Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.


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.

CarrotsI think that, with the exception of watering, container gardening makes growing most plants easier than trying to cultivate them in the ground.

This applies to vegetables, too: In my experience, tomatoes don’t get as diseased in pots than in the ground (maybe because they’re up higher where air flows better or because a good potting mix is free of disease spores), eggplants become even more ornamental, and carrots are easier to harvest.

Yes, you read that right: carrots. If you have a deep enough container, you can grow really lovely carrots in a pot. They’ll typically grow straighter, especially if you have rocky ground, and are a cinch to pull from loose potting mix as compared to the ground. And the ferny foliage looks great, too — either in a mass by itself or as an accent to your favorite flowers or herbs.

Want to give it a try? There’s still time this year to plant a batch of carrot seeds!

Flats of bedding plants for sale in Haarlem Tomorrow marks the opening day for the 2010 season of the Des Moines Farmers Market. This Saturday morning gathering of 200 plus vendors has become an event that attracts 10,000 to 15,000 people weekly, eager to purchase fresh-picked produce, buy beautiful flowers, and snarf fresh-baked goodies. It’s a party atmosphere where you’re almost certain to run into other people you know. It’s even a tourist attraction! My sister-in-law and one of her friends are visiting this weekend from two hours away so that they can join in the festivities.

This early in the season asparagus will be at peak production, along with salad greens such as lettuce and spinach. Visitors will also be sure to find lots of annual flowers for sale as hanging baskets or bedding plants. (Need to know how many plants to buy to fill your flower bed? Try our handy bedding plant estimator that will make the calculations for you.)

Do you have a farmers market in your town? They have nearly universal appeal. The shot at left is from the Market Square (Grote Markt) in Haarlem, Netherlands. I recently stayed just a few blocks from the market, and was able to see the beautiful flowers that vendors had for sale. Here are a couple more shots of the blooms to buy. And even though I don’t speak Dutch, I was able to figure out the translation for boeket! These bouquets of gerberas, mums, freesias, and hypericum were selling for just under 5 Euros (about $6.50 at current exchange rates)—a great example of the wonderful bargains you can find at farmers markets.

Floating row cover protected this Provencal mesclun mix from earlier snows and frosts.

Floating row cover protected this Provencal mesclun mix from earlier snows and frosts.

You can have fresh greens from the garden on the table for Thanksgiving dinner, even in central Iowa where the average first frost date arrives in early October. This year my yard was blanketed in snow on the 10th of October. Tender veggies such as the tomatoes and peppers turned to mush after that blast of cold. But other hardier crops continue to thrive despite sub-freezing weather.

I’ve been enjoying salads of chard and mesclun mix (a blend of lettuces and Asian greens) for the last several weeks, and expect to serve some up with the turkey and dressing at Thanksgiving when my family is visiting. I planted the mesclun mix in August, and covered it with floating row cover soon after it emerged, partly to protect it from marauding rabbits, and partly to prevent damage from frost.

Leaves of Bull's Blood beet add wonderful color to salads.

Leaves of Bull's Blood beet add wonderful color to salads.

I’ll add some Bull’s Blood beet greens to the salad to liven up the blend. I grow this beet almost exclusively for its brilliant red/maroon leaves, which are mild and tasty, especially during the cool weather of fall and spring.

BroccoliFresh broccoli is also on the menu. After I harvest the primary head, I let the side shoot sprout. They’ll continue to produce until temperatures dip into the low 20s F. These smaller heads easily fit into the vegetable steamer without needing to be chopped up. Flavor improves with the cool weather. And best yet, there’s no need to worry about closely examining the tight clusters for hidden worms! I prefer to get my Thanksgiving dinner protein source from turkey rather than cabbage loopers.

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