Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson, Kim Palmer and Mary Jane Smetanka are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.
Growing a new vegetable for the first time is a little garden thrill that never gets old.
Saturday I picked my first homegrown pepper. I'd been keeping an eye on the biggest one for several days, watching it gradually turn from glossy green to brilliant red. Finally it was ready, so I plucked it off, sliced it up and popped it into my mouth. It was delicious! Juicy, crisp and sweet.
Since I'm a rookie when it comes to peppers, I didn't know whether my first harvest was early or not, so I checked the Minnesota harvest calendar (http://www.pickyourown.org/MNharvestcalendar.htm). Peppers generally start ripening in mid-July and continue through mid-September, according to the calendar, so mine appear to be on the early side but nothing unusual.
I do have some experience with tomatoes, enough to know that my plants are weeks ahead of schedule. I've been harvesting cherry tomatoes since July 1, although my full-size tomatoes are still hard and green.
This year's early spring and hot, sunny summer is expected to push a lot of crops onto the fast track. What's going on in your garden? What have you harvested so far? Are things ripening earlier than usual?
Spring is fleeting, and so is fiddlehead fern season. These tasty treats are the curled baby heads of the ostrich fern, and they grow wild in Minnesota, New England and Canada.
Some say they taste like asparagus, but to my taste buds, their flavor is more delicate, like spring itself. Plus their shape and texture is amazing, turning any spring salad or stir fry into a gorgeous gourmet delicacy.
I first ate fiddleheads only a couple of years ago, and now, come May, I start to crave them with a vengeance.
Fiddlehead ferns appear fleetingly on the menus of some local restaurants, but if you want to cook them at home, they're hard to find. This year, I tried the Farmer's Market and Kowalski's without success, but finally found some at Byerly's.
I put them in an omelette, along with some mushrooms, and they were wonderful! But at $7.99 a package, they're definitely not cheap.
I'd love to try growing fiddlehead ferns them at home. My yard is not naturally wet and wooded, the kind of environment ostrich ferns are supposed to like, so this may be an exercise in futility.
Anyone out there tried growing fiddlehead ferns? Or lucky enough to have them growing wild?
Flipping through US Weekly last night, I got a big juicy surprise. There, on the back page "Fashion Police" feature, were a bumper crop of celebrities dressed up as garden produce.
The glamorous starlets had been snapped at various red-carpet events wearing designer dresses in gigantic vegetable prints, including tomatoes. turnips and chili peppers.
Veggies have been trending up for several growing seasons. The evidence is everywhere, from urban microfarms and farmers markets, to crop mobs to tattooed hipsters tending their heirloom seedlings.
The new garden books that cross my desk overwhelmingly lean toward edibles and away from pretty flowers.
But the magazine spread was a sign that simple veggies are now crossing from earthy/trendy to high-fashion chic. Which is kind of funny.
The Dolce & Gabbana tomato-print organza dress that Kirsten Dunst was wearing retails for more than $2,000. That's a lot of Beefsteak!
Would you wear a veggie dress? I think I'll stick to showing my love for produce the old-fashioned way -- by digging in the dirt.
A watched tomato never ripens. I know that can't be true. But it feels true this week as I stare intently at the tiny green tomatoes on my plants. There aren't that many of them, and they don't seem to be growing. At this rate, it will be weeks before I can bite into a homegrown tomato.
I was spoiled last summer, when I actually harvested my first tomato in late June. Freaky! But that sunny, sultry spring we had last year put all my plants on the fast track, including my tomatoes. This year, no such luck. All my tomatoes are about the size of marbles -- with one exception. That tomato is as big and plump as a toddler's fist, but it's still hard and green.
When DOES the tomato season typically start in Minnesota? The "normal picking dates" are mid-July through September, according to the harvest calendar at www.pickyourown.org.
But I'm pretty sure my tomatoes are going to be lagging behind. At this rate, even late July seems optimistic. I'm craving them RIGHT NOW, but I guess I'm going to have to go to the farmer's market. What's going on with your tomatoes this year?
Last Saturday afternoon, I spent a few hours browsing garden centers, looking for something fun and beautiful to buy my Mom for Mother's Day. I was planning to pick up a flowering shrub or a hanging basket filled with bright blooms. Then I saw something at Tangletown Gardens (www.tangletowngardens.com) that made me stop in my tracks.
It was a hanging basket filled with nothing but foliage: Big velvety Rex begonias, in a fresh spring green with burgundy mottling on the leaves, plus a few small accent plants in eggplant and chartreuse. There were no flowers at all. Yet it was stunning and unusual. Maybe a bit too unusual for my Mom, who likes her geraniums. I looked around some more, but I kept coming back to that basket of begonias, and finally bought it.
Mom loved it (or at least she said she did). And I wish I'd picked up one of those pots for myself.
I haven't planted my own containers yet, but I know foliage will take a starring role. Flowers are fabulous, don't get me wrong. But the longer I garden, the more I tend to choose plants for their foliage rather than their blooms. While flowers bloom for a short time (or not at all), foliage usually keeps its looks throughout the growing season. And leaves come in so many shapes, sizes, textures and colors, that it's easy to combine them to create a great-looking landscape.
When I visit the winning gardens in the Star Tribune's annual "Beautiful Gardens" contest (http://bit.ly/kgecGK), I'm struck by how many of them focus on the non-flowering plants. Often the gardeners say they started gardening because they wanted the payoff of pretty flowers or tasty veggies. But they soon got hooked on foliage.
My current favorites are ligularia in my garden beds, and licorice plant and moneywort for my pots, with a big, showy tropical like elephant ear or coleus. And this year, I definitely want some 'Cowardly Lion' begonias, like the ones I bought my Mom.
How about you? Tell us about your favorite foliage plants. What leaves do you love?
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