Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Beauty of Seeds

Left: Tuscarora Bread Bean;  Top: Romano Pole;  Right: Seneca Speckled Egg 
Yesterday the first of my many seed orders arrived. Each year I try new varieties and wonder which will be new favorites to earn a permanent spot in my vegetable garden.

While the seeds of one variety of tomato may look exactly like another variety of tomato, the same cannot be said of beans. I always open up the bean seed packages to see what shape, color, and possibly patterning the seeds have. The seeds I received yesterday had two varieties new to my gardens this year: "Seneca Speckled Egg" and "Tuscarora Bread Bean" as well as a favorite from a previous year, "Romano Pole." The beauty of these seeds did not disappoint!

I'm especially excited to try the Tuscarora Bread Bean which is an heirloom variety that was originally passed on from a Tuscarora elder - the Tuscarora are one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee (aka Iroquois). You can read more about the history of this bean on the beans product page at the Sample Seed Shop. This bean variety is used in the making of a traditional Native cornbread that has beans in it. The addition of beans makes this a heartier, more nutrition ladened cornbread. Interested in trying bean bread? You can find a recipe for bean bread on the Cherokee Nation website.

Looking for these seeds? Visit the The Sample Seed Shop.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Companion Planting with Pole Beans

Pole beans and borage
I must freely admit to being a bit of a "wild gardener." It is my term for gardeners who are the exact opposite of the gardeners who have their tidy, well-mulched gardens carefully planned, each plant with its defined and labeled space, and everything is rather prim-and-proper. "Wild gardeners" have a looser and more organic-style style to the gardens. We work with the natural tendencies of the plants to create gardens that take on a more natural and full look. Volunteer plants, those that self-seed themselves, are often seen as a bonus rather than something to be eradicated. Ok, I think I'm a very wild gardener.

Honeybee on a borage flower
This last spring and summer I had a slow start to planting the second half of my vegetable garden. By the time I got to planting the pole beans in one area, self-sown borage had sprouted. Borage (Borago officinalis) is probably one of the best self-seeders in my gardens outside of feverfew. Borage is potherb and medicinal plant - see more about its history and uses here. Even so, I really don't use borage outside of flowers for the salad bowl. But I do like to have borage in my vegetable garden because it is a terrific bee magnet. And once it starts blooming, it doesn't stop until the frosts kill it. The blooms are pretty and they bring pollinators to my garden in droves. So in a moment of "why not?" I left the young borage plants in place and planted my beans around them.

It wasn't long before the beans began their skyward climb up the poles I had put in place for them. The borage on the other hand, began its sprawl over the ground. Yes, borage is not a neat and tidy plant that respects the space in which you put it - it sprawls and it self-seeds. But I found it a wonderful underplanting for the pole beans. The borage smothered out the weeds plus provided a living mulch to keep the ground shaded and cool around the base of the beans. Best of all the borage plants attracted the bees that the beans so needed for pollination. It was a lucky happenstance that worked out very well.

In planning out your gardens this year, you may wish to try underplanting your pole beans with borage.  I'm going to do it this year -- but this year by choice!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mid-Winter Sights

Even though it is in the middle of winter, some plants still provide beauty and edibles. Last week, prior to unseasonably warm temperatures and a thaw, I took some pictures of a few of the evergreen or "still going strong" plants peaking through the snow.

The picture of the sunrise on January 8th (to the right) was too beautiful not to share as well. It is a rare day here in winter when the sky is clear enough to see a sunrise let alone one so spectacularly colored. Enjoy.


If I recall correctly, this kale variety is "Fizz." The one you can barely see behind it is "Nero di Toscana." I have quite a number of different kale varieties in the garden still green and still very tasty. This is always a great plant to add to your veggie garden but especially if you end up getting a late start to things. Kale will happily grow into the fall and winter extending out your fresh harvest season.

Bloody Dock

While this plant is a little hidden by some grass - it did plant itself here after all, the beautiful red veining for which this dock was named, is visible. While you can add young leaves of this dock to the salad bowl, I like it better for it ornamental qualities since I don't find the flavor anything special.


Sage (Salvia officinalis) is one my favorite herbs and garden plants. As a garden plant, what is not to like? It has striking grey-green foliage and blue-violet flowers and is a well-mannered and evergreen plant. In the winter my sage takes on purple colors - hints of that can be seen even in this picture. Some years, depending upon the severity of winter, they get even more purple. Even though the sage hails from the sunny Mediterranean, it survives Western NY State winters quite nicely.


Like kale, I have a variety of mustards, radishes, green onions, and other cold tolerant plants still available in the garden. This is one of the many mustards still green in the garden. I can't seem to recall this variety's name at the moment but if I do recall correctly, it was from Kitazawa Seed Company. Kitazawa is a great source for Asian vegetable seeds of all sorts. 


This strikingly colored broccoli came along very late in the season. I got the seed in just as our summer-long drought began and so these plants got a slow start - my fault, not the seeds'. Even so, as our rains finally returned in the fall some of the plants that were in a "holding pattern" all summer finally began to grow. This variety is called "Purple Peacock" and I got the seed from Horizon Herbs. I've always been very happy with seeds I've gotten from Horizon Herbs - they are plant people who truly love their plants and the seeds always have shown that.