Maryland Grows

Mouse melon seed

2009 was, for me, the year of the mouse melon. You can read my previous post in which I enthuse about this little crisp cucumber relative that looks like a miniature watermelon.

So if you want 2010 to be your mouse melon year, order your seed now. You’re not likely to find this one at your local garden center (unless you urge them to carry it!), but a number of seed companies do have it. The most likely way to find it is to search under “Mexican sour gherkin” as that’s the most-often used name in the seed industry.

Here are some catalogs I’ve found that carry Mexican sour gherkin seed.

Fedco Seeds
Kitchen Garden Seeds
Landreth Seeds
Seed Savers Exchange
Territorial Seed
Totally Tomatoes

(Grow It Eat It and University of Maryland Extension do not endorse any business or prefer one over another; this is for information only. But I do personally know each of these companies to be reliable.)

What to look for in a seed catalog


Ah, the blank slate of the spring garden!

It’s cold outside, more snow is on its way, and spring planting is just a dream. But the seed catalogs are here, so dreaming is the right thing to do… and then, for those of us who have a budget at least, more serious planning.


I have my own small garden to plan, but also I’ve got 1700 square feet of demo garden to play with: maps to draw, leftover seed to organize, new seed to order. I’ll be making some posts along the way to let you in on some of my choices.


First, how to choose between all those deliciously attractive catalogs that are beating their way to your mailbox? (Or if they aren’t, everyone’s got a website these days.) In the end, it’s a matter of personal choice, but here are some things I look for in a catalog or website – and don’t necessarily find them all in one place!

  • Logical organization. Can you find what you’re looking for the first time and when you go back again? Is there an index or a user-friendly menu?
  • Good business practices.
  1. Are sales guaranteed and return/refund policy clear?
  2. Is the company easy to communicate with?
  3. Is shipping information made clear, especially for live plants?
  4. Are maturity dates printed on seed packets? Is seed germination tested?
  • The Safe Seed Pledge. (For more information see this article by Lee Royer, Frederick County Master Gardener.)
  • Planting, growing and harvest instructions for each species and (when different) cultivar. Yes, this is in books, but it’s convenient to have it available when you make your ordering decisions.
  • Pictures of the products. Not necessary (and expensive to print) but nice to have. Sometimes they’re on the website if not in the catalog. Remember pictures can lie! Good descriptions are a must if photos are missing.
  • Descriptions ideally including:
  1. Disease resistance
  2. Size and growth habit of plant
  3. Size of edible part
  4. Culinary details
  5. Fruit and flower color if relevant
  6. Comparisons between similar cultivars to assist in choice
  7. And anything else important!
  • Fair prices. And please tell us how many seeds in a packet because it helps us compare! Sometimes we want fewer seeds (for small gardens) and sometimes we want the best possible price by weight.
  • Species information. I like to see this even for vegetables; some people don’t care. But it can be important to know which species or subspecies you are dealing with. For example, the family of edible squashes consists of four species, of which two, Cucurbita moschata and C. mixta or argyrosperma, are more resistant to vine borers and cucumber beetles. If you are only given common names, you may not know whether the squash you’re buying fits into those species. It is also easier to remember relationships between plants and how this may affect pests and diseases, if you are provided with species information.

Also, consider that seed produced here on the East Coast (ideally in the Mid-Atlantic) may grow better for you than seed from elsewhere in the country that’s meant to do well in other climate conditions. “Buy local” doesn’t mean quite the same thing with seed that it does with produce from a farmer’s market, but you can keep it in mind anyway. And even though you may want to get your orders in now to be sure you get exactly what you want to grow in 2010 (yes I will tell you in another post where you can order mouse melon seed!), remember that your local garden center will have that seed you forgot to buy come spring.

What do you look for in a seed catalog? What are you going to order this winter?

Grow it, eat it in December

Even December yields a feast from the garden.
Today’s breakfast is broccoli quiche.



I love Fall broccoli. Maturing as the weather gets cold gives it a milder flavor than spring broccoli that matures as the weather gets hot. Fall broccoli also has fewer pest problems. And I enjoy harvesting fresh vegetables from the garden in December.


Fresh eggs taste best on winter mornings.



1 frozen pie crust
4 eggs and 4 egg whites
1 cup chopped broccoli steamed for 5 minutes
Medium size onion or 2 scallions, slivered
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Hold back ¼ cup of the cheddar cheese and whisk together all other ingredients. Pour into the pie crust and sprinkle the remaining cheddar cheese on top. Bake on lower rack in oven for 35 minutes or until set. You can substitute spinach for broccoli and add ham if you want.


Zoom in for a mouthwatering look.

Maybe we’ll leave a quiche for Santa instead of cookies.


Harvest in the Snow

We don’t usually garden into December at the Derwood Demo Garden, but this fall we’ve been short on work days because somehow it always rains on Thursday, and so a lot that would normally have been harvested in the vegetable garden is still there. And – I went to visit today to see how things were after the snow and before tonight’s predicted freezing rain – much of it is still looking great!

Here’s what I harvested today:

Purple Top White Globe turnips (plenty more of those to come, too); Red Long of Tropea onions; and the last tiny Bull’s Blood beets. Left for another harvest, leeks:

And cabbages:

And cauliflower with tiny little heads forming:

The cauliflower is still under a row cover that was meant to protect it from insects (mainly harlequin bugs) and is now offering some small protection from weather. There’s a Lesson Learned story connected with that row cover: I bought the cauliflower seedlings in August and put them in the ground, checking them (I thought) carefully for pests and covering them up. But the next time I looked at the plants, they had been nearly skeletonized by cabbage worms. Missed a couple – or the eggs. Lesson: do not put the pests with your plants under the row cover. I squished all the caterpillars I could find, and the next time I looked (a couple of weeks later, due to circumstances), the plants were at least in no worse shape, and one lone cabbage butterfly fluttered out. But I can’t imagine most of the butterflies got through their life cycle very well imprisoned under a row cover. At least no harlequin bugs found their way in, and the cauliflower started looking better as soon as the temperatures cooled. We’ll have to work harder on stimulating head formation, so it’ll be all worthwhile!

Maybe we’ll do this fall gardening thing on purpose next year, hm? It seems to work!

Fall Container Gardening


Container gardening is possible well into the fall. I tried it for the first time this year with good results. In early September I planted endives, a lettuce mix, and arugula in large plastic pots using a mixture of commercial potting soil and compost. The pots are on a sunny, south-facing patio. I began picking a few leaves by mid-October. Now it’s the first week of December and I’m still harvesting enough greens for salads by cutting rather than pulling up the plants. And the leave continue to regrow — admittedly slowly but still there’s new growth. With regular frost likely in the coming weeks, I plan to move the pots soon up against the south-facing wall of the house to extend my container gardening a bit longer.
I also planted kale in a similar large pot (foreground)in early September. This pot will go up near the south wall as well with the seedlings protected with light straw. To get a head start on spring gardening, I will set the well-hardened kale seedlings out in the garden in mid-February or when the frost is out of the soil.

Seasons end, but not quite

At mid November, after several frosts, the life of our garden is fading out. Deep green plants that were prolific a few weeks ago are now wilted brown. But careful inspection reveals treasures yet to be harvested. Some tomatoes and peppers hide under the insulation of dead leaves. There is still a mother lode of potatoes and carrots waiting to be mined. A few greens offer late season salads. And in vivid contrast to the surrounding death, Fall planted broccoli and cabbage are flourishing.

Once glorious tomatoes cling lifelessly to the trellis.

Chard (in the background) flaunts its greenery

at the forest of spent collard stocks.
Broccoli and cabbage thrive in the cool of autumn.

Sparkling diamonds of rain drops
decorate a budding head of broccoli.

Even in November, the garden yields its bounties.

What’s a vegetable garden worth?

This year we set aside a 10×10 foot plot at the Derwood Demo Garden as the Grow It Eat It Garden. We planted “typical” backyard vegetable crops, harvested and weighed the results, and made an attempt to calculate the value of the produce based on grocery store prices, as another data point in the continuing debate over whether it’s reasonable to declare that having your own vegetable garden is a great way to save money. Have we come to any definite conclusions? Not sure. But here’s the data. First, have some beans.

(Kentucky Wonder pole beans on the left, Masai bush beans on the right. I am a big fan of Masai now – nice little compact plants with a huge yield. The pole beans pulled the teepee over; what else can I say?)

My previous post on the totals through July showed we’d harvested $153 worth of produce. Here’s the update, August through October:

Tomatoes: 19 lbs
Zucchini: 3 lbs (our one plant succumbed to mildew and squash bugs)
Peppers: 6.5 lbs
Basil: 5.5 lbs
Beans: 27.5 lbs (yes, seriously)
Mesclun: 1/2 lb

My estimated total value for these crops: $234. So that’s $387 for the year.

Notes and caveats:

As I’ve said before, the demo garden is not your home garden. We work once a week, occasionally more often, sometimes less often due to weather. We can’t always keep up with harvesting and so some produce is wasted, and we can’t always keep up with pest and disease management. I wish we could be there every day inspecting plants for damage as you should in home gardens, but since we are all volunteers it’s just not possible. And by the same token we are not as efficient as we should be in planting succession crops; we should have had some fall crops in that garden and just didn’t get to it (aside from the pitiful harvest of mesclun). So a home garden ought to be more productive.

The price selection process is fuzzy and unscientific. I didn’t go for the cheapest possible prices or the most expensive or necessarily a consistent level of price (though most of them are from Giant). Prices change through the season and I did not keep that in mind, just tried to choose an average. Some of the prices reflect the low end of organic produce costs, since our garden is an organic one, or farmer’s market/locally grown costs. I went for a higher price on tomatoes, for example, which brought the total up considerably, because I personally feel there’s a big difference between locally grown tomatoes that may cost more and cheap ones that are shipped unripe. Whereas with zucchini and cucumbers the origin makes less difference and so I used a “bargain” price.

Another reason the total jumped is the high price of basil and the amount we harvested from our plants. This might not be as worthwhile to someone who doesn’t like pesto.

Now, subtractions. Many people who argue that vegetable gardening is not monetarily worthwhile are including the start-up costs of a new garden: tools, fencing, soil enhancements, etc. I agree that these costs will eat up $387 pretty quickly. However, once you have the tools and the fence they will last you a long time (and you might still manage to break even that first year!). So let’s choose to make our subtractions based on the idea of an established garden. You may need some new soil enhancements, if you haven’t been composting: perhaps about $30. Another $30 or so for fertilizer. About $20 for seeds (remember that some of them can be used next year), and then another miscellaneous $20 for garden things you didn’t get last year. That brings your “profit” down well under $300, but it’s still not bad. Again, totally unscientific, and it is always possible to waste money on a garden, as I well know. But with careful planning and maintenance you should be able to save instead of spend.

You can also choose your crops based on what costs the most at the store, although I think the first priority should always be what you will most enjoy eating, and then what you will most enjoy growing. Carrots may be cheap to buy, and not always the easiest to grow in our soil, but if you really want to try purple carrots then try them! Just learn as much as you can about growing them successfully before you start; knowledge is one of the biggest cost-savers out there.

And no matter what you save or don’t save, you have also gained a lot just by being in the garden: getting exercise, learning about nature, knowing that you produced your own food. That’s worth a lot, whether it can be measured at a cash register or not.

(Photos by Katherine Lambert)