Winter on the Hedgestead: Thoughts of Spring

Last November I planted a bunch of stuff in pots outside, just because I couldn’t stand to see the season end.  They were all different sorts of greens, not only rainbow chard (from Johnnie’s) and some lettuce, but all kinds of Asian greens that I’d gotten from Kitazawa Seeds. They grew fabulously in the cold (I took pictures, but can I find them? Hell no). It wasn’t until a recently heavy snow that they were frozen out. Even so, I have noticed some of them coming back in the intervening warm days. The seeds I had the best luck with were Red Komatsuna, Natsu Rakuten komatsuna, Red Mizuna (which is especially pretty), Misome komatsuna, Early Mibuna, and Garland Round Leaved shungiku. I like red- and purple-leaved plants, as you can tell! You’ll notice that a number of these are hybrids. I have no problem with growing natural hybrids that are just the result of selection; often, you can actually collect seeds from them, and folks have done this with plants like hybrid tomatoes and developed an open-pollinated strain from them, like the famous Sungold tomato and its many open-pollinated versions grown from seeds gardeners collected from the hybrid fruits. So even though many believe that the seeds of hybrids is sterile or will produce monsters, generally, with a natural hybrid, that is not true. We are not talking genetically modified hybrids here. I never grow or sell any GMOs. But hybrids? Hybrids are the mongrels of the plant world and have mongrel vigor; like mongrels, they are often tougher and stronger then a delicate purebred. This has certainly been the case with these greens. The Kitazawa seeds are a little on the spendy side, but I find that their seeds are healthy (no “floor-sweepings” here), they are correctly identified (I’ve had problems with some seed companies sending me misidentified stuff), and they give you plenty.  I still have tons of seeds left to grow more Japanese greens this spring in my pots. It’s great to go out there and cut some greens with a scissors and throw them in a pan with some garlic, onions, herbs, and tofu or eggs. Cover to wilt and saute down. A little salt or soy sauce, and NOM. I used the previous year’s potting soil to grow these in, adding only a top dressing of organic mushroom compost as fertilizer. Greens are undemanding but don’t like weeds. These are mostly in the Brassica family, so if you don’t like broccoli or have a hard time digesting it, these greens are a good choice. Growing them in the fall or early spring also means there is almost no bug pressure. I’ll be planting lots more of these as soon as we head into spring.

Yep, the winter isn’t 1/3 over yet, but I am thinking of spring already. It’s not that I don’t like winter; I just love growing plants. Mandrake babies are sprouting, and some are big enough to have been potted up. There’s stuff I’m in the process of adding to the seed selection of Alchemy Works, but I’ve also ordered my veggie seeds for next season. One place I’ve been using lately that I like a lot is Seeds From Italy. I mentioned them a few years ago on account of the veggie pr0n of Franchi seed packets, but since then I’ve used more of their seeds and have gotten to like the quality and quantity as well as the just plain unusual veggie seeds they have.

One of their selections that I’ve been growing for a while is the Swiss Giant climbing snap peas. This is a flat snap pea like a snow pea but much bigger. Supposedly the plants can get up to five feet tall, but mine never have. More like four. They are delicious fresh. I have never gotten them into a pan, only eaten them right in the garden or in a salad, but someone mentioned they are limp when stir-fried. Who cares. They are so good and crunchy when eaten fresh.

One green I’ve tried to grow without success so far is escarole. This is a bitter leafy green that is traditionally cooked in souop in Italy. I love me some bitter greens, but I got almost no germination using seeds from another company.  I hope I have better luck with Blond Full Heart escarole. Another bitter green I’ve had little luck with is radicchio. ‘Course, I was a bit neglectful of my plantings. This time I’ve resolved to do better by doing less and instead of choosing a number of different varieties, will try just one: Radicchio di Chioggia. This variety is apparently trademarked in the US as Royal Rose; in Italy, it’s just Radicchio di Chioggia. According to the Italian Wikipedia, this variety has been around since the 1930s and is a cross between regular radicchio and endive. It’s a beautiful plant. I’d love to get a good harvest of radicchio, as it is impossible to find in an organic version where I live. Not only the picture attracted me, but the “one of the easiest radicchios to grow” part.

Last year I grew a bunch of cherry tomatoes and peach tomatoes (which are excellent, by the way, and I will grow them again for sure), but this year I want to grow some tomatoes to roast for sauce, so I decided to try a large plum tomato called San Marzano Redorta. I don’t usually like plum tomatoes on account of they are not as flavorful when fresh as other types of tomatoes, but this one is supposed to be good fresh and I do hope to do some roasting. On account of tree growth, I no longer have anywhere near the amount of sunny planting area I once did, when I grew buckets of tomatoes, but I will see what I end up with. I can grow the cherries and garden peaches in pots on the carport, not problem, using jute cord to wind around their stems and hold them up. They like it there. But the big guys I had growing in the ground and held up with bamboo and jute “swingsets.”

The one other veggie I want to try this year is lupini. These get very pretty flowers, so I am going to grow them in the front yard along the walk, interspersed with peas. This is a high protein legume that is traditionally pickled/brined. I like the idea Plants For a Future mentions of roasting them. They do have to be leached of alkaloids first, but I thought this might be a good way of colonizing my sunny front yard with veggies without them looking like veggies.

All this might sound like a lot of seeds, but it’s nothing compared to what I have grown in the past. I’m trying to be more disciplined.:) Generally, that is working, with Saturn’s help. I already have my seeds for witching plants and stuff I’d like to grow out and collect seeds from. I still need to work out my schedule for when to start what, but that’s one of the pleasures of winter.

Got your veggie seeds yet? I just went and ordered more, like oddball beets for pickling and medieval veggies, some for growing in pots, and some for sale.

3 comments to Winter on the Hedgestead: Thoughts of Spring

  • Valerie Marquez

    Dear Alchemist,

    Love your blog. Very curious about mandrake plants and their potential viability in my neck of the woods (or cactus, per se) in Arizona. Phoenix area is above zone 12, may even be considered 13, although this winter we did see lows of 32 F (Brrrrrrrrrr). Thoughts, suggestions? My garden awaits your counsel – Valerie

  • Alchemist in Charge

    Hi, Valerie,
    I am not sure how mandrake would do there. I think that basically you would have to take it inside in the summer before it got too hot and then put it out in the winter. It does not like hot weather and will go dormant even here in upstate NY in the summer if it’s too hot. It’s worth trying just to see, I think.

  • jonquil

    No seeds ordered yet as I’m moving Feb/Mar, but as yet have no idea if I will have a yard to plant in or not.

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