Seed Stars of 2011


City garden
Happy New Year!

The catalogs are arriving, and it's time to start thinking about the vegetable garden.  While 2010 was a banner year for me, 2011 was problematic for many reasons.  I made a new garden in my city yard.  Too small!  Too many trees casting shade and sucking up all the nutrients!  And it rained and rained and rained in late summer, discouraging the tomatoes and diluting the flavor of many other things.

Nonetheless, I always take my broker's advice to diversify.  Shake enough paper packets over the soil, and even in a crap year, you will get some thrills.  Here are mine for 2011.

1. 'Afinia' cutting celery:  I started this early in the basement, and shoehorned the plants into my new garden underneath the branches of a viburnum.  With very little sun, it nonetheless thrived.  Cutting celery, which looks like a pale parsley and lacks the thick stems of ordinary celery, adds an intense celery flavor to soups and stews.  Borderline too intense!  But I wound up being very grateful for this tough planet, which is also extremely hardy.  I was harvesting leaves into December.

2. 'Paul Robeson' tomato:  A terrible tomato year, and the main tragedy was that after getting a few 'Paul Robesons,'  in late July–a big, blackish tomato with spectacular flavor–I got hardly any more.

3. 'Applegreen' eggplant:  I'm a 'Rosa Bianca' lady, when I can get them to do their stuff in my cold climate, but last year, I took a chance on 'Applegreen.'  A big, beautiful plant, with wonderful green softball-sized fruit.   Like 'Rosa Bianca,' 'Applegreen' has a creamy, unbitter flavor.  My feeling is that the paler eggplants are just tastier.

4. 'Marconi Rosso' pepperI fall into the camp of those who do not consider green peppers an actual vegetable, but instead merely an unfortunate stage on the way to red peppers.  Too bad for me.  I live in a place where the peppers often don't redden up before frost.  But this one formed a huge plant, full of sweet horn-shapped peppers that turned red early.  Another shockingly good Seeds From Italy selection.

5. Chrysanthemum greens: Here in upstate New York, I grow increasingly desperate about the lack of decent Asian restaurants.  Increasingly, I ineptly cook Asian myself.  Last year was my first experience with this Japanese edible.  Easy to grow in spring and fall, with a flavor in which you'll detect the scent of chrysanthemum flowers.  Just harvest before they bloom.

6. Chard: I like the more delicate-tasting white-ribbed varieties offered by Seeds From Italy, but the star here is chard, any chard.  Spinach-like vitamins, only unlike spinach, it doesn't bolt as the days get long.  Forms a handsome plant from which you can keep harvesting the outer leaves all summer.  Stands forever in the garden into winter, almost as long as the toughest brassicas.  If only my kids liked it!

7. Direct-seeded okra:  I love okra.  All those slimy gumbos and bisques in my 30 year-old Paul Prudhomme Louisiana Kitchen cookbook!  Love them!  But okra never loved my country garden, which was always too chilly, I think, and maybe had heavier soil than the okra wanted.  Now, however, I am gardening in balmy and sandy Saratoga Springs, NY–zone 5, thank you.  After losing all my onions to cutworm last year, I looked around in desperation in early July for something to fill the spot and found nothing except a four year-old package of generic okra seeds.  What the hey. Only three plants germinated.  But they grew so huge and tall and beautiful, even started so late in the season, that this year, I'll spring for fresh seed and find room for a dozen plants.  Okra, you know, is a relative of hollyhock, and almost as pretty.

That's it!  Like I said, 2011 was not a great year for me.  But in the vegetable garden, the glass is always half full, as long as you plant a variety of crops.  Whether the same holds true for life in general–whether the key to happiness is putting one's eggs in many baskets–is a debate for another time.


  1. That is an absolutely beautiful garden! Yes, the catalogues are indeed arriving and at a fast & furious pace. I’ve received my Bakers Seed Catalogue, Seeds of Italy, and HighMowing plus a plethora of others. My winner was Regiment Spinach from High Mowing which must have been everyone’s winner since they are now on backorder until March. Enjoy the upcoming Spring and sow sow sow!!!

  2. If you can grow okra in your cool rainy environment, maybe I can grow cutting celery in my hotter and drier than hades one…

  3. I keep hearing about this Seeds of Italy… I might have to give them a try!
    If you like asian greens, look into what is called a “Sesame Leaf”, it’s not actually the sesame plant. [In Korean cuisine it’s called that…]
    I grow this plant to preserve the leaves dried as well as packed in soy sauce… Tossed into noodle broth [dried] or eaten with rice and a fried egg [preserved] ..YUM!
    It’s a member of the Mint family – but doesn’t overwinter… Expect LOTS of seedlings though, very prolific! I love it.

  4. I have to say Jung’s was handing out Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry seeds last spring, which all germinated and were transplanted to the family garden. They were a huge hit for my twin 2-year old nephews who would camp on the plants and pick them clean. They even learned to discern ripe from unripe and managed the dexterity to de-husk them on their own. I think it was late in the season before any of the grown-ups managed to get any to taste!

  5. You might have better luck with one of the shorter “dwarf” varieties of okra. They mature faster, don’t seem to mind my heavy soil, and while zone 5 too, we do have hotter late summers.

  6. “Shake enough paper packets over the soil, and even in a crap year, you will get some thrills.” I love it! That is a truism for life!

    My big winners this year were San Marzano tomatoes, and their “cousin”, the hybrid Super San Marzano. Yes, they are fabled sauce tomatoes, and they live up to it. The plants grew over 6 feet tall, and fruited promiscuously, even in what was probably the crappiest tomato-growing season I’ve ever experienced. Plus, it was fun to grow them side by side and see the differences. I still have 3 big ziploc bags of them in my freezer, which we are savoring. I’ve saved seeds from the original, and hope they germinate this year.

  7. Michele you need to fess up. That first year garden has always looked to lush for six inches of city compost on top of a sandy soil. What else did you fertilize with?

    The thought of okra and eggplant is most enticing, but I think I would be wasting my time and garden space at this altitude. Highs of 85 at the peak of summer are meek and rare.

  8. Christopher C, I have many faults, but fibbing is generally not among them!

    City compost, that’s all, and God knows what was in it. The garden looks good in the photo, but I had loads of pest problems for the first time in my gardening career, including cutworms and the borer that causes cucumber wilt.

    Since I’ve had no such troubles in the school garden I do down the street, I’m assuming that these irritations were caused by the not yet dead lawn underlying the whole show.

    Try the ‘Applegreen’ eggplant–it’s supposed to be good for short seasons. Maybe that includes cool summers.

  9. Peas were the stand out for me this year. I never before got around to planting them early enough. This year, I got them in the ground in March and ate peas through May and June. They were delicious! I never liked peas before but this time they were so good they didn’t make it indoors. I ate them all in my pajamas and bare feet before breakfast.

  10. My potatoes were the winning last fall producing over 160#. But I dried them off upstairs in my husbands workshop and the fingerlings greened on me. I’m going to use them as my seed this spring. Sweet corn was good too-I’ve been soaking the seeds the night before I plant which really seems to help germination.

  11. My Paul Robesons were very disappointing last summer, as well (30 miles south of Pittsburgh). However, the new variety “Blush” from Seeds of Change were spectacular! More than 450 tomatoes from 3 plants, excellent fruity flavor, and perfect size for snacking (2 – 3 bites each).

  12. Excellent tip about chrysanthemum greens. It is such a great edible plant because it looks great and is perfect in any edible garden. We are having a very mild winter here in the Northwest and my chard from last summer is continuing to produce well.

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