Thursday, March 10, 2016

Coming Attractions

Spring is definitely on the make here. She has been aided by a somewhat normal rainy season. We’ve received about 19 inches of rain so far (starting October 1), with more on the way. In a “normal” year we get about 24 inches of rain, mostly from October through March. The weeds are burgeoning, the oaks are tasseling and covering everything with a heavy dusting of pollen, the wildflowers are blooming, the Anna’s hummingbirds are diving in displays of territorial claims, the Western Fence lizards are cavorting, and my want-to-grow list is out of control. I started making lists of seeds to order well before the catalogs landed in my snail mail box. I try to remember varieties that other bloggers like or have had notable success with that I want to try. And then I usually start perusing online seed catalogs in December to check on any new offerings from my favorite seed purveyors. By mid January I had received the bulk of my seed purchases.

So, what's new this year?

I’m trying Apollo arugula, Dave at Our Happy Acres likes it and we both like Speedy arugula so I thought Apollo has got to be worth a try. Speedy stays in the lineup also.

Beans. I love beans, both snap and dry, and I have perhaps succumbed to the temptation to try a few too many new varieties including:
  • Blue Speckled Tepary (dry) 
  • Hopi White Tepary (dry) 
  • Red Swan bush snap 
  • Roc d’Or bush snap 
  • Royalty Purple Pod bush snap 
  • Brinker Carrier pole snap (dry) 
Returning this year are:

  • Slenderette bush snap 
  • Golden Gate pole snap 
  • Musica pole snap 
  • Rattlesnake pole snap (dry) 
  • Greek Gigante runner dry 
Dave’s experiments with growing tepary beans last year inspired me to try some also. The Blue Speckled variety is described as not tolerating heat as well as other tepary beans so I thought that might make it more tolerant of my cooler growing conditions. And the Hopi White can be grown on a trellis which means it won’t require as much space. 

I really enjoyed growing a number of varieties of snap beans at the same time last year. Instead of starting one big patch of a single variety I mixed it up, 2 varieties of bush beans and then 3 varieties of pole beans. It was nice to have smaller portions of different colored and shaped beans so that's what I’m planning on again this year, only even more varieties packed into the same space. I start the bean season with bush beans because my rotations open up space for bush beans before pole beans. The bush bean roundup includes a rose, a yellow, a purple, and a green snap bean. The pole bean varieties include both green and yellow romanos, plus a purple speckled green and a straight green. My growing season is long enough to segue from the bush beans to the pole beans without too much overlap, especially if I clear out the bush beans before they can try to produce a second crop. 

Other than the Tepary beans I’ve not added any other new dry beans, but two of the snap varieties are dual purpose so if I get tired of harvesting snap beans I can let them grow on to the dry bean stage. Rattlesnake produces speckled dry beans and Brinker Carrier produces creamy white beans. 

My success with Brussels Sprouts this year has prompted me to add another variety to the list, Hestia is a 2015 AAS winner, noted for its uniformity and tolerance of both cold and warm weather, and most importantly it's supposed to be good tasting. 

I did not grow carrots last year but I’m going to try to make up for that this year. Last year I ordered a couple of varieties that were praised by other garden bloggers (can't remember whom now) and I’m also trying a few others because of the unique colors. The carrot grow list so far includes: 
  • Bolero Nantes
  • Nelson
  • Purple Sun
  • Rotild 
  • Pusa Rudhira Red 
  • Pusa Asita Black 
I’m going to try a new purple cauliflower this year, Purple Cape is an overwintering type with deep purple florets. One of those I just couldn't resist selections (aka an impulse buy). 

There a new celery in the lineup, Pink Plume is a rare heirloom variety that has purple tinged inner stalks and leaf tips. It is supposed to have an intense fennel like flavor. 

Palla Rossa radicchio is touted as being one of the more reliable OP varieties, producing more uniform heads and good for spring production. I’ll see, I’ve already got some seeds germinating for a trial run. If it doesn't do well for spring I’ll give it another go this fall. 

This will be my third year growing so called “field” corn. I’ve selected two new to me varieties, both heirlooms and both flour corns. Hopi Chinmark kernels vary from cream colored with red stripes to red colored with cream stripes plus all cream and all red kernels. The “chinmark” name refers to chin tattooing historically common among the Pai tribes. Puhwem grows on very large very sturdy stalks. The dried stalks supposedly can be used like bamboo. But it's the white corn kernels that I’m interested in, they are supposed to be exceptional for making cornmeal. 

Last year I grew Dutch Broadleaf cress for the first time and really enjoyed its watercress like flavor in my salads. So now I’m on a bit of a cress kick. I got some seeds for Rishad cress late last year and finally produced a decent crop of it just recently. It has a very finely cut tender leaf that’s both pretty and flavorful. And now I’ve got seeds for 2 more varieties to try - Persian Broadleaf and Greek. 

Susie at Cold Hands Warm Earth wrote about her quest to grow Mouse Melons, aka Mexican Sour Gherkins, which has inspired me to give them a try this year. 

I grow fava beans (broad beans) every year and it has been the same variety for a number of years now, Extra Precoce Violetto is early and productive and the beans are delicious. But this year I’ve added a new variety to the patch, Robinhood is also supposed to be early and is supposed to be bushy so that the plants don't need staking. The plants have stayed fairly compact so far, bushier than the Extra Precoce Violettos, and they are covered with blossoms at the moment. 

There are 3 new kales for the garden this year. One of them is actually a mustard and I got the seeds last year but didn’t find an opportune time to sow them last year. Ethiopian Highland Kale is the name that Artisan Seeds chose for the mustard greens that they are offering seeds for. It resembles a young Lacinato kale in looks but I find the flavor to have a pleasant hit of a mild mustard bite. It's quick to produce a crop and the plants produce a few harvests, first the top portion of the young plant is cut and then 2 or 3 harvests of side shoots. 

Lacinato kale has been a long time favorite of mine so when I saw a lacinato kale cross with magenta ribs on Wild Garden Seeds’ online catalog I couldn't resist. The flavor is supposed to be “very lacinato” and it is also more cold hardy than lacinato (not that that is an issue in my mild climate), I was captivated by its looks. The third new kale is Russian Hunger Gap, which I can't remember if I read about on another blog or not, but it looked interesting so I’ve got some seeds! It is supposed to be a late bloomer, thus the “hunger gap” part of its name, it's apparently keeps producing when other kales are already blooming. 

I added 5 new lettuces to the list this year. A couple of them I selected for their heat tolerance because I want to be able to have lettuce when it finally gets hot here and I purchased others just because, ah well, you know, impulse buys… 
  • Joker crisphead 
  • Little Rosebud Romaine Mix
  • Manoa butterhead 
  • Red Butter Romaine 
  • Rosencrantz 
One of my goals this year is to be able to harvest lettuce all year long. It would be fairly easy to harvest cutting lettuces at any time, it’s just a matter of sowing enough successions, but my goal is to keep a succession of heading lettuces going. One problem I had last year was that the lettuces that I started for fall harvests all bolted very quickly. Fall tends to be when we have our warmest days and nights so lettuce doesn’t keep very long in the garden. So a couple of my choices this year are supposed to be heat tolerant. Manoa is described as “a tropical-stressed selected version of the century-old ‘Green Mignonette’, itself recognized as a standout heat resistant lettuce”. So that’s one variety I’ll be trying this fall. Joker is described as an all season lettuce with excellent heat resistance. I would really like to have a crisphead lettuce when the weather warms up so I’ll put it to the test later this year as well. 

A few mustard varieties caught my eye while I was cruising the Wild Garden Seed online catalog, but I managed to restrain myself and only put 3 in my shopping basket. Dragon Tongue/Ho-Mi Z is definitely eye catching with purple veining on a bright green background with thick white midribs and is a good candidate for overwintering. Pink Lettucy is a good salad green and makes a good raab when it bolts. And Scarlet Ohno Revival is a dual purpose mustard/turnip, producing both tasty greens and roots. 

Onions. I am on a quest to find onions that won’t bolt in my changeable weather. The one variety that I’ve had reliable results with is Red Candy Apple. I would grow it again but it is only available as live plants and in amounts that exceed what I want to grow. So this year I’m trialing 8 (germination failure)  7 new varieties from seed. 
  • Bianco Di Maggio cipollini 
  • Exhibition 
  • Piatta D’Italia 
  • Ramata di Milano 
  • Savona 
  • Tropea Rossa Tonda 
  • Yellow Sweet Spanish Utah 
The only variety that is returning from last year is Rossa Lunga di Firenze, a red torpedo type that produced well with a minimum of bolting. 

When you grow your own vegetables, especially if you grow from seed, you quickly learn that veggies that are sold in grocery stores as generic interchangeable items - red bell peppers, carrots, onions, broccoli, whatever - that they are much more diverse than you could possibly imagine if your only point of reference is what is sold in the veggie morgue at the store and even at a good farmer’s market. Even something so mundane as parsley - flat leaf and curly, right? Hah, this year I’m adding Macedonian and Georgian Flatleaf to the delicate Cilician and robust Italian Gigante varieties. 

Next in the lineup of new veggies should be peppers, but I think I’ll leave them for a post of their own, along with the few new tomatoes. 

So, on to a new salad green, plantain, another inspiration from Dave at Our Happy Acres. I’m growing a different variety than the ones he covered in his Spotlight Post. Buck’s Horn Plantain is a somewhat frilly leafed variety, also know as Minutina or Erba Stella. It is supposed to have a “tender crispness with a wonderful nutty flavor & succulent texture”. I hope it will be an interesting addition to my salads. 

Radishes are a favorite addition to my salads so I’m trying a few new varieties this year: 
  • Malaga 
  • Pusa Gulabi 
  • Pusa Jamuni 
  • Violet de Gournay 
Malaga is a small purple skinned globe type that is already proving to be a winner, it’s quick to grow, beautiful, and mild tasting. Pusa Gulabi and Pusa Jamuni are heat tolerant varieties from India and I'm hoping that they will fill the radish gap in warm weather. I’ve got some started now to see what they are like, they're supposed to do well in cooler weather as well. Violet de Gournay is an heirloom winter radish from France. I first read about it in William Woys Weaver’s book 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From. It is supposed to be good both raw and cooked like a turnip, but I’ll have to wait until the end of the year or next winter to find out for myself. 

Yet one more impulse buy found its way into my seed collection, Merlo Nero spinach, aside from having a cool name, is interesting for it’s crinkled leaves. The buy was totally impulsive, but I don't have a crinkly (savoy) leafed spinach in my collection and it has been a couple of years since I've purchased spinach seeds so I could say that I needed some fresh seeds. 

Whew, I’ve come to the last NEW! item in the seed collection (excluding peppers, tomatoes and such), I’m going to try a buttercup squash. Discus Buttercup is a bush type winter squash that only gets to be about 3 feet so it's not a space hog. It's supposed to be sweet, not too large, and a fairly good keeper, so it could be a good choice for me. 

If you are interested to see everything that I’m planning on growing this year, both returning and new varieties, along with the sources for my seeds, you can find that on my 2016 Planned Varieties page. There's also a tab at the top of my blog that you can click on.


  1. Wow - those are some interesting varieties, most of which I had never heard of! Loving all of those beans - yet another veg that I wish I could allocate more room for. Bolero and Nelson are also on my carrot grow list this year - it will be fun to see what we each think of them.

  2. It's always fun seeing what others are growing. Be careful with those Wild Garden Seeds selections, they are habit forming! We'll have to compare notes as I am trying a couple of their lettuce mixes as well as several single lettuce varieties. I think Joker is closely rated to Jester which is doing great for me here. I'm also trying Scarlet Ohno Revival which sounds like a band name to me! Nothing mundane about parsley to me, I'm growing the Georgian Flatleaf too. Their Splendid parsley is a real keeper, making more winter growth here than the Giant of Italy and a curly leaf one.

    I hope the tepary beans do well for you. I'm trying a black one this year, and bringing back the blue speckled and brown ones I grew last year. They did well in a challenging year, so we will see how they do this time.

  3. The "veggie morgue" - I am going to use that phrase repeatedly (and will credit you appropriately :)), I love it! And so true ... everyone just thinks of buying something simple like peppers; I know my own friends have commented that they had no idea (nor did I) how many varieties of peppers existed until they started reading about what I was growing.

    I can't seem to get into lettuce - I like to read about you and other bloggers growing different varieties of lettuce but I tend to just grow some blended mix for myself.

  4. With a To-Grow list like that, anyone would think you had 5 acres of land!! And we can rely on you to avoid growing anything dull and boring too...

  5. You a;ways find interesting new things to try. It will be interesting to watch your new grow season unfold. I fully understand impulse buys, have a few of those myself. Now to just find some place to plant them.


Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I value your insights and feedback.