Monday, March 2, 2015

I'm taking winter into my own hands

It is official. This thrice blasted winter has gone on too long. I'm not taking it any more.

(PS, for those of you who want content OTHER than silly cartoons, I'm going to get back to other, word and idea based posts soon. So stand by.)

Monday, January 5, 2015

Talking seeds and breeding with the one and only Margaret Roach

If you don't know Margaret Roach already, you should -- she's amazing. So I was thrilled when she asked me to be on her podcast/radio show. Check out our conversation on her site:

Sunday, December 28, 2014

SAD: Seed Acquisition Disorder

It is a little recognized condition, but I think more people suffer from it than is commonly realized...

Do you have SAD?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Garden Professing

I'm blogging somewhere new! I have recently joined the team over at The Garden Professors and am blogging periodically for them, along with the rest of the good folks there. I'm very excited, it is a terrific group of people, and I'm really enjoying interacting with and writing with them! I'll still (probably) blog here from time to time on things of a more personal nature, but my "sciency" posts will all be over there from now on. My latest post there is here, and an earlier one I'm rather happy with is here. You can of course follow that blog, and also check out the garden professors facebook page and group for all your sciency garden discussion needs.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

My favorite vegetable varieties this year

We've had a cool, rainy summer this year here in Michigan, which I have loved, but it has been hard on the traditional vegetables of summer, the tomatoes, peppers, and squash, that love a little heat. But poor growing conditions can be nice in one way: They serve to highlight the very toughest varieties that really perform no matter what. Here's what I'm loving in the garden this year:

Tomato 'Matt's Wild Cherry'
I've long been a huge fan of this tomato. The flavor is off the charts -- sweet, rich, juicy and wonderful. It even beats the always delicious 'Sun Gold' as my very favorite tasting cherry tomato. But what really puts it over the top is the sheer vigor, yield, and disease resistance. Cool wet weather like we've had this year is an invitation to every fungus in the garden to beat up on the tomatoes, and all my other varieties are a mass of ugly brown blighted foliage. But not Matt's Wild Cherry -- it is green and pristine, not a speak of blight or leaf spot.

Pepper 'Flavor Burst'
This is a new variety for me this year, and I'll confess I bought it just for the name. I mean, Flavor Burst! How could I pass that up? In reality, I have to say that the flavor isn't particularly noteworthy, good, but typical bell pepper, but the performance! Big bell peppers always grow for me, but with my cold, short summers, I don't usually get much of a crop from them, usually just a few peppers that I can harvest full ripe and colored up, the rest are still green when frost arrives. But Flavor Burst has not only been the earliest ripe of ALL my peppers, sweet or hot, this year, the plant is also nearly twice the size of any of my other bell peppers, and loaded with way more peppers than any of them. This is my new gold standard for bell peppers for the north.

Zucchini 'Costata Romanesco'

I've been in love with this variety for a long time... and every year it proves yet again that no other zucchini can come close to matching it. The zucchinis this produces have a wonderful nutty, rich flavored. And the texture! Most zucchini, if you even think about cooking it too long, collapses into a pool of wet mush... this holds up firm with an excellent creamy texture even after prolonged cooking. Another plus, it produced about half the yield of a normal zucchini, which means you have enough for nearly every meal, but not so much you resort to throwing it into the open windows of passing cars. Finally, it is lovely and distinctive looking. The ribs down the zucchini means that when you slice it, the forms little star shapes. Can. Not. Be. Beat.

Squash Mini Red Turban 

Another new variety for me this year, and one I will certainly be doing again. First, this is a Cucurbita maxima variety, which is great because this species has great flavor and a very long storage life so you can eat them all winter. Second, it is lovely. Pretty enough to be displayed for fall decoration, to be sure. Third, it isn't too large, so I can cook up just enough for a meal instead of having to figure out what to do with a massive squash all at once. And fourth, it is producing like MAD. I've never had a winter squash yield so heavily. I think I'm going to have 20 maybe even 30 of these things by the end of the season... and that is in a summer that has been generally terrible for squash! 

So... those are my winners this year. Any favorites you have that I should try out next year? 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Native, gorgeous, and very much under appreciated

Let's just start with  photo:

Meet Mentzelia decapetala! (EDIT: Panayoti says this is actually Mentzelia nuda, and I think he is right.) I've been growing this plant a couple years, and it is officially one of my top plant crushes. It is native to a big swath of the middle of the US, basically the plains states... Notably tolerant of harsh, dry conditions, I feared it would simply rot in cool, soggy Michigan (which has been even cooler and soggier than usual this year) but I couldn't have been more wrong:

It has settled right in and has been pumping out these gorgeous flowers since the beginning of July. There are only two things you should know about this plant before getting yourself one: First, it is an evening bloomer. For me, the flowers open around 4 or 5 in the afternoon. Which I honestly rather like... there is something charming about the garden taking on a different character in the evening, and of course the pale blooms just glow in the evening light. The other thing is that, like many prairie plants, it is a bit floppy, probably especially so in my wet soil. That's easily solved, though, simply cut it back early in the season and it will grow into a nice bushy, compact, three-foot sphere of these amazing blooms.

Here is my other beloved and much under appreciated US native:

Ahem. Sorry about that. Let me calm myself.
But you have to admit, that is a pretty darn dynamite shade of blue.

I always used to think that all the really pretty salvias weren't hardy. But this is the exception to that. S. azurea is native, again, mostly to the plains states, though the range comes further East, and it is an absolutely tough, hardy, and effortless to grow plant. It is a late summer/fall bloomer... and how about that luscious shade of blue with some good hardy mums? Can't be beat.

I love this plant so much that I have (of course...) started doing a little breeding with it. The plant pictured above is my very earliest flowering one, quite a few weeks earlier than most of the species. I'm also breeding for shorter plants that don't flop over, which the species is pretty prone to.
This is my best seedling for that trait -- a nice compact three feet tall. You can see the more usual loose, sprawly habit of the plants in the background... This one will be later blooming as you can see, but I'm very happy with that growth habit.

And then unexpected things pop up, as they do in breeding projects...
White flowers! I'm not sure how I feel about that exactly... I mean, the blue color is what I love so much about this plant. But the white IS kind of pretty too. What do you think? Would you ever grow the white one, or stick with the blue?