Organic Gardening

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We have been growing muskmelons (sometimes called cantaloupes) for many years, and a few years ago added the crisp white-fleshed Asian melons to our repertoire. I like nothing better than eating fruit fresh from the field, still warm from the sun. My article about growing melons is coming up in the June/July issue of Growing for Market magazine. Here I will complement that article and the chapter in my book Sustainable Market Farming by writing about personal size melons, a new category on the market, sometimes called “individual serving” melons. They weigh about 2-2.5 pounds each, compared to standard cantaloupes at 3-6 pounds each. To serve, just cut in half and scoop out the seeds. Add ice cream if you like.


Not all personal size melons are new varieties, or hybrids. Some are old varieties with a new marketing spin. We have grown some heirlooms, but the green tone to the flesh and skin, combined with the small size led people to think them not ripe when they were. Know when to harvest your melons!

“Full-slip” and “Half-slip” Melons Explained

“Full-slip” melons separate cleanly from the stem with only a little nudge. Look carefully at the point where the stem joins the melon. As the melon ripens a circular crack starts to open around the stem. This small disk of melon stays with the stem when the melon slips off the vine.

“Half-slip” is when half of the stem disk sticks and breaks rather than slipping free when you harvest.

“Non-slipping:” melons are overripe by the time the stem can be tugged from the fruit. These must be cut from the vine when the color suggests ripeness.

Types of Melon

Jeff McCormack of Saving Our Seeds distinguishes eight types of Cucumis melo melon. See this Saving Our Seeds PDF. Cucumis melo reticulatus, a group that includes muskmelons (which we commonly call cantaloupes) and Galia types, which are ripe at full slip; Cucumis melo cantalupensis, the true cantaloupes (which mostly slip) including Charentais (which do not slip); Cucumis melo inodorus non-slipping (‘storage’) melons such as casabas, crenshaws, honeydews, and canary melons; Cucumis melo dudaim grown for aroma, not flavor (such as Plum Granny); and four groups less common in the US: C. m. flexuosus (non-slipping snake melons, including Armenian cucumbers), C. m. conomon (non-slipping Asian melons and Oriental pickling melons), C. m. chito (mango melon and others named after other fruits) and C. m. momordica (snap melons).


Hybrid Personal Size Melons

We are trying Tasty Bites melon from Johnny’s Seeds. It is a cross between a charentais melon and an ananas type. It takes 80 days from transplanting to maturity, so it is far from being an early melon. Most melons take 70-76 days. Tasty Bites is a heavily netted melon with an attractive even appearance and no sutures (ribs). 2-2.5 lbs. It comes with the promise of an above-average shelf life. We don’t generally think we need a long shelf life for fruit, as they are usually snapped up and eaten pretty quickly! Additionally, the fruits ripen over a fairly long harvest period.

A source for many unusual melons is Seedman. Here are some other hybrid small cantaloupe varieties with suppliers:

Alvaro Charentais 77d, (much earlier than other Charentais), a sturdy grey-green, uniform, 2.3 lb deeply sutured, 5x6 inches un-netted fruits, with thick orange flesh and rich full-bodied flavor –remember to harvest at half-slip Fedco Seeds (F)

Arava, an 80d 1.6 lb smooth, uniform, lightly netted, Galia-type green-fleshed cantaloupe (F)

Golden Sweet hybrid, a very prolific 12 oz (350 gm) oblong melon with crisp, sweet white flesh and smooth golden skin which turns yellow before maturity - wait for a few more weeks to ripeness. (SC)

Golden Liner hybrid Korean melon with 11-16 oz (300-450 gm) golden oblong fruit with silver lines running end-to-end and very crisp sweet white flesh. (SC)

Hakucho Charantais hybrid melon, a sweet round 1 lb melon with yellow-gray skin, no netting, salmon-orange flesh (SC)

Lilliput, a 1-2 lb round F1 hybrid cantaloupe with deep orange flesh, small central cavity, high sweetness and fragrance. Slips when ripe. The lightly netted skin changes from light green to yellow-tan when ripe. Sakata (SK), (SC)

Savor F1 Hybrid, a very sweet, aromatic 2 pound melon of the Charentais type: faintly ribbed, with smooth gray-green skin, dark green sutures, deep orange flesh (SC)

Sugar Cube, 2 lb, 81d 4-inch greenish-skinned coarsely netted hybrid melon. Disease-resistant. Slips when ripe, has deep orange flesh. Burpee (B), (SC),

White Honey Honeydew an 80d, 2lb melon with almost translucent flesh. Ripe when the skin turns from white to deep ivory and emits a strong fragrance. It keeps well for five days after harvest. (F)

Open-pollinated personal size melons

Baker Creek may hold the record for the most OP melon varieties (approximately 100, not including watermelons, bitter melons, wax melons or any of the less common types). I have found Baker Creek’s website hard to navigate. Don’t let this happen to you! Go to the Rare Seeds website and it’s easy. Here’s an alphabetical list with suppliers:

Charentais, 85d. A French 2-3 lb. melon with light grey-green skin, and sweet, fragrant bright orange flesh. (Baker Creek)

Early Hanover, 75d. Lusicous, 2-3 lb, green fleshed melon. (BC)

Early Silver Line. Oval, yellow, 1-2 lb. Asian melon. (BC)

Eden’s Gem/Eden Gem/Rocky Ford, a 2-lb, 90d heirloom with spicy green flesh and greenish heavily netted skin. Vigorous vines produce 3–4 round heavily netted aromatic melons per plant. Fruits slip when ripe. (BC, F, SC and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, SESE)

Emerald Gem 80d, 3 lb ribbed heirloom, with pale orange juicy flesh, and striped dark green skin. A heavy producer. (SC)

Golden Jenny (orange-fleshed Jenny Lind type), Short vines producing succulent 2 lb. melons. Early and productive. (BC, SESE)

Golden Sweet, 75d, 1-2lbs, oval yellow Asian melon. (BC)

Green Machine/Ice Cream 80d. 2lb, Vigorous, compact vines produce green-fleshed melons, which slip when ripe. (BC, SESE)

Jenny Lind, 80d, 1-2lb flattened fruits with green sutured and heavily netted skins and juicy light green flesh. Sparse vines are prolific bearers. The melons blush when ripe. (F, SC)

Kajari, 75d 2-3lbs Unusual striped melons from India, with dark green stripes that turn deep orange when ripe. Medium green to light yellow honeydew flavored flesh. Slips when fully ripe. Each plant will produce 6-8 melons. Unripe melons can be picked after the first frost and will continue to ripen in storage. They have a long shelf life especially if refrigerated. (BC, SC)

Kazakh 1-2lb, sweet green-flesh and green skin which turns golden when ripe. Early, resistant to drought, and a good climber. (BC)

Minnesota Midget, Small early, 4-inch melons with sweet flavorful yellow flesh and green and yellow skins. Large crops on compact 3' vines. (BC, SC)

Petit Gris de Rennes cantaloupe. 80-85d, 1.5-3lb sweet orange-fleshed fruits with mustard/olive speckled skins without netting. Not a production melon - neither early, high-yielding nor easy to tell when ripe. Cut from the vine when the blossom-end is soft, then wait a while. (F, SC)

Rich Sweetness 132, a tiny red and gold striped 4 ounce white fleshed melon with good fragrance. (BC)

Sleeping Beauty, 1½ lb. round, ribbed netted fruits with succulent orange flesh and yellow tan-colored skins, grow on compact vines. (BC, SESE)

Swan Lake Honeydew 2-3 lb smooth yellow, partially netted melons with flesh that may be white or swirled with orange. Stem turns brown and separates easily from the melon when ripe. (BC, SC)

Tigger 90d, 1lb white-fleshed melons, with skins that are vibrant yellow with red zigzag stripes. They are very fragrant, although mild tasting. The vigorous plants yield heavily, even in dry conditions.  (BC)

Photos by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange


Pam Dawling manages the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MEN Fairs. Pam also writes for Growing for Market magazine. Her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, is available at Sustainable Market Farming, Pam's blog is on her website and also on Facebook.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Dried Calendula Petals 

I’ve long grown flowers, especially marigolds and sunflowers, as part of my organic vegetable garden. The pollination and potential companion-planting benefits have always served as my excuse to add some plants that are “just pretty” to my otherwise utilitarian, food-producing plot. This year, I took my marigold planting up a notch and decided to grow Calendula officinalis, known commonly as calendula, instead of the more common marigolds of the Tagetes genus.

I chose to do so because I wanted to take advantage of the skin-healing properties associated with calendula in the officinalis species. Many companies have taken advantage of these properties and created fine body care products with calendula infusions or calendula essential oil. So, why not grow this multipurpose flower to make my own products?

I started my calendula indoors about six weeks before my region’s predicted last frost, and I have since transplanted them along the edges of my beds of potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. We have several buds and two open flowers. As the flowers open, I will collect the petals to infuse oils, most likely olive oil. After at least a few weeks of steeping, the oils can be blended into any body care product recipe that calls for a liquid oil component. I plan to make an herbal salve, as shown in this how-to video.

Plus, calendula petals are edible and make a beautiful topping for spring and summer salads. On top of that, the dried blossoms can be used to provide color for homemade cheeses and butters and are also employed as an inexpensive saffron substitute. They may be mixed with other herbs to give added flavor to teas, as well. You could even mix them in a corn muffin recipe. With all of these options, what’s not to love? So much for “just pretty”!

Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she's not at her desk, she's likely whipping up something tasty in her kitchen, pulling weeds and planting in her garden, or working up a sweat on the local running trails. Connect directly with Jennifer by leaving a comment below.


Compost Everything

Does the word “composting” fill you with guilt?

Do you remember back when you were going to build the perfect bin?

Or that great thing you saw on composting with worms that you’ve always wanted to do but never did?

Or maybe you have an expensive cranked compost tumbler sitting in your backyard with nothing in it but a few dry coffee grounds and a blackened banana peel?

Composting is one of those things we know we should do, like buckling our safety belts, staying in school and recycling… yet more often than not, we still throw away our food scraps and yard waste rather than returning them to the ground.

It’s time to stop feeling guilty and start making changes.

No matter who you are or where you live, you can compost. Even composting meat is easy. The great thing is that it doesn’t really require bins, tumblers, kitchen canisters or any other infrastructure.

All you need to do is let things rot!

This last winter I wrote a little book on composting that I hope will change a lot of minds on the topic while taking away guilt from those who have suffered under their landfill-stuffing sins for too long. The book is titled Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting. As I write this article, it’s the #1 bestseller in Amazon’s gardening section. One reason I believe my book is so popular is because it relieves folks from the pressure of composting.

What kind of pressure?

How about the need to turn piles? Or the need to get your carbon/nitrogen ratios perfect? Or the need to build a nice bin?

I wrote my book so folks wouldn’t worry so much about making perfect compost and instead just start returning everything organic to the ground safely in order to feed their plants and reduce the amount of potential soil food that is going into landfills rather than back into the soil.

So – how can you start doing that right now, without a bin? Here are a couple simple ideas.

Composting with Ease

If you have a yard, just start saving your kitchen scraps in a lidded container. I use a five-gallon bucket because we go through a lot of garden produce on our homestead. You can compost meat, junk mail (just not glossy pieces or the plastic window in bills), bones, scrap paper, moldy bread and whatever else you like until you’ve got a good amount in there. Heck – maybe this is the time to clean our your fridge!

Then, just go outside and dig a hole a couple of feet deep, then empty the bucket in your pit and cover the mess with soil. Voila! You’ve returned all that material to the ground! As long as it’s deep enough and covered up well, animals will leave it alone… but the roots of your trees and plants will find that delicious organic matter with no problem.

In fact, I’ve used this method to grow Seminole pumpkins and watermelons in the hot, dry sand of my front yard. I dug a good-sized pit, dumped in everything from beef stew to coffee grounds, ashes and chunks of rotten wood, then filled in the pit with some soil and planted seeds on top. The vines that emerged needed no additional fertilization and really enjoyed eating all the stuff we’re often told we “can’t” compost.

In its simplest form, composting is just a natural process of decay. When you throw out your food scraps and paper scraps, you’re exporting potential soil fertility from your property. When you bury them in your yard, you’re increasing the richness of your land.


Of course, if you want perfect compost for your garden you can set up a bin and make nice, brown crumbly humus from your scraps; however, you’ll likely do just as well burying kitchen scraps beneath your beds and planting on top of them! I know the earthworms love the fresh material… and your plants don’t mind either.

If you live in an apartment or a dorm, why not ask around and see if there are any gardeners in your circle of friends that might appreciate your scraps? If not, you can always just pick a tree in the woods and dump them there. Throw a few leaves over the scraps and no one will even know you were there… but the tree will appreciate it!

It’s time to quit feeling guilty and start composting!

David Goodman (AKA David The Good) is an author and gardening teacher as well as the creator of the popular daily gardening site Florida Survival Gardening. His brand new book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting is laugh-out-loud funny and teaches you how to compost meat, bones, logs, junk mail and more, as well as simple methods for creating homemade fish emulsion and raising worms. It is on sale at Amazon for just $2.99 right now.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon’s New Farm Movement spotlights 18 Oregon farms and farm supporters who are committed to a return to ecologically sound agricultural practices. This group reflects the diversity of people, both young and old, who are reshaping our state’s food system and reclaiming our right to eat well. In their stories you will hear how they came to be where they are, learn something about the challenges they face, and share their happiness at the successes they’ve enjoyed thus far. The following profile has been excerpted from Planting A Future.

Dylana Kapuler and Mario DiBenedetto

Most people who closely follow the organic farm movement in this country have heard of Dr. Alan ‘Mushroom’ Kapuler, the plant-breeding pioneer who was one of the original founders of Seeds of Change and who helped put environmentally adaptive, public domain plant breeding on the map.
What fewer people may know is that for that past seven years Alan Kapuler has been working in his Corvallis, Oregon breeding garden with two dedicated proteges… his daughter, Dylana Kapuler, and her partner, Mario DiBenedetto.

Dylana and Mario have spent these years formally studying with, being inspired by, and working with a master plant breeder who, in turn, has trained, nurtured, and guided them through the equivalent of a degree in plant breeding and garden ecology.

Today, these two proteges are beginning to realize what they have acquired – the ability to help sustain Dr. Kapuler’s work and, in turn, build a seed company of their own. Rather than take over the senior Kapuler’s Peace Seeds, Dylana and Mario launched their business, Peace Seedlings, with an obvious nod to their mentor.

“Some people were surprised when we didn’t just take over Peace Seeds,” explains Mario, “because people knew Mushroom was at a place where he was thinking about retiring. But he didn’t want to stop doing everything, he just didn’t want to continue selecting all these varieties he had developed. So we started taking that on. As we did that, we also got more involved with our own breeding projects, and naturally since we were working with Mushroom, our work was focused on public domain plant breeding.”

“Which needs to happen for the sake of adaptation,” adds Dylana. “The climate is changing, so seeds need to be selected based on where they’re located and how they adapt to those changes, as well as a number of other considerations like nutritional makeup. My dad’s past work needs to be continued and built on. By doing that, we’re freeing him up to focus on his latest inspirations, which include things like native food plants that are overlooked or neglected. He’s inspired by species that are hard to get your hands on… that you have to wild collect and learn how to grow so they’re not at the mercy of who knows what bulldozer.”

circular rows of seed plants

Mario continues, “We have two different seed companies, but obviously there’s still a lot of collaboration, especially on varieties he developed. As we grow and develop plants, we talk with him about what he was selecting for, what his process was. If we weren’t doing this, then things like double red sweet corn would no longer be available. And that would be kind of sad.”

As I talk with Mario and Dylana, the influence of Alan is ever present. In his quiet, humble manner, Mario speaks with something approaching reverence about what Dylana’s father has taught him, how he has inspired him to embrace the principles of breeding plants in a way that benefits all people and selecting for traits beyond the lure of profit.

“We visited our friend at Oregon State not long ago, and they were doing berry trials,” Mario says. “They have these amazing, huge raspberries, blueberries, honey berries… all sorts of berries. But the only things the researchers go by is how sweet, big, and productive they are. That’s cool. That makes sense. But Mushroom’s thing is that if everyone is stuck on sugar, what are we doing to ourselves? We might want to look at other aspects, like amino acids or anthocyanins. Things that might make the berries more beneficial. We should keep trying to learn what’s possible.

“And honestly it’s pretty hard not to be inspired to learn when you’re around Mushroom,” Mario explains. “One of the most interesting things about him is how incredibly motivated he is to learn at all times. So he’s been a huge help for us, just to keep us inspired, and also to give us direction and things to learn. He continually challenges us. Plus, he advocates that if you want to talk about something then you’d better learn as much about it as you can, otherwise you’re not really doing other people justice… or yourself for that matter.”

I ask if it has always been this way for Dylana, growing up in her father’s gardens and under his watchful eye.

Peace Seedlings greenhouse

“As a young kid I was certainly encouraged to pay attention to seeds and plants,” says Dylana. “He always encouraged all of us – me and my sisters – to be interested in plants. For me, it probably really took hold when I didn’t go to kindergarten because I wanted to stay home and watch my dad clean seeds and hang out, and that was fine with him. Of course, after that I did go to public school, which pulled me into that whole public school world for a period of time, but I still spent time in the garden. At one time I thought I wanted to be an organic farmer and work for Seeds of Change… of course that was before Seeds of Change was bought by a large corporation.

“And then there was a time as a teenager when I kind of forgot all this and spent some time asking teenager questions, like ‘what am I going to do with my life’ but by the time I was halfway through high school I was backyard gardening a lot on my own, and I knew I wasn’t going to college. Because I just wanted to learn hands-on. I’m really a hands-on learner.”

While Dylana was growing up in her Corvallis gardens, Mario got his start a little farther north in Washington. He grew up on the Olympic peninsula. Like Dylana, he doesn’t have much interest in higher education, although he did have an Associates degree through a local community college by the time he was eighteen. But a short time later he relocated to Eugene, Oregon and began working on the Walama Restoration Project, a non-profit dedicated to environmental stewardship and biological diversity through education and habitat restoration. It was then he and Dylana met through mutual friends and first got together. And not long thereafter, he moved to Corvallis to live with Dylana and her parents.

Dylana puts it simply… “and that’s what led to us being out here in the garden.”

Mario adds, “And we began gardening and learning. That’s what Mushroom has always advocated for, just learning about plants, and he feels one of the best ways to really learn is to get hands-on experience with as many different plants and seeds as you can. That grew as kind of an organic process. You’re saving seeds, you’re learning more each year, and then you reach a point of realizing that you have quite a bit of experience, a growing body of knowledge, and a whole lot of seed.”

“When we started, my dad said it would take us five years before we really knew anything,” says Dylana. “At the time I was like, five years? But he was right. You have to go through that many cycles to really get an understanding of what’s happening and why. So I guess our first five years was kind of like going to college.”

To be continued…

Order your copy of Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon's New Farm Movement.

(Top) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Dylana Kapuler and Mario DiBenedetto, owners of Peace Seedlings.

(Middle) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Circular rows add interest to Peace Seedlings’ test gardens.

(Bottom) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Peace Seedlings’ greenhouse is home to an indoor forest of citrus trees and other tropical plants.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


seed library poster 

The first International Seed Library Forum was held in Tucson, Arizona on May 3-6 and I was fortunate to be asked to participate on two panels on the program. Seed libraries are community programs that give members a means to share seeds they’ve grown with one another. They can get free seeds from the seed library to start or share the ones they’ve already been growing and saving. The number of seed libraries has increased at an exponential rate, especially in public libraries. Until now they have been loosely organized through the Seed Library Network and the Sister Seed Library List, but the time has come for more structure.

You may have heard that in the past year several state departments of agriculture have decided that, since seed libraries distribute seeds, they fall under the regulation of the state seed laws. You can find what your seed law says at the American Seed Trade Association website.

Understanding the legal issues and coming together as a united front is what brought us all together at the Forum It was particularly exciting for me because I was able to meet so many people I had written about in Seed Libraries. Where the seed laws might be interpreted to regulate seed libraries, legislation exempting them from the seed laws needs to be passed. Betsy Goodman of the Common Soil Seed Library told of her experience with that in Nebraska. We were counseled by two lawyers, Neil Thapar of the Sustainable Economies Law Center and Neil Hamilton from Drake University Agricultural Law Center.

There was more going on besides legal matters and you will find additional details about the week at Homeplace Earth. Seed librarians and others interested in seeds had a chance to mingle and trade ideas and stories. It is always nice to talk with someone involved in the same thing you are, especially when that thing is something as new as a seed library. Although the idea is new to the current population, freely trading seeds is how the people of the world evolved.

Since writing Seed Libraries, I have visited the seed library at Victoria, British Columbia and communicated by email with seed libraries in Cleveland, Ohio and Durham, North Carolina. These seed libraries were all represented at the Forum. There was talk of future events such as this. In the meantime, I would like to see regional gatherings of seed librarians develop. It would give support to local seed libraries in a way that cannot be met through posting on the Internet.

If you are involved with a seed library, get to know where the other seed share initiatives are in your region and start reaching out to them. Getting together to exchange ideas is as easy as friends meeting up at a coffee shop, although you would probably be gathering at one of the seed libraries for show-and-tell. Or, for those of you skilled in organizing events, you could scale up to a whole conference and bring in speakers. The more local/regional networks you have, the stronger you will be. In fact, the libraries might exchange seeds among themselves if their seed savers begin bringing in more seeds than an individual library needs. The advancement of seed libraries and keeping seeds in the hands of the people is in your hands.

Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



Why Parsnips?

The parsnip is an overlooked vegetable. I think this is in part because cookbooks often lump them in with turnips and rutabagas, even though they have nothing in common. Also, the ones in the grocery store are often old and slimy on the top. Mostly, they are just less a part of the culinary landscape than potatoes and carrots and beets. This is a shame, since parsnips are a delicious and versatile vegetable, and it is doubly so for the avid gardener or homesteader.

They have a number of qualities that recommend them as a staple crop. They are, as mentioned, delicious and versatile, lending themselves to roasting, sauteing, mashing, or pretty much anything you might do with a potato. In my opinion they are more palatable than beets or rutabagas or even carrots. Once established they are vigorous, hearty plants with few disease issues. They store beautifully in the cellar or in the ground. Though they are biennial, they are easy to overwinter in sound enough condition to save seed.

So why aren’t they more widely grown? Other than ignorance about how awesome they are, the greatest difficulty is germination. Trying to get a good, even bed of parsnips can frustrate even the most experienced and dedicated gardener. It seems like no matter how heavily they are seeded or how diligently they are watered, there is always half a row where few or none germinate. But the rewards come harvest make them worth growing.

How to Grow

Parsnips are less prone to getting fibrous than carrots, so the main storage crop can be planted in the spring. Unfortunately, they do not reach peak flavor until they’ve been through some frosts, so they aren’t the best root to eat during the summer.

They will give some sort of crop even in soil that isn’t particularly fertile, but they’ll do much better in a mineralized, well prepared bed. Though they don’t feed as heavily as cabbages, like all garden veggies they do appreciate nitrogen, whether from seed meal, high quality compost, or a green manure. A lighter soil with relatively fewer stones will increase the number of perfectly shaped roots, but this is primarily an aesthetic concern.

Fresh, vigorous seed is even more important with parsnips than with other vegetables. Though I routinely order a large quantity of kale or beet seed, which I use over several years, parsnip seed does not hold its quality, even when stored in a refrigerator with desiccant. Luckily, it’s reasonably cheap, so buy plenty, and buy new stuff each season. Better yet, save a couple dozen choice roots and produce your own seed.

I’ve never managed perfect germination, but the best results have used a straightforward approach. I make shallow rows eighteen inches apart with the edge of my weeding hoe, into which I sow the seed, putting down a lot more than my intended final spacing of one plant every four inches. I cover this with fine compost, potting mix, or some other light, water-retaining soil, and then I water these rows every day. After they have germinated and started growing any extras can be thinned out.

Once established, parsnips are very easily maintained; simply mulch or hoe to keep down weeds, water, and watch them grow. They are theoretically susceptible to some pests and diseases, but only the carrot rust fly has ever been a problem for me, and even they seem to prefer carrots. Floating row covers would limit them, but in my experience they do so little damage to parsnips it’s hardly worth the bother.

How to Harvest and Store

It’s best to wait until after a couple frosts to dig parsnips, since this helps them start sweetening up, and their flavor will continue to improve for months. They can be a little tricky to harvest, particularly if they are planted in dense soil. It’s tempting to reach down and tug them out by their tops, but they are too brittle for this to be effective. Taking the time to first loosen the soil around them with a shovel makes it possible to get them out intact, which is critical if they are going into long term storage.

Another potential issue with harvesting parsnips is their potential to irritate bare skin. When the sap from the vegetative portion of a parsnip gets onto skin, and when it is then exposed to direct sunlight, it becomes a nasty irritant. The fancy word for this is phytophotodermatitis. The less fancy explanation is that it makes your skin get covered in gross boils that take forever to really disappear. I’ve never had a problem in the garden, but I did experience it when I mowed a patch of wild parsnips without taking the proper precautions, like wearing a long sleeved shirt.

Parsnips are among the best keeping vegetables. In a root cellar kept reasonably cold and humid they’ll easily last well into spring. They can even overwinter in the garden - our yearly low is around -20, and they still were fine in the spring - though mice and voles may gnaw on the tops, and it makes it impossible to get them until the ground has thawed.

How to Enjoy

The easiest way to prepare parsnips is to dice them and roast them at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until they are tender. Putting a piece of foil over the baking dish will speed up the process, but it isn’t necessary. After being roasted or steamed they can be mashed. They can be grated and made into fritters or hash browns.

Parsnips have a caloric density and palatability similar to that of potatoes. They are less prone to diseases and pests than almost any other root vegetable. They are so hardy and compact that saving seed from them is not an onerous proposition, and purchased seed is cheap. In other words, they should make up a significant portion of any serious gardener’s yearly harvest.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Dandelion Parts Illustration 

Even though we now live near a food market after years in the remote countryside, we still strive to grow as much of our food as we can and we enjoy the thrill of harvesting it from the wild. We look forward to dandelion season, not only because we crave something fresh after a winter of stored vegetables, but because we associate collecting their edible leaves with spring renewal. To us, their tangy flavor in raw, wilted, and cooked dishes is synonymous with the fresh things that come from the earth when the snow melts, the soil warms, and we are reconnected to the living land.

Taraxacum officinale has a long history as a valued medicinal and a nutritious food. It is also a ubiquitous weed, turning up in lawns, pastures, roadsides, and in the proverbial waste places. Perennial plants grow from a tenacious, hard taproot, white inside and brown without, from which sprout jagged, dark green basal foliage, tangy and refreshingly bitter at first, aging to decidedly bitter. Buy late spring bright, yellow flowers bloom atop hollow stems, followed by fluffy fruits dispersed by the wind over vast areas, thus assuring the establishment of ever more plants.

Bitter properties throughout the plant, but most powerfully present in its roots, are responsible for claims of its vast curative powers, first recorded by an Arabian doctor in the tenth century. Preparations from the plants roots and leafy tops were used to treat kidney and liver disorders, and to increase mobility from stiffness in cases of degenerative joint diseases. A potent diuretic, it earned the country name “piddle bed.”

Nutritionally, dandelions are a powerhouse plant. Low in water content but rich in protein, sugar, vitamins A and C, calcium, and minerals, their leafy greens are at the top of the list of valued edible weeds. They rank higher than lettuce (cos or romine) in protein, carbohydrates, calcium, and iron, and much higher in nearly all vitamins and minerals.*

Harvesting and Cooking with Wild Dandelion Greens

Look for harvestable dandelion greens, not in lawns or fields where they are crowded and small, but in rich soil where the ground is deep, porous, and humusy and in your own garden.

To harvest take a stout sharp knife and plunge it straight down next to the young green leaves until you reach the plant’s crown. Cut across, slicing the crown from the root, but leaving the top growth intact to facilitate cleaning. Shake out each bunch as you cut it to loosen the dirt and debris, then pull of the outside damaged or yellow leaves. Swish the bunch through several buckets of cold water until no dirt is apparent in the water, then bring the bunches indoors to finish preparing them for use. Once you know where to hunt for the best greens it should not take more than 10 or 15 minutes to dig and clean them.

To prepare them for eating fresh or cooked, trim off stem ends, wash leaves in fresh, cold water, squeeze dry (don’t be afraid to squeeze them hard-they are quite resilient), then either leave whole or cut into bit-sized pieces, depending on how you want to use them.

To use early in the season, add them to salads. Later use them in stir fry dishes, where they can take the place of broccoli rabe or rapini, a mustardy turnip green.

*”A comparison of nutritional properties of edible weed,” A. D. Gonzales, R. Janke, and E. H. Rapoport, Kansas State University, 2001.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Jo Ann Gardner is a noted plantswoman, lecturer, and author of 7 books on fruits, herbs, the cottage garden, and most recently Seeds of Transcendence: Understanding the Hebrew Bible Through Plants. She and her husband live in the Adirondacks where they maintain a small farm with extensive gardens. She may be reached through her website,

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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