Cold Snaps And Snap Peas
Thanks to my resident herd of deer, most of my edible plants live in large containers on my deck, some 20 feet above the ground. Since this is The Year Of Power Washing, all my pots are being emptied into the compost heap so the deck can be maintained. (Power washing every 2-3 years keeps the molds and mildews at bay quite nicely.) I usually refill my outsized containers with a blend of good garden soil and a half-and-half mixture of mature compost and well rotted dairy manure from family farmed, pastured cows that have not been treated with Bovine Growth Hormones.
Pit washed dairy manure is one of my favorite amendments for gardens and containers alike, as it is a primo soil conditioner. Because cows digest so thoroughly, their manure carries no weed seeds into the garden, making it my top dressing of choice. If you lack a local supply, you may find pit washed dairy manure from small farms by contacting your local Agricultural Extension Service, since most agents maintain a list of local manure sources.
Good Dirt, Great Soil
Garden dirt, however lovely, is too dense for use in containers unless modified. To add aeration, I mix it half-and-half with the aforementioned compost-and-dairy-manure mixture. The result is fairly fluffy, yet full bodied enough to keep my plants from getting knocked about by wild shore winds that whip through here. When I first started container-growing my edibles, I lost plants to wind rock. Many soilless potting blends are too light weight to hold plants in place in windy settings like mine, so I developed this mix to help my plants stay home despite sudden gusts.
If you don’t have access to good garden soil or manure and so on, there are a few potting soil blends that are quite decent. In the past few years, I’ve experimented with several kinds with varying degrees of success. The best of the bunch turned out to be made by E.B. Stone, a family owned company with a deep commitment to solid organic practices. Their potting soils are intricate mixes that combine as many ingredients as an Indian curry blend, with similarly delectable results. The one I can recommend without reservation for container growing is called Edna’s Best Potting Soil, which is fortified with feather meal for nutritional oomph and beneficial mycorrhizal fungi that symbiotically colonize plant roots, acting like mini-pumps to bring more nutrients and water to the partner plants. Edna’s also has yucca extract added to prevent the crusting that make it so difficult to re-wet many potting soils once they dry out too far.
Tucking In Chilly Youngsters
My first plantings this year are peas and lettuces, both of which are cool weather crops that can take a little frost in stride, fortunately (since it’s back to freezing nights lately). I train my peas up twiggy trellises placed so I can pick the curly, crunchy tendrils for salads and stir fries. Among my favorite red podded peas is Sugar Magnolia, which was reportedly also Jerry Garcia’s favorite snap pea. It’s gorgeous, with plump pods packed with sweet, tender peas. Sugaree snap peas are also Dead-icated faves, and both are bred by Dylana Kapuler and Mario DiBenedetto of Peace Seedlings, as are super crisp Green Beauty snow peas.
Peace Seedlings is Northwestern partnership dedicated to saving seeds of diversity and breeding public domain plants for organic growers. Peace Seedlings continues the work of Alan and Linda Kapuler’s Peace Seeds, co-founders of Seeds of Change and holders of a seed bank of about 1,000 varieties. The two seed companies share growing space and work cooperatively, each following their own particular interests with shared goals of creating true seed strains of delicious, nutritious food crops.
Beauty & The Pea
A dwarf shelling pea, Desiree Blauschokker, can even be container grown without support. Its crisp, blue-purple pods are lovely raw (think snow peas) or grown to plump maturity and shelled. They look especially beautiful when joined in a raw salad with Golden Sweet Edible snow peas, which have lemon yellow pods that can also be enjoyed as youngster pods or mature peas (and even dried). My earliest are usually Sugar Ann (probably named for me, if they only knew), compact 2-footers with tender-crisp pods that pack a lot of flavor and are awesome raw or in risotto.
A Lotta Lettuce
Greens appear in pretty much every meal I eat, and I especially love both super crisp and buttery lettuces, which taste most magical when just picked. Thus, I’m a huge fan of Frank’s Unsung Crispy Mix, bred by Frank Morton, whose Wild Garden Seed company breeds nutritionally superior, especially flavorful edibles that are well suited to organic farming practices. The Unsung mix combines colorful bronze, red, and green crisp-head, mini-head, and romaine types, all of which are toothsome singly or together. Yum!
Hot purple Hyper Red Rumple is a stunning looseleaf lettuce with great texture and full flavor that has always been utterly dependable in my gardens. I’m also getting fond of the new Salanova lettuces, which come in red and green versions of butterheads, oakleaves, frilly leaves and frisees. The baby butterheads look almost like succulents as infants and size up into buxom bouquets that fill a salad bowl with a single cut of your harvesting knife. I’m so glad that spring is on the way!
Here are some links to learn more about our Northwestern hero breeders: