Seasons of the Garden: Asian Vegetables, Heirloom Vegetables and More

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Oriental vegetables can add great variety to your garden — and dinner table.
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The antique White Cushaw pumpkin is ideal for modern gardeners.

The life-bringing hand of spring has worked its magic in
the garden and carefully shaped beds now present a
living mosaic of vibrant greens. Sample the first produce,
and — in doing so — reclaim some of the energy
you’ve put into your soil. Then spend healing hours among
the rows, remembering that the gardener’s footsteps are
the world’s best fertilizer.

Compact Packets of Seeds

Now that the first flush of seed ordering, garden planning,
and planting is pretty much over, many folks have
undoubtedly had a few second thoughts about this year’s
garden. It seems that there are always varieties we want to
try but somehow don’t get around to ordering,
plantings of saved seeds that don’t germinate as well as we
expected them to and unused corners of the growing
ground that could easily hold just a couple of plants.

Of course, it’d be wasteful to order a packet of 200 seeds
when you really need only five or 10 (especially if the
seeds are of a type that doesn’t “keep” well), so the
last-minute “by chance” planting opportunities are often
missed. Well, a trio of seed merchants must have thought
that was a pity, because they’ve come up with a thrifty
answer to the “feast or famine” problem: the compact
packet.

Le Jardin du Gourmet, Pine-tree Seeds and the Broom Seed Company are all
offering small, inexpensive packages of seed that are just
the ticket for late-season plantings. Prices range from 20¢ to 50¢ per packet.

Sow an Oriental Plot

If you’d like to take a wok in your garden and gather the
makings for a fine Far East feast, there’s another small
seed company that you’ll be happy to know about.

Sunrise Enterprises offers a wide variety of seeds for
Chinese vegetables — some that are familiar and others
that are not so well-known — including eight kinds of
Chinese cabbage and eight other Oriental
brassicas, edible burdock, and garland chrysanthemum.

And, to learn more about some of the less common varieties
of Oriental vegetables, you can order an 18-page bulletin
from the Suffolk County Cooperative Extension Association. In
addition to pictures, descriptions, and cultural
information on Chinese radishes, bitter melons, and other
Far East fruits and vegetables, the thorough publication
also provides a dandy seed-source listing.

Gleaning the Garden

Plans that will enable you to convert your wheelbarrow into
an inexpensive fertilizer spreader are available, free,
from the Department of Agriculture. According to its
designers, the tool enables two people to apply six
tons of fertilizer to 24 acres in just two
days!

The USDA has also recently been studying the biological
control of greenhouse pests. Its researchers have
discovered that the Insidious Flower Bug (now there’s a
name!) will gobble up 53 varieties of other insects and
mites and it’s especially effective against thrips,
two-spotted spider mites, and greenhouse white-flies. More
observation is needed to determine whether our insidious
ally can develop and reproduce in a greenhouse environment,
but the agency has discovered two other insects that can do
so, and are also effective in the fight against hothouse
pests. A predatory mite, Phytoseiulus persimilis,
reliably controls spider mites and a parasitic wasp,
Encarsin formosa, is effective against
whiteflies.

Heirloom Quality Vegetables

Judging from the response we received when — a
couple of years back — we printed an article on growing
antique apple varieties, you
folks have a great deal of interest in our gardening (and
culinary) heritage. And with the concentration of ownership
of seed companies in the hands of giant conglomerates, more
people are beginning to be concerned about preserving the
germ plasm that we’d need to breed new cultivars if disease
should strike down some of our monoculture-planted crops
(see this article for further discussion of this problem).
Then, too, many gardeners are discovering that a goodly
number of the old vegetable varieties were abandoned not
because they didn’t taste good — they were often
superb — but simply because they weren’t suited to the
needs of mechanical agriculture.
 

Well, It turns out that Roger Kline, of the Vegetable
Crops Department at Cornell University, has been
researching America’s heritage crops, and he’s written
(with the help of Robert F. Backer and Lynne Belluscio) a
pamphlet called The Heirloom Vegetable Garden. The brochure
describes the varieties you would have found growing in a
typical mid-19th century garden plot, including
Warted Crookneck summer squash and Boston Marrow winter
squash, Black Mexican and Stowell’s Evergreen sweet corn and Early Jersey Wakefield and Drumhead Savoy cabbage. Other sources of heirloom vegetable seeds are those
twin pillars of the California seed business: the Redwood
City Seed Company and J.L. Hudson,
Seedsman. Both firms offer seeds
that represent our Indian heritage, too, including
varieties grown for centuries by the Zapotecs of Mexico.
Another good source of antique varieties — especially
for northern gardeners — is Johnny’s Selected Seeds. 

The Gardener’s Bookshelf

There’s a fine crop of new garden books waiting to be
picked for your spring and summer reading. The folks who
just about invented the begonia (in this country,
at least), Ed and Millie Thompson, have distilled their 25
years of experience into a definitive new work called
Begonias: The Complete Reference Guide. Now $35 is a considerable sum
to spend for any book, and perhaps your local library will
order the volume. But the guide is also just what its title
claims — complete — and it’s all but essential for
anyone who’s serious about growing begonias. So you might
well want to start saving your pennies!

The good folks at Tilth, the nonprofit
organization dedicated to furthering biological agriculture
in the Northwest, have done much to be proud of — and now
a new book can be added to their list of accomplishments.
The Future Is Abundant: A Guide to Sustainable
Agriculture
is edited by Larry Korn, who also edited
Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One-Straw Revolution. The work attempts to adapt the
ideas of Fukuoka and Bill Mollison (author of
Permaculture), among others, to the specific
conditions found in North America. Although aimed at folks
in the Pacific Northwest, The Future Is Abundant
contains information that would be of use to anyone interested
in organic agriculture.

Also specifically intended for western readers is the
latest in the HP Books series of beautifully illustrated
garden manuals: Western Fruits, Berries, and Nuts: How
to Select, Grow, and Enjoy
. Authors Robert Stebbins and Lance
Walheim provide detailed information on raising such
mouthwatering crops as apples, apricots, avocados,
cherries, citrus fruits, figs, olives, peaches, persimmons,
pomegranates, and quinces… as well as almonds, pecans,
walnuts, filberts, pistachios and macadamia nuts.

Finally, yet another rather expensive volume ($24.95) has
recently been published that’s certainly worth a place on
your local library’s shelves . . . and perhaps in your home
bookcase, too. Natural Landscaping: Designing With
Native Plant Communities
is a detailed examination of
the major alternative to the traditional (and, many think,
sterile … as well as energy-intensive) manicured
lawn. Authors John Diekelmann and Robert Schuster explain
the techniques involved in designing and planting
landscapes composed of native species with the goal
of enhancing the attractiveness of our surroundings,
conserving our environmental resources, and reducing the
cost of landscape maintenance. There’s an excellent
discussion of the soils, climates, and plant communities of
the northeastern and midwestern states and some
terrific color photos that will sell you on the idea in a
moment. Natural Landscaping is published by
McGraw-Hill, and is available from many bookstores.

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