I like planting different types of vegetables in the same garden bed, and sometimes I do that on purpose, choosing compatible crops to grow together. Other times, plants end up growing together by accident, and that may or may not work out. Here are a couple of examples of unplanned “companion plants” from my garden right now.
Onions + Dill. I planted the onions, the dill was a surprise. Maybe it shouldn’t have been, because this is where I grew dill last year, and it produces lots of seeds. Anyway, there’s a fair amount of dill coming up between the onions, and that actually works pretty well. The onions will be ready to harvest soon, but the dill will keep growing, so it will have more space when it’s needed. I may also add some additional herbs to this bed once I harvest the onions.
Beans + Borage. I planted fava beans for the first time this year, and am excited to see how they do. Unlike most other beans, they do well in cool soil, so you can plant them much earlier. But that’s not what’s in this picture. This is borage, a cucumber-like herb, that is coming up between the beans. As with the dill, maybe this shouldn’t have been a surprise. That’s where it was growing last year, and it’s an annual, but it produced seeds, and here it is again. Fortunately, the herb isn’t really in the way. There are just three borage plants that came up among the beans, and they happen to be near some other herbs (chives). So I’ll just leave it.
Radishes + Potatoes. And here’s one that really doesn’t work. Last year we grew potatoes in this bed, and apparently we missed a few as we were harvesting because here they are again — shading and crowding out my radishes. The only reason I left them is because it’s just a few potato plants, and I didn’t really need any more radishes. (I planted a lot of radishes this year. But more about that another day.)
It’s been a weird spring, warm, and then cold, and then warm again. What is that doing to the garden plants? Let me share a few photos.
As you can see, this year it snowed in March, which is a little late for this climate. Snow isn’t a big deal for some plants, like kale (top), whose thick, green leaves are remarkably cold-tolerant. But for flowers it can be a bigger problem. The snow came when a lot of ornamental plants, like forsythia (middle) already had blossoms out. And the apple trees (bottom) in our backyard were just sprouting leaves and buds. That’s not as bad as if they had already been blossoming, but still not what you want. So what would happen? We had to wait and see.
So here are the results. As you would expect, the snow didn’t set the kale (top) back at all. It’s huge, and I’ve already harvested a lot of it. Some of the ornamental plants looked a little raggedy after the snow, so I will not embarrass the forsythia by posting a post-snow picture of it, but the plant itself will be fine. Instead, please enjoy these tulips (middle). The green leaves were already poking up when the snow came, but that didn’t bother them at all since they hadn’t blossomed yet. And finally, we got lucky with the timing of the apples. The buds have since produced blossoms (bottom), and are now well on their way to producing little fruitlets. Hooray!
Well, it’s cold outside, and the seed catalogs are arriving, so what can you do? Like everyone else, I’m thinking spring, and starting to shop for seeds. Here are my best tips for how to do that without busting the seed budget. (Always a good goal.)
- Look for bargains online. Many seed retailers have a “sale” section on their websites with reduced prices. It’s worth a look, especially if you’re already placing an order and will be paying that processing and shipping fee regardless. My best bargain so far were the “White Cherry” tomatoes I got last year from Johnny’s for $1. They’re the pale yellow ones in the photo above.
- Visit retailers in the off season. If you happen to be close to a big seed retailer, it doesn’t hurt to check in during the fall to see if they’ve marked down last year’s seeds. Last year we picked up a lot of on-sale seeds during a fall visit to the Seed Savers Exchange headquarters and store in Decorah, Iowa. This past weekend we stopped in at Planters, a terrific seed store in Kansas City, Mo., and got seeds at clearance prices: 50 cents a packet.
- Make a list of what you already have. With a few exceptions, most seeds are good for more than one year, so take a close look at whatever you have leftover from last year, check the dates on the packet to be sure it’s still good, and then write it down so you have it in front of you when you’re buying more seeds. Because who can remember if they already have dill and basil seed? Not me, apparently.
- Save seeds from your garden. It can get complicated, so I would suggest starting with something simple, like heirloom beans. Last year I great my first crop of beans from seeds I had saved. It was pretty cool.
- Check out seed fairs and seed libraries. We have a great local seed fair that I’ve been going to for the last few years. Our library also offers free vegetable, herb, and flower seeds in the spring. It’s a good way to get new seeds you want to try (and the seed exchange is a good place to donate your extra seeds.)
- Shop for seeds with friends and relatives. I started doing this more last year, and it’s really nice. One benefit of combining an online order is that you save on shipping costs. Another is that you can also make plans to share seeds even before you place your order (and then actually divide them up as soon as they arrive.) To be honest, I’m not sure this resulted in me buying fewer seeds last year: I just ended up with a lot more variety because we split so many seed packets. It was great!
It’s been a busy month, but posting a few quick photos I took this week. These are from top to bottom, a harlequin marigold, hot peppers, and rice. That last one is kind of a long story.
This is the first year I’ve grown okra, and I started small. I have just one okra plant, and here it is! This is a ‘Clemson Spineless,’ which is your basic, garden variety okra. Since I only have one plant, so far I’ve been harvesting one okra pod at a time. At first I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but then someone reminded me I like pickling vegetables. It’s also nice sliced up and added to rice and beans.
I have so much to say about amaranth that I hardly know where to start. So take a look at these pictures.
Isn’t it pretty? Amaranth is sometimes grown as an ornamental, sometimes for greens, and sometimes for grain, but probably most often by accident, because it’s also a common weed. This is a variety called ‘Elena’s Rojo,’ and it’s a variety that is supposed to be good for growing as a grain, but is also an amazing looking plant. It’s been competing with the sunflowers all summer for the title of tallest plant in my garden, and of course, it’s that deep red.
Just one more.
We’re at that point in the year where it’s time to start thinking about fall frosts. Not because it’s likely we’ll get one anytime soon (typical for this area would be the end of October), but because there aren’t that many days left in the growing season. For anything that was just planted, or that has been up for awhile, but still isn’t close to full size, it’s starting to feel like a countdown. Will I be able to harvest much of anything from this plant before the frost comes? That’s where I’ve been with my Malabar spinach plants this year, which got off to a very slow start.
Malabar spinach is a heat-loving vine that is a different species than spinach, but with leaves that look and taste similar when eaten raw. I grew it last year, and it was amazingly prolific, taking over a whole corner of my garden. I was hoping for similar results this year, but so far have not had great success.
The first planting I did failed to come up at all. I did a second, later planting, which took almost two months to be big enough to need the trellis. (It’s supposed to be 70 days to harvest, so maybe that’s not unusually slow, but I’m not very patient.) Now, as we’re getting to the end of the summer, the plants are finally starting to take off, and I’m hoping I might actually get a decent harvest between now and our first frost. So come on Malabar spinach, you can do it!