Monthly Archives: January 2014

2014 Garden Plans: Bed 5 – Annual Strawberries

We haven’t had any fruit in the Demo Garden since we renovated a couple years ago, so it is going to be fun to have some strawberries again. What we are trying this year are two varieties of Day Neutral strawberries that are typically grown commercially as annuals. Plant, fruit, and remove all in one year. Now, most production systems recommend fall planting for a spring crop and any additional harvest is bonus. Obviously we didn’t do that, so we are trying an early spring planting with the intention of letting the plants fruit for as long as they want to until it gets too cold in the fall.

Bed 5 (2)We only have a small raised bed dedicated to this project, so despite the temptation to cram 4 varieties in, we opted for just two – ‘San Andreas’ and ‘Mara des Bois.’ Both are supposed to have good flavor for day neutrals (they are usually not so flavorful – think grocery store strawberries right now), and have some good disease resistance. A local grower had tried three other varieties last year, so we wanted to try a couple others. I’ll be growing a third variety (‘Albion’) at home, so I’ll be interested to see how they compare. Day neutrals typically don’t fruit well when the temperatures get hot, so the weather will impact our yields. Last year the local grower reported issues with fruit rots in mid-summer due to the rain. We just can’t win, no matter what!


2014 Garden Plans: Bed 4 – A Taste of India

I told you it got crazier, didn’t I? That said, I’m really excited about this garden! I love trying new things, and although they could totally flop, it is what keeps the garden exciting.

Bed 4 (2)One of the best things about planning for this garden is that I really wanted us to use Indian varieties, not just vegetables that are used in Indian cooking. It’s one thing to say, “They eat cucumbers in India, so let’s just plant any old cucumber variety.” It’s something different to plant a variety from India. So, when I started researching before our committee meeting, I was ecstatic to find a seed company selling Indian varieties in the U.S. – Seeds of India! The vast majority of our plants and seeds will come from them.

Before we discuss the specific things we decided to plant, I thought it might be helpful for you to see a list of the vegetables, herbs, and spices that were under consideration:

Indian Vegetables (2)You can see how it might be possible to have an “Indian” garden that didn’t seem very Indian at all, if we weren’t careful. This is by no means a comprehensive list – there are a number of other things that I didn’t include on the list, in some cases because I wasn’t sure what they were or where to find the seeds. Here’s a good guide to Indian vegetables.

So, the things we did choose to plant:

Curry Leaf – this is a tropical plant (can’t handle temps below 55!). It is almost like the bay leaf of Indian cuisine. A lot of traditional curry recipes call for curry leaf, so I’m excited to try growing it as an annual.

Cumin – This plant grows a lot like dill, with the umbels of flowers (pink!) that then produce seeds.

‘Kesar’ Carrot – This carrot is red, high in lycopene, and the Days to Maturity was listed at 120 days. We decided to plant some of the ‘Samurai Red’ carrots (60 days) as well, just in case the ‘Kesar’ variety doesn’t make it through the hot summer. We may plant a second crop of carrots in the fall.

‘Dulhan’ pepper is shaped like a tomato and is supposed to taste like a sweet pepper but with a hint of heat.

‘Jwala’ is a hot pepper that is reputed to be the most popular hot pepper in India. It looks a lot like a cayenne pepper to me, but it’s hard to tell until you can compare side by side.

On the first trellis we will have edible gourds – one snake gourd and one bitter gourd (aka bitter melon).

‘King Cobra’ snake gourd is supposed to have long, white speckled fruit that look like snakes. The gourd is low in calories and can be cooked in a variety of ways.

‘Tagore’ bitter gourd (or bitter melon) is an Indian-type  gourd with a mild bitter flavor and more rounded tubercles, compared to some of the more pointed types.

For the cucumbers, we chose ‘Poona Kheera’ (aka Puneri) and ‘Sambar.’ Poona Kheera is a salad cucumber that is white when young and turns russetty brown as it gets bigger. It is supposed to thrive in hot, arid climates. (Watch us be cool and wet this year!) ‘Sambar’ is listed as a cooking type cucumber for use in curries and stews. It is yellow with brown blotches on the skin.

Underneath the two trellises, we will plant the ‘Sagar’ spinach and ‘Basanti’ mustard greens. I have no idea if they will be different in any way from other spinach and mustard greens, but we’ll find out!

Legumes are a staple of Indian food, and so we wanted to try growing some, even though we don’t have enough space to get a great yield. The ‘Black Kabouli’ chickpeas have black/dark purple seed coats, rather than the typical brown. Black hummus, anyone? Chickpeas typically like slightly cooler summers, so I don’t know how well they will do here. Cowpeas are a traditional Southern vegetable, although the Green cowpeas are an Indian variety. Cowpeas typically do fine here.

All told, this garden could be spectacular and exciting or a source of a lot of stress this summer!


2014 Garden Plans: Bed 3 – MG Favorites Garden

In amongst all of the crazy things that we have planned for some of the other gardens, this one may be the island of sanity. We wanted to feature some vegetables that are favorites of our Master Gardeners, so we took nominations and chose our varieties from there. We wanted to chose varieties that are common and widely available to the average gardener as well. Bed 3 (2)

As you can see, there’s nothing too crazy going on here! (Wait until we get to Bed 4 for that!)

Tomatoes – ‘Jetstar’ and ‘Juliet’ are two very common, popular and productive varieties in this area.

Basils – ‘Sweet Italian’ and ‘Cardinal.’ Sweet Italian is what everyone grows, and we loved the ‘Cardinal’ basil so much a couple years ago that we wanted to try it again.

Cucumbers – ‘Straight Eight’ and ‘Sweet Burpless’ are slicing type cucumbers that are very productive and flavorful. They will be grown on one of the trellises.

Spring/Fall Spinach/Mesclun/Radishes – Under the trellis, we will have a spring and fall planting of ‘Bloomsdale’ Spinach, mesclun mix, and ‘French Breakfast’ Radishes.

‘Beananza’ bean is a variety that one of our Master Gardeners has had great luck with. She has had them produce from June until October, so we are hoping for a similar result!

Peppers – We are going back to the ‘Big Bertha’ bell pepper that has been stupendous in the past, as well as a Cayenne pepper for something a little different but still very productive.

In the spring, we will be planting ‘Scarlet Nantes’ carrots, ‘Detroit Dark Red’ beets, and ‘Parris Island Cos’ romaine lettuce, as well as Yukon Gold potatoes.

In the fall, we will plant a blend of leaf or Bibb lettuces, the ‘Watermelon’ radishes, and ‘Grand Duke’ Kohlrabi. The potatoes will be followed with a yellow snap (wax) bean variety, ‘Rocdor.’

In a lot of ways, this looks a lot like some of the “Family of 4” gardens that we used to do. Believe me, as I look at the rest of our plans, I’m hoping this garden is going to be the easy one!

2014 Garden Plans: Bed 2 – Heirloom Tomatoes

Our second subcommittee meeting was the Tomato Garden, which this year is officially the Heirloom Tomato Garden. Heirlooms are always fun, but can be pretty finicky, so I hope we have  good tomato growing year but an average summer where we can really see the differences between the varieties for growing in Kansas. In 2011 we grew some heirlooms and got almost nothing due to the weather. (And no one else got anything either, heirloom or not!) Last year, we grew a couple of heirlooms, and they were almost the best varieties we grew. But last year was much cooler in the middle of the summer.

Bed 2 (2)We are going to be using tomato cages again this year, because with the width of the beds, that makes the most sense. As you can also see, the other half of the arbor from Bed 1 is on the end of this bed.

‘Large Red Cherry’ is a variety from Seed Savers that is exactly what it says. It has 1 1/2″ to 2″ red cherry tomatoes, so slightly larger than some cherry tomatoes.

Across from the arbor, (the orange circle) we will be planting a single plant of a dwarf/determinate heirloom, ‘Silvery Fir Tree.’ This variety has fine, silvery grey, fuzzy foliage and 2-4 oz red tomatoes. It is also early, at 55 or so days to maturity.

All of the other five varieties we will plant two plants of each. We probably could have fit a couple more plants in, but given the typical growth habit of heirlooms, I wanted to be sure they had plenty of space. Here’s a little information about each of those varieties.

‘Opalka’ is a Polish paste tomato with fruit that is 5″ long and shaped kind of like a bullnose pepper. I’ve seen this variety with gold streaks, but I think it is usually just red. 80 days.

‘Black Krim’ is one of the varieties we tried in 2011. It is a purple/black fruited tomato from Russia that is a typical slicer size at 8-12 oz. 75 days.

‘Amana Orange’ is a orange colored beefsteak from the Amana colonies in Iowa. It is up to 5″ in diameter and can be up to 2 lbs. 80 days.

‘Pink Russian 117’ is a pink/rose colored oxheart shaped tomato. The fruit are typically in the 10-14 oz. range. 90 days.

‘Northern Lights’ is a yellow/orange tomato with a red blush on the bottom and in the center. The beefsteak fruits are 4″ across and about 1 lb. 55 days.

As you can see, most of these varieties are in the 80 day range, with a couple outliers. That means that in the event of a long, hot spell in the middle of summer before they have the chance to set fruit, we could be in trouble. 80 days is 11 weeks and 3 days after our projected planting date of May 6th, which is July 25th, the day before Tomato Day. Of course, those days to maturity observations are notoriously unreliable. We’ll just have to wait and see!

The two that I’m going to be particularly interested to observe are the ‘Silvery Fir Tree’ and ‘Northern Lights,’ both of which list the days to maturity as 55 days. That is very early for any tomato, and usually those super early varieties are small (2-4 oz), like the ‘Silvery Fir Tree.’ This makes ‘Northern Lights’ a large tomato for that kind of earliness! To be fair, in looking at different catalogs/websites, I see 55 days, 60 days, 65 days, and 75 days all listed for it. I’ll have to keep close record of that one to see what it actually is here. (That would be 8 weeks, 8.5 weeks, 9.2 weeks, and 10.7 weeks. Big difference!)

The other concern with these two super early heirlooms is whether they will tolerate the heat. They were most likely developed to deal with short growing seasons and cooler summers in more northerly areas, so will they shut down due to heat earlier than others? In my mind, the perfect tomato for Kansas would be both early and heat tolerant, so that is something we will be keeping an eye on this summer.

Have you tried any of these varieties? I’ll admit that I’m getting hungry for tomatoes already!


2014 Garden Plans: Bed 1

We had the first of our subcommittee meetings yesterday to work on the planning for Bed 1. I don’t know what I’m going to call this garden, because it is really three different parts all in one. One end is the Vertical Garden, the middle part is Quinoa, and the other end is a Spring/Fall Italian Garden. Maybe I’ll have to nickname it the Conglomerate Garden? The Motley Mixed Garden? The Heterogeneous Garden? The Italicalnoa Garden? The Quinicalian Garden? I’ll take nominations!

Bed 1If you recall, this is the raised bed that has the two, 4’x4′ more raised areas in the center. Those two sections are where we will plant the quinoa.

Italian Garden  

The Italian section of the garden features spring and fall vegetables, with the intention of exploring what there is beyond tomatoes and basil, the quintessential Italian foods. We had a lot of fun perusing the Seeds from Italy catalog and website and trying to find the best choices for different types of vegetables. As you can see, the spring plantings include  several types of greens, beans, and cippolini onions. The beans are a shelling type called ‘Lingua di Fuoco’ which translates to ‘Tongue of Fire.’ The pods have bright pink streaks!

There are lots of types of chicories to choose from, including plain chicory, endive, escarole, and radicchio. We chose a couple “Italian Dandelion” varieties of chicory to try, an endive/escarole mesclun mix, and a red radicchio/chicory for the fall.

We also will have Tuscan Kale growing all year. Sometimes the Tuscan type is called Dinosaur Kale, Nero di Toscano, or similar names.

We are going to try a bulbing variety of fennel in the fall to see if it will produce, as well as some purple bunching onions.

Vertical Garden

We are continuing to demonstrate some of the vertical gardening techniques, and the trellis/arbor over one of the walkways was such a hit last year that we decided to try it again.

‘Tonda Liscia Manduria’ Cucumber is an Italian cucumber melon that is fairly small, round, and has fuzzy skin. It tastes like a cucumber when young and ripens to taste more like a melon.

‘Escorial’ Melon is a Charentais-type melon. It is earlier maturing and hopefully will be less crack-prone than the heirloom Charentais melon.

‘Small Sugar’ Pumpkin is a pie pumpkin that produces sweet, 4-6 lb pumpkins. I’m looking forward to pie this fall!


Quinoa is a Chenopodium, which means that it is going to look a lot like lambsquarter/goosefoot when it starts growing. The flowers/seed heads are supposed to be beautiful colors, which we are all looking forward to. Depending on how hot it gets for how long this summer, we may or may not get a seed crop, but it should be interesting to try growing it! We chose the ‘Brightest Brilliant’ mix and ‘Colorado’ and the two varieties to try.