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Marion's UpBeet Gardener
Newsletter has been
replaced by Marion's blog
which you can find at:
Are you new to gardening? Or maybe you just moved north, or
want to grow something besides roses. If so, this article's for you.
Later, as you set about trying your hand at some of the following suggestions,
relax and know that making mistakes in the garden is how a gardener learns.
To put it another way, "There is no such thing as a garden mistake, it's
just a compost opportunity," says Marianne Binetti,
a Seattle Guru of Dirt.
Though it's been since 1987 when I grew my first head of lettuce in Kodiak,
Alaska, I consider myself a beginner. I feel I've barely scratched the
surface of all there is to know about bugs, seeds, weather and Nature's
laws. If gardening is a work in progress, then I'm the perpetual student.
One of Marion
Owen's early organic gardens in Kodiak, Alaska
to lettuce. It wasn't the seedlings' fault. No, lettuce is more durable
than that. I was so intrigued with how lettuce looked outside the store's
produce department, that I completely forgot to harvest it. When I finally
got around to picking a few leaves, not only had the plants bolted to
3-foot towers, they tasted so bitter we couldn't eat them.
Since that first year, I've make an annual list of what I grow in the
garden. It shows what plants flop and which ones flourish. It also reminds
me that there are a lot of easy-grow vegetables, flowers and herbs that
are ideal for the beginning gardener. What follows is a collection of
top performers. (For tips on starting plants from seed, visit my Seeding
is Believing article. If you buy transplants, read about how
to choose a plant). I've posted seed and plant sources at the end.
Studies show that organically
grown vegetables not only
taste better, they are better for you!
- Carrots--Sow in early spring. Be
patient--they germinate in 14 to 21 days. Keep soil moist.
- Snap peas--A vertical climber, snap
peas are ideal for small gardens and containers. Flowers and tips
are also edible
- Lettuce--Any and all varieties. Mix seeds/transplants together
for a gourmet salad blend.
- Kale--Healthy, tasty, good in hot and cold dishes. Frost hardy.
- Potatoes--A must-have in northern gardens. Try peanut, blue
varieties and Yukon Gold. Have you ever tasted potato
- Onion (green and bulb)--The hardiest vegetable on Earth.
TIP: Grow "long day" varieties for long days (higher latitudes); "short
day" ones, for lower latitudes. My favorite onion for storing and flavor:
Buffalo, from Johnny's Selected
- Cabbage--Early and late varieties. Keep evenly moist to prevent
- Spinach--Sow a new crop every 2 weeks for continued harvest
- Broccoli--These tasty and versatile "little trees" pack a big
- Mustard greens--Red Giant, Green Wave, kale (above).
- Oriental greens--All varieties thrive in northern gardens.
- Broad (fava) beans--The northern lima bean. Vertical, hardy,
- Beans (runner)--Some varieties sport beautiful white, pink
or orange blossoms.
- Beets--Yes, yes, yes.
All varieties do well in cool soil.
- Radish--Kids love them. So do crows (they toss them around
the garden like beach balls).
- Brussels sprouts--The older varieties often do best.
- Leeks--Worth the wait; they're sweetened by frost.
Iceland poppies photo
by Marion Owen. (You can take pictures like this!
Visit my How to Photograph Flowers article.)
- Annuals--Pansies, calendula, nasturtium,
sweet peas, baby blue eyes, dianthus, lunaria, Iceland poppy, silene...
- Biennials--Foxglove, Sweet William...
- Perennials--Columbine, Shasta daisy, delphinium, bee balm (monarda),
Jacob's ladder, bleeding heart, autumn joy, geranium, forget-me-not,
primrose, meconopsis poppy, Oriental poppy
- Bulbs and other early perennials--Tulips, primrose, daffodils,
crocus, snowdrops, lily
- Chives--Stems and flowers are edible. Divide plants every 3
to 4 years.
- Mint--Keep contained and well-mulched. Grow in shade or partial
shade. Adapts well to life in an indoor
- Lemon balm--Member of mint family. Good in baths, iced tea.
- Arugula (garden rocket)--Sesame-nutty flavor that adds zest
- Oregano--Hardy, pretty plant. Dries well.
- Parsley (flat and curly leaf)--Another must-have, vitamin-rich.
- Sage--Blue-green leaves. Fragrant perennial; prefers well-draining
- Chamomile--For herbal tea, grow the German, not Roman
- Thyme--Plants can tire and may need to be replaced after several
- Dill--You need this for everything from pickles to seafood
- Fennel--A hint of licorice; cook and use the bulb like onions;
tops for herbs.
- Garlic--Plant cloves in late summer; mulch and protect over
winter for a summer harvest.
Fruiting shrubs are ideal for edible landscaping.
Try raspberries, hardy kiwis, rhubarb, currants
(red, black and white), gooseberries, and crabapples. For a list of helpful
organic gardening tips, visit my collection of
articles. If you have a greenhouse, go ahead and try tomatoes, cucumbers,
basil, and squash.
AND PLANT SOURCES
Johnny's Selected Seeds
Nichol's Garden Nursery--Herbs,
seeds & goods for the gardener-cook
Thompson & Morgan
fruiting shrubs and trees
Charley's Greenhouse and Garden--Greenhouse,
seed-starting and gardening supplies
In spite of my laughable first attempts, lettuce remains an annual favorite,
along with new additions such as asparagus and artichokes.
Though finicky, these can be grown in cool climates. Experience
is your best teacher. Like any skill, to learn how to garden, you first
must want to garden. "'Green fingers'," says Russell Page, "are
a fact, and a mystery only to the unpractised. But green fingers are the
extensions of a verdant heart."
P.S. When you're finished with your garden catalogs, there are a variety
of ways to recycle them!