straw or some other light but effective mulch. In spring when the earth wakes up, the green shoots start coming through the mulch. In about May, you notice that the shoots have ground rather tall – knee high at least. In maybe mid-June, when the tall  stiff central shoots have continued to grow and are now curled around themselves a bit (i.e. turned into true scapes), you clip or break them off – it’s kinda like asparagus; you snap them where they are happy to be snapped – bring them in and cook them any one of a number of ways. We sometimes tempura them, or grill them for a great snack/ hors d’oeuvre/side dish, chop them into omelets, sauté them with other veggies, quick-pickle them in the fridge in a vinegar-and-herb-and-peppercorn bath or hang them by the kitchen door to ward off vampires. Whatever.

In July-ish, when the green tops have browned and died back sufficiently, you dig – or pull, depending on how soft the bed is – the now cloved-up bulbs, wipe off the earth, and hang them up to dry.  (I clump them in bunches of about 6-8 bulbs and hang them from the back porch). Then you use them.  They go into the spaghetti sauce I can during tomato-and-pepper harvest, into chicken cacciatore (which is ONLY truly delicious when made in season with fresh garlic, fresh basil and fresh parsley plucked only a few minutes before chopping wads into the red-wine-soaked braising liquid), into the oven to roast and then spread on homemade bread with good olive oil, into salad dressings, well, you get the idea.  But if you’ve planned right and the fates have shined on you and your little bed of hardneck garlic, you will also have enough to save, separate into cloves and plant to continue the whole cycle. (The miracle of gardening with its wonderful reminder that life works to perpetuate itself).

Chesnok Red hardneck garlic cloves ready to plant

Chesnok Red hardneck garlic cloves ready to plant

This year, my husband prepped a couple of beds in early November one lovely autumn afternoon while I sat outside, separated the bulbs I had grown and saved for next year’s harvest along with the bulbs I bought from Colchester CSA. (My last summer’s harvest was smaller than I had anticipated. I had more of them rot this past year than usual and so had to buy in seed stock). As I was in prayer position on my knees stuffing the cloves into the ground, I thought about a little garden plaque a friend gave me years ago that said: Who plants a seed beneath the sod and waits to see believes in God. whatever your spiritual convictions, that statement is an acknowledgement that while we can become really good gardeners, we are all at the mercy of so many other elements in life beyond our own control. But I have faith. And I keep on planting.

Scapes before clipping off arrowhead tip

Scapes before clipping off arrowhead tip

Gadzukes zucchini still producing on October 15

Gadzukes zucchini still producing on October 15

I can’t believe it’s mid-October and I’m still picking zucchini, especially considering the fact that the plants look pretty much like they’ve been run over several times by a small truck. I thought they’d give up the ghost weeks ago. The spaghetti squash, which produced beautifully this year, looked the same –mildewed and borer-ridden – and turned up their toes in early September (though I still have several awaiting cooking and quick-made sauces on the porch) and the Black Knight zucchini, likewise bit the dust in about the first week in September. But the zukes, at least the Gadzukes variety, takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’. Astonishing.

Gadzukes zukes picked October 9

Gadzukes zukes picked October 9


Collapsed in the middle where they originally sprang from the ground, the vines continued to send out puny looking stems to sprawl along the paths. Each time I figured they were done for, I’d go out, thinking: It’s time to rid the garden of these unsightly diseased things and discover that they’d sent out some new little green shoot, some newly flouncing green leaves and beneath the leaves, healthy-looking blossoms followed in a week or so, by healthy, pickable fruits. So, while we haven’t had the proverbial deluge of zukes that people make such fun of (and which I don’t get – who would wanted lotsa shredded zucchini in the freezer for winter soups and latke?), we have had a sufficiency, which is good enough.


Yesterday, I picked a surprisingly healthy zuke about 14 inches long and brought it in to make zucchini latkes for supper. With the Gadzukes zukes I’d picked last week I made the fabulous summer squash gratin with salas verde, whose recipe I got from Food 52 (link below) – and of course, forgot to photo it when it came beautifully bubbling out of the oven. Instead we dug in. I remembered to photo it the second day when I had it for supper again. (How I loved leftovers!). The latkes, yes, you guessed it, no photos there either, but the recipe follows, a great way to end the summer produce and tender herb season since we’re about to lose all that great basil. But I’m a believer in making hay while the sun shines – or zuke latkes while the herbs hold out. Whichever.


That’s one of the great things about gardening – just when you think you know something, can predict what’s going to happen, you’re brought up short and reminded that we’re dealing with living things, and living things can always surprise you. The perfect metaphor for life among human beings as well.

Sauteed zucchini and grilled shrimp for supper

Sauteed zucchini and grilled shrimp for supper




Zucchini Latkes with Chipotle Sauce

2 medium zucchini, grated

¼ cup grated onion

2 serrano peppers, finely chopped (seeds removed if you like less heat)

¼ cup finely chopped sweet pepper

1 cup fresh chopped herbs, any you fancy- I usually use lots of lime basil, lemon basil, cilantro, oregano, parsley, a little dill and a single sage leaf

1 tblsp Adobo seasoning

freshly ground pepper

1-2 tsp chili powder

½ tsp cumin

1-2 tsp paprika (Spanish, sweet, or smoked paprika are all nice in this)

1/3 cup flour

3 tsp baking powder

1 large or 2 small eggs

For sauce:

Mix ½ cup mayonnaise with 2-3 finely chopped tinned chipotles in adobo sauce (along with some of the adobo sauce), a squeeze of tomato paste from the tube or a teaspoon of tomato paste from a tin, and the juice of half a lime.

3 tblsp canola or other frying oil.

Chop herbs and peppers and grate the onion then grate the zucchini last to keep it from getting watery. Mix the vegetables, herbs, and seasonings together. Add the flour and baking powder with a fork to mix it well, but quickly so you don’t build up the gluten in the flour. Beat eggs a little (like for scrambled) then add and mix in so you have something like a thick, veg-filled batter. Heat oil until shimmering hot in a frying pan. (I use my grandmother’s old iron skillet). With a dessert spoon or tablespoon, carefully add a big mound of zucchini batter to the pan, and gently pat it down into a pancake. Repeat. Fry on medium-high heat until golden brown on one side and starting to puff, flip over and cook until puffed and golden brown on the second side. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Serve with a dollop of sauce on top.

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