Filling My Salad Bowl

leaf lettuce
leaf lettuce
Leaf lettuce ready for harvest.

Earlier this week, I had my first vegetable harvest—some lovely leaves from my three lettuce-bowl gardens, dressed with a ranch-style dressing spiced up with snips of chives and parsley from the yard.

I love the taste of home-grown leaf lettuce, which seems softer and more earthy than the big, crunchy heads you get at the grocery store. These salad bowls were really easy to put together. I started several types of lettuce under lights indoors in early April. Later in the month, I planted them in large containers filled with a homemade potting mix.

Due to our erratic spring, I had to move them in and out of the house during really cold weather, but for a couple of weeks now, the bowls have been on the front patio, soaking up the sun and the rain and getting big and delicious.  One of the bowls contains ‘Pablo’ lettuce, and heirloom head lettuce from Seed Savers Exchange. The other bowls have a leaf lettuce mix from Renee’s Garden. I’ll harvest these using the “cut-and-come-again” method, taking leaves from the outside and letting them continue to grow.

Do you grow lettuce in your garden?

pablo lettuce
Pablo lettuce in pot.


Seed Ordering Season

Last year I discovered some inner truths about growing vegetables.

  1. My tomatoes grow better in the sites of former compost piles than they do in containers, and that has everything to do with my watering habits rather than soil.
  2. I grow cucumbers much better than I eat pickles.
  3. Nine raspberry plants — Best. Investment. Ever.
  4. Green beans are great off the plant, but not that good frozen.
I'm not the only one who grows cucumbers better than they eat them.

With these truths in mind, I made my seed order recently. I will be growing several varieties of tomatoes because, if I put them in the ground and water them well, they are a joy to eat fresh and to preserve. At a Garden Writers Association event in September, the nice folks at Botanical Interests gave the attendees lots of seeds, so from that stash I will be growing Principe Borghese, a good tomato for drying. I also have seeds from Renee’s Garden for Mandarin Cross, a orange colored Japanese slicing tomato and Isis Candy, an heirloom cherry tomato. I also ordered Brandywine tomato seeds from Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa to round out the selections. These are the ones I’ll be growing from seeds. Depending on space and enthusiasm, I may pick up a few starts in a reliable variety, such as Early Girl or Celebrity.

On advice from Eric Johnson, a Northern Gardener writer and fellow blogger, I’m going to try growing potatoes in 2012. Eric asserts (in the March/April issue of the magazine) that homegrown potatoes are 10 times more wonderful than homegrown tomatoes — so, I ordered Red Norland and Yellow Finn potatoes Irish Eyes Seeds (love the name!) in Idaho.  I’m looking forward to learning some potato-growing tricks this year and enjoying potato deliciousness in the summer and fall.

As in the past, I’ll be growing sugar snap peas (Amish Snap), pole beans (Climbing French and Ideal Market), winter squash (Walthum Butternut) and Minnesota Midget melons, all from Seed Savers.

I will not be growing cucumbers. Nada. Zip. None.

Fitting all this in may require some expansion into new garden territory or some containers. Either way, it’s hard not to be a little excited about this summer’s vegetable garden — even if it is still months away.


Garden Trends 2012

Not sure what this daylily is called, but the color will be hot in 2012.

At this time of year, there’s plenty of discussion about what’s hot, what’s new and which trends will influence gardening this year. Some of the trends are fun, if superficial. Expect to see even more hot orange flowers now that Tangerine Tango is the color of the year. More gardeners are also playing with succulents and a few are heading back to the 70s with terrariums. (We’ll have an article on terrariums in Northern Gardener later in 2012.)

But beyond what looks good and what is fashionable, gardens reflect some underlying social shifts. For instance, interest in food gardening continues to be on the rise, including among young people, who traditionally are nongardeners. (According to a Garden Writers Association trend report, 59 percent of homeowners are now growing some food.) Whether trend watchers call them Urban Knights or The New Beginners, these are folks who want to eat healthy and to know what they are eating. They are concerned about food miles, eating seasonally and growing really tasty, clean food. To help these young gardeners, you’ll see even more information about small-space gardening and plants that are easy to grow as well as organic methods and heirloom seeds. Renee’s Garden Seeds, for example, recently introduced “Easy to Grow Seed Collections,” one for a container kitchen garden and one for a colorful kitchen garden.

Another trend can be loosely called concern for the earth. After growing food, the issues homeowners want information about most included earth-friendly gardening (49 percent) and native plants (41 percent). Planting for butterflies, bees and birds — pollinators — is motivating plant selections by more gardeners and more gardeners are committing to heirloom plants and organic methods.

Another not-exactly-surprising change is that more gardeners are seeking information about growing plants on the Internet. About 25 percent of gardeners turn to the web for information. (Only 8 percent turn to garden blogs!)

In many ways, these are continuations of trends from as far back as 2008. I’m excited about all these trends (even the terrariums!) so it’s an good time to be a gardener.