lettuce

Jane Miller

irrepressible blooms

I don’t know about you, but my patience has been tested this spring. Just when I thought winter had finally lost its grip, a freak snowstorm hit Iowa last week, leaving several inches of heavy, wet, white stuff in its wake. But we Midwesterners are resilient. And so too, it appears, are many of the blooms that were caught naked in the arctic blast. The fat lavender buds on my Jane magnolia, for example, were just beginning to open when temps plunged from 82 degrees one day to 32 the next. If the cold doesn’t finish them off, I figured, the wind and driving sleet will. Happily, I was proven wrong. My magnolia blooms are still intact and prettier than ever.

This isn’t the first year that early blooms have had their toughness tested. Spring’s mood swings happen so often that cool-season gardening has become, well, cool. We can resist planting tender geraniums and petunias until warm weather is here to stay if garden centers offer up a smorgasbord of irrepressible flowers. Here are several container recipes that I’ve tried that will flourish even if temperatures dip into the nippy range.

These pink pots set the tone for picking plants that show off the season’s hottest hues: soft shades of pink, purple, green, and gray. In the background pot: Helichrysum Icicles, English ivy, Osteospermum Soprano Light Purple, and Diascia Little Charmer. In the foreground pot: Diascia Little Charmer, Intensia Neon Pink phlox, Heucherella Stoplight, Armeria Rubrifolia, Osteospermum Soprano white, Snowstorm Giant Snowflake bacopa, Nemesia Compact Innocence, and Ajuga Catlin’s Giant.

The edible ingredients in this container salad garden are just too pretty to eat…for now, at least. Included in the mix: Pigeon Red kale, Esmeralda lettuce, chives, Ultima Baron Merlot pansy, and Sorbet violas.

This sky-blue planter brightens a gray day with these cheerful, chill-shrugging occupants: Sutera Blue Showers, Snowstorm Giant Snowflake bacopa, Bracteantha Sundaze Golden Beauty, Osteospermum Orange Symphony, Nemesia Compact Innocence, Trinitaria pansy, and Fire and Ice hosta.

 


Denny Schrock

first salad

A blend of lettuces dressed with crumbled blue cheese and croutons is a springtime dinner treat.

Salad season has arrived. I devoured the first salad from the garden last night for dinner. This first batch of salad greens came from various lettuces, spinach, and corn salad that overwintered in the garden with no protection, a first-time occurrence in my Des Moines garden.

I could have harvested them earlier, but I’ve been traveling so much lately that I’ve not had the opportunity to do so. The outlook for more springtime salads from the garden looks rosy. The early-March planting of lettuce and spinach is almost ready to reap as well. I should thin them and use the rejects as gourmet baby greens.

Radishes from the garden are also ready to pick. These first red orbs are sweet and mild because they have matured quickly in the pleasant spring weather. Now if my tomatoes would just ripen in the next two weeks…….!

Fingernail-sized radishes will add color to spring salads.

Recently seeded rows of lettuce and spinach are ready to thin and use in salads.


Denny Schrock

first tomato

It’s finally happened. I succeeded in getting ripe tomatoes to add to summer salads before the spring-sown lettuce, spinach, and snap peas melted out in summer’s heat. (After two successive days with 100-degree F plus heat indices, that may soon change!)

The successful tomato variety? It’s ‘Lizzano’, an All-America Selections winner for this year. It certainly gets my vote as a keeper. Never mind that it’s “just” a cherry tomato. I don’t care about the size of the fruits as long as they’re flavorful and productive. So far, ‘Lizzano’ fits the bill. It’s certainly earliest of the 20 varieties of tomatoes that I’m growing this year. And unlike some cherry tomatoes, the plant is staying compact (less than 2 feet tall). It also reportedly has excellent disease resistance.

I’m especially celebrating the early harvest because not only has the tomato harvest coincided with the bounty of salad fixings, I have ripe peppers to add to the blend! ‘Sweet Heat’ pepper, from Ball Seed Company grows a compact 12 inches tall, and is bearing 1- to 2-inch long red fruits with a nice blend of sweetness and mild heat–somewhere between the flavor of a bell pepper and a hot pepper. Last year I grew it in a container with some herbs, but this year it’s growing in the ground. It has done well in both locations.

Local growers tell us that because of cool spring weather we won’t have ripe Iowa sweet corn this July 4th, but I can gloat a little and say that I have ripe peppers and tomatoes to enjoy. Summer has arrived!


Denny Schrock

earth day salad bowls

Lettuce, kale, chives, and pansies make a colorful and edible garden accent.

Why not celebrate Earth Day by jumping on the grow-your-own-veggies bandwagon? Colorful salad bowls are a great way to grow your own produce in a limited amount of space. And they can be far more than strictly utilitarian. Combine salad greens with edible flowers and herbs for a showy and tasty mix.

The folks at PanAmerican Seed and BallHort have made creating your own salad bowl a snap with their new SimplySalad seed pellets. Each pellet contains a mix of several edible greens. Global Gourmet provides Asian flair with lacy red and green mustards paired with lettuces of the same color. The Alfresco blend brings a Mediterranean vibe with arugula, endive, and radicchio combined with red and green lettuces. And for the less adventuresome, the City Garden mix teams mild leaf lettuces in a variety of burgundy and green hues.

This photo shows the Global Gourmet salad mix in a container garden, along with Alfresco mix seed pellets in a vial attached to its store display card.

By planting several salad bowls you can have a steady supply of greens for your dinner table. This bowl is ready to harvest. I’ll simply cut the greens off a couple of inches above the ground. In about 3 weeks, they should be ready to harvest again. I expect to get several cycles of harvest from the bowl before summer’s heat puts an end to the harvest. A bonus with growing the greens in a bowl: I can move the container to the shade when temperatures heat up, extending the harvest season. And I’ll be sure to plant some more pellets in mid-summer for fall harvest. By then, I’ll have lots of tomatoes and peppers from my garden to add to the salads!


Denny Schrock

peas please

Pea tendrils curling around a twig trellis

I planted my garden peas this week, along with beets, spinach, lettuce, onions, mesclun salad mixes, corn salad, and kohlrabi. I was out of town all last week, or I would have planted these cool-season veggies then. It’s important to get them into the ground early so they’ll mature before hot weather hits.

I grow only edible podded peas in my garden. I like the idea of less waste and less labor in shelling out peas. (I leave the shelling to commercial canners and freezers.) This year I’m growing Sugar Ann, a dwarf type that needs little staking and Sugar Daddy, a stringless variety. (Everyone could use a Sugar Daddy, right?) I also usually grow  Super Sugar Snap or Sugar Snap, the variety that started the snap pea craze when it was introduced back in 1979.

It will take a week to 10 days for the peas to germinate. That gives me a little time to prepare the trellis the taller types need. I like to use a twig trellis for the peas. This time of year I cut back to the ground my butterfly bushes, chaste tree, and beautyberry, which provide plenty of brushy twigs for the peas to climb. To make the trellis, I insert the base end of branches that are about 3 to 4 feet long 6 to 8 inches into the ground so they’ll stand firmly upright. The peas are planted in two rows spaced about 6 inches apart so the twigs are stuck between the two rows, and make a framework for pea plants from both rows to climb on.

The twig trellis holds up well for the entire season, and is easily removed when I pull the pea vines in midsummer. The brush gets recycled into mulch at the end of the year when it’s run through the chipper/shredder.

I’ll have to wait until June to reap the harvest from the peas, but I’m looking forward to the fresh taste of snap peas in salads and stir fries. I always freeze some for use the following winter, too.


Denny Schrock

Fall’s bountiful harvest

DSCF3100 Although we’ve had a few frosty nights here in Des Moines, IA, my veggie garden continues to produce prolifically. I took this shot of some of the home-grown bounty on my dining room table last evening. The center bowl contains a mix of baby lettuces and mesclun (Both were protected from frost in the garden by floating row covers.) and a couple mini cabbage heads–secondary heads that developed after the main crop head was harvested earlier this summer. I use them like large Brussels sprouts or as I would regular cabbage.

Surrounding the bowl (from the center foreground) are purple ‘Graffiti Hybrid’ cauliflower, ‘Golden’ beet, heirloom red tomatoes, Swiss chard, ‘Small Sugar’ and ‘Long Island Cheese’ pumpkins, collard greens, ‘Red Cored Chantenay’ carrots, ‘Soldier’ beet, and ‘Furry Yellow Hog’ tomato, another heirloom variety.

Shortly after I took this photo, I enjoyed a tasty dinner that included a lettuce-mesclun salad with chopped tomatoes and carrots. Some of the other veggies will make it to the Thanksgiving table–either in the form of a side dish or as part of the centerpiece. They’re so colorful that they’re a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. For more ideas on beautiful vegetable varieties to grow, see our slide show on growing colorful vegetables.