Maryland Grows

Is it safe to eat lettuce amid E. coli outbreak?

The above title is the title of the following article.

Answer: It is safe to eat my lettuce because I grew it myself.

I hope your spring garden is doing well whether it be a large backyard garden or deck container garden. My family is eating out of our garden now and it is refreshing, particularly our various varieties of lettuce and spinach, untainted by E. coli. We have accomplished most of our garden goals this year and look forward to several months of fresh produce.

Cotyledons and Cattle Panels

I promised to go outside for this next post, and so here we are in the demo garden… um, last summer, since the scarlet runner beans are not blooming yet, or even growing much. But we have something to look forward to, even on a cold drizzly spring day!

Scarlet runner beans are Phaseolus coccineus, and therefore related to but not identical with the common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris, which includes most of the beans we think of as green beans (sometimes yellow or purple or mottled) and those we cook from dried (but that are not Vicia or Vigna or one of the other Old World beans). But runner beans are edible as well, even if gardeners in this country often grow them simply for their beautiful flowers. They can be eaten either in the pod stage or as shelly beans, but should be cooked before eating (sorry, demo gardeners who snacked on them last year – I just learned this!) because they contain a poisonous lectin (as do some common beans, particularly kidney beans).

Here’s how you can tell runner beans from common beans in the seedling stage, in case you plant both and forget the labels. You may have to enlarge this picture to see, but runner beans keep their seed leaves or cotyledons in the ground when sprouting:

And common beans (such as these Borlotto seedlings) raise their cotyledons up in the air:

Other differences: runner beans are perennial, though marginally so in this area, and the roots are also edible. And runner beans twine clockwise while most other climbing beans twine counter-clockwise.

Ah, but what will they be twining on, you ask? That’s where the cattle panels come in. I found this idea on a garden forum, and it looks like it’s going to work really well. Cattle panels are 16 feet long by about 4 feet high, heavy-gauge galvanized wire, and are available at farm supply stores (we went to Southern States). They vary in price but should cost about $20 each. We bent our two panels into loops there, tied the ends together, and transported them in pickup trucks (yes, you will need a large vehicle). The arbors went up easily: four metal T-posts in the ground, and the arched panel released in between and wired on. We’ve already planted the runner bean seedlings, three on each side.

Runner beans grow fine direct-seeded, by the way, and the seedlings would have appreciated warmer temperatures than we have this week, but they should survive. I just couldn’t wait to get started!

The other cattle panel arch will display – you guessed it – mouse melons. More on that later.

Grillin’ Veggies

The flavors of grilled vegetables are spectacular. Good enough anyway to turn vegetable haters into vegetable lovers. My favorites on the grill are onion, tomato, pepper, asparagus, summer squash, and eggplant. I cut up whatever I plan to grill, put the slices and pieces in a large bowl or pot, drizzle on enough olive oil to coat lightly, and toss them all together with salt and pepper. Leftovers are delicious out of the ‘fridge.

Tomato Plants Need a Bigger Home

My tomato plants often grow out of control under shop lights because I start them too early, I’m not ready to plant, or the weather isn’t right. Some years I just deal with these gangly plants growing in too-small containers. Other years I manage to get off the couch and pot them up into larger containers. I’m always rewarded with better tomato crops.

Here are my 15″-18″ plants in 3″X3″ containers. You can see the dense root system crying out for more space. I mixed some fertilizer into the soilless mix before potting up into large yogurt containers and 5″X5″X5″ pots.

The plants have been happily living on my porch except during the coldest nights, and can continue to grow where they are until I can get them in the ground. I’m thinking of using black plastic mulch this year because I’m tired of waiting so long for tomatoes!

Open Pollinated Corn Part 5

The rich histories of some open pollinated corn varieties

The open pollinated dent corn varieties known as gourdseed corn have a colorful history in North America. As can be seen from the two varieties pictured here, the flat creamy white kernels bear some resemblance to gourd or pumpkin seeds. Hence the name “gourdseed”. According to Willie Woys Weaver writing in Mother Earth News (October/November 2008) the Iroquois and other Native Americans called it “tooth corn” for the resemblance to teeth. Whatever it was called, gourdseed corn became popular in the South in the 19th century, with the rural poor people favoring the yellow types and the more urban and wealthier people preferring the white seeded varieties (Weaver 2008). Gourdseed corn was also a staple of provisions supplied to slaves in the South in the early 19th century, according to American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses by William Weld (1839).

According to Weaver (2008) gourdseed corns were used widely in the Ohio River Valley for feeding turkeys in the late 19th century. One particular variety developed in the Ohio River Valley and later taken to Texas by German settlers was known as Texas Gourdseed Corn. This variety has recently been reintroduced by the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange along with another variety, Virginia White Gourdseed corn. Glenn Roberts, founder of Anson Mills in South Carolina has reintroduced a third variety, Carolina Gourdseed White (reportedly found in a bootlegger’s field). Roberts also discovered that freezing the corn prior to milling results in a superior milled product including corn meal for white cornbread.

In addition to corn bread other products which can be made from gourdseed corns include dumplings, puddings and poundcake (finely ground and well sifted). Cornbread made from gourdseed corn has a silky texture which cannot be duplicated using modern hybrid corn (Weaver, 2008). According to the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange 2010 catalog, gourdseed corn is also suitable for roasting ears. “Roasting ears” are similar to conventional methods of cooking sweet corn except that immature ears of field corn are harvested and “roasted” in the coals of fire or over a grill. Later “roasting ears” simply came to mean cooking field corn in the same way as sweet corn. In my home community in south central Pennsylvania, “roasting ears” was synonymous with boiled corn ears, whether sweet corn or immature field corn.

One interesting fact in light of the earlier discussion regarding hybrid seed corn production using male sterile cytoplasm is that the gourdseed corns are a source of resistance to southern corn leaf blight, the disease that caused all of the grief for hybrid varieties in the early 1970s.
Herbivore Reed
Next: The “Trail of Tears”

What? Dill again?

I never know where dill will pop up in one of our gardens. Hundreds of seedlings have sprouted this spring under our two shrub redbuds (Cercis chinensis), which means a dill plant grew and went to seed there last summer.

I first and last planted dill in one of our flower beds so long ago that I cannot remember the year. The dill has grown, flowered, gone to seed, and kept us well supplied every year since.

So when I spotted the dill seedlings this year, I decided to move a half dozen or so to a sunnier location. Today’s gentle rain should be settling them in nicely in a nearby bed.

As a flower, dill doesn’t rate magazine covers. What can I say other than the unremarkable yellowish flowers radiate on short stalks from a common point, sort of like the ribs of an umbrella. But I don’t grow dill for its flowers. I grow it as an herb—to add zip to summer salads, soups, and vegetables.

But I have to confess another reason for welcoming the herb. Caterpillars of the eastern black swallowtail butterfly love to dine on dill (see photo) as much as they love the foliage of carrots, celery, and parsley. Parsley gives both the caterpillar and the adult their nicknames, “parsley worm” and “parsley swallowtail.”

Look for a “parsley worm” on your parsley, carrot, celery, or dill this summer. When you find one, don’t bring out the heavy artillery. As our moms taught us, “Share your toys.” Observe the “worm” as it munches on the foliage. By sharing your dill, you’ll help complete the life cycle of the beautiful black swallowtail.

Flower. Herb. Butterfly host. Shouldn’t you add dill to your veggie garden?

The Hunt for Bradyrhizobium japonicum (Bray-dee-rye-ZO-bee-um jah-PON-ick-come) or How to Make Your Soybeans Really Happy!

I know. You’re probably saying bradyrhizo…what???? Here’s a real vegetable gardener’s detective story, a refreshing break from the usual mysteries like, hey, is this a marmorated stink bug?

While reading up on precisely the best way to plant my 4 test packages of soybean seeds, I learned that like peas, beans and limas (legumes), soybeans also benefit from an inoculant. An inoculant is a (good) bacteria that works with a plant’s roots and allows the plant to make use of nitrogen in the air to help it grow better. In agspeak that’s called nitrogen fixing. Dampen your seeds, shake them in a bag with the inoculant, pop them in the ground and wala, pretty soon, stronger and sturdier legumes.

Inoculant is usually available at your better nursery supply stores. So I bought a bag labeled ‘Garden Inoculant’, a rather modest-sized bag weighing 42 grams (why they can’t tell me that’s 1.5 ounces I don’t know, perhaps something valuable enough to be weighed in grams justifies a fancier price) which is enough for 5 pounds of seeds. It’s only good for about a year so don’t go buying it in bulk. I mean, really, are you going to be planting 5 pounds of seeds of anything? And if you said yes, you are probably in the wrong blog…. and want to be in the next one over, like Future Farmers of America maybe.

Warning – more Latin ahead!! But! it’s useful to know and no more demanding than reading food labels in the grocery store. So. Peas, beans and limas benefit from inoculant including a mix of Rhizobium leguminosarum biovar viceae, Rhizobium leguminosarum bovar phaseoli and Bradyrhizobium sp. (Phaseolus). I was feeling quite happy and not a little smug for tapping into this helpful addition to my crop until I read the fine print for soybeans and discovered that NONE of these work. Soybeans, the little rascals, hail from Asia and insist on their very own variety of bacteria, specifically, bradyrhizobium japonicum. Back to Valley View where they did not really understand why Garden Inoculant would not work but did offer to order whatever I needed if I could find a supplier.

So I hopped on the internet and started searching and found….nothing, meaning if I wanted ‘bj’ I would have to order a trainload which is just about enough to treat the entire soybean seed crop of Nebraska and North Dakota combined.

By now I am running out of resources and decide to knuckle under and call the HGIC – Home and Garden Information Center and turns out THEY don’t know of a source either and refer me to the Anne Arundel Farmer’s Co-op and ask for Cory.

I call. Cory is busy can I help you instead? Uh…sure, I’m looking for some bradyrhizobium japonicum. Short pause. Hold on, let me get Cory for you.

Hi Cory, I’m looking for some bradyrhizobium japonicum. Another, longer pause. I know he’s deciding if this is a prank call. It’s for soybeans specifically I add, trying to bridge to reality.

Well, I’ve been farming for 25 years and never heard of such a thing. By now I’m wishing the U of Illinois had not sent me 4 packages of free test seeds to grow edamame. But, says Cory, I’ll call a few farmers, ask and get back to you in a few days. Now it was my turn to be skeptical and I wasn’t sure if this was a polite brush off or if he really would take the time.

Cory called back in a few days, no good news yet but one more call was expected. And that call said he had two small bags of, yes, bradyrhizobium japonicum and they were set aside with my name on them! And that is only ONE reason the Anne Arundel Farmer’s Co-op rates high with me now. (Glen Burnie, MD)

When the weather warms up a bit more I’ll treat my seeds and blog the next installment of the bradyrhizobium japonicum story.