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Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

Planning this year's edible garden
Catalogs entice and educate

by Carolyn Singer
January 28, 2012

'Red Cross' lettuceAs a garden writer I am the recipient of every garden catalog imaginable from every corner of the United States. Overwhelmed with the diversity of offerings, each year I find myself sampling a few to study on a rainy winter day, then most often casting them aside to buy seed and plants locally.

Still, admittedly, I have my favorite seed catalogs, and do occasionally order from them when the desired seed is not to be found close to home. These catalogs are also a wealth of information, with detailed descriptions of cultivars suited to particular climates. If you are gardening in containers or raised beds, studying the offerings may also help you make space-saving choices. All of the catalogs I favor have websites.

Renee's Garden offers seeds to garden writers, enticing me to place an order every year. This year I'm going to select two heirloom cultivars being introduced: a mounding Nasturtium, 'Cup of Sun' and the California poppy 'Copper Pot'. And I certainly cannot pass up the 'Wasabi arugula' or the Portuguese kale ('Tronchuda Beira'). Kale is tastiest when it's grown in fall through early spring, but this one is described as "much more heat tolerant than any other kale".

'Raven' zucchini Renee's also has a new French bush zucchini, 'Astia' for containers or raised beds, or any garden where space is limited. Gardeners who are using the French intensive method of planting might prefer a squash that does not sprawl over large areas. One herb I frequently grow from Renee's is the slow-bolt cilantro, which really does produce lots of leaves even in summer heat. Local vendors in Nevada County have Renee's Garden seeds. Purchase early as supplies of some varieties are limited.

Knowing your climate and even the microclimates where you garden should guide your seed choices. Many gardeners at higher elevations face later spring and earlier fall frosts, limiting the growing months for tender vegetables and annual flowers. Slopes that face north, and nearby trees, will also affect the length of the season. If you garden in a short-season climate, Johnny's Selected Seeds may be the answer. These seeds will need to be ordered online or through the catalog (877-564-6697).

Last year I grew Johnny's new acorn squash, 'Honey Bear'. It's very compact, with an abundant fruit set at the base of the plant. The squash is small, a perfect size for two servings, and very tasty. The moisture content of the flesh has held into mid-January without any spoilage. An excellent choice for limited space.

'Northeaster' beanThree more vegetables from Johnny's that I grow each year are 'Red Cross' lettuce (photo, above left), 'Raven' zucchini (photo right), and 'Northeaster' beans (photo right). Too many days in row of midsummer heat may slow the production of the beans, so mulch heavily with straw when they are just a few inches high. Two or three succession plantings of the zucchini are a good idea to ensure a steady crop until frost. The 'Red Cross' lettuce is very heat-tolerant, but shade cloth for protection during the hottest days helps prevent bolting.

The "Ethnobotanical Catalog of Seeds" is the first place I look if the seed is unusual. This seed bank has an amazing black and white catalog with detailed historical information about the seed they offer. Huazontle (Chenopodium) is an "ancient Mexican vegetable" an easily-grown green that I have never tried. I thought of trying the 'Amish Pie' winter squash, but I don't know what I would do if one of the fruits really did mature to eighty pounds! Read the fine print before you order.

©2012 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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