Photo and article by Donna Iverson
This summer, I felt a need to grow basic garden food ..green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and potatoes. Social media was reporting possible food shortages so I turned my focus away from herbs and native flowers to organic edibles.
Lucky for me, a fellow community gardener was planting seed potatoes and I asked him if he could spare one so I could give it a go. He graciously handed me a sliced-off segment of potato and told me to plant it 4 inches deep with the eyes pointing up. Another gardener advised me to mulch for protection.
Soon a plant appeared and in less than two months I had a dozen small potatoes pushing up through the soil. But they were blue? Were they sick?
Back to my source whose name is Allen Steffen, an expert in everything gardening even though he modestly denies it. Maybe like me, although he has been gardening for years, he still feels like a beginner as there is always so much to learn.
So why are the potatoes blue? I asked him via email. They are an Adirondack blue variety, he replied.
According to Wikipedia, Adirondack blue and red potatoes were developed by three Cornell scientists back in 2003. Robert Plaisted, Ken Paddock, and Walter De Jong introduced the variety to gardeners as a specialty potato high in antioxidants.
These potatoes are most easily grown from seed potatoes, Steffen said. You can purchase Adirondack blue seeds online from catalogs, but Steffen has not had any luck growing them that way. A check online, shows the Adirondack blue seeds sold out in 2020.
These speciality potatoes need less than two months to mature. As advised by Steffen, plant the cut up spuds about four inches deep and mulch for protection. Each plant produces about a half dozen small potatoes which push their way up through the soil in late summer, when the leaves die back as they reach maturity.
As for taste, Steffen said he preferred the red Adirondacks to the blues as do I. Maybe it is the sight of blue mashed potatoes that influenced my tastebuds. Next time, I will try the recommended potato soup. ...then again, blue soup??
Although this is a relatively new variety, blue potatoes date back thousands of years. They are heirloom plants native to South America and are members of the nightshade family, as are tomatoes and blueberries. A warning: eating too many nightshades can make for sore joints in some people.
But at least one group has found a popular use for them. The alumni of Penn state sell Adirondack blue potato chips to raise money for their athletic program.
Hands in the Dirt: Lemon Cucumbers
Photo and article by Donna Iverson
I’ve never had much luck growing cucumber but I keep trying. Cucumbers are a favorite salad addition, a simple cucumber salad is always welcome, and sometimes when I’m looking for a snack, cucumbers are my healthiest choice.
So I’m always disappointed when my garden cucumber plants wither on the vine, or attract pests that eat the leaves, or just don’t produce fruit. And yes, cucumbers are a fruit not a vegetable.
So this summer, it was thrilling when my cucumber plants thrived and produced cucumber after cucumber. The only problem was the cucumbers looked more like lemons than cucumbers. What was going on?
In previous years, I had purchased cucumber seedlings or friends had offered me their surplus plants. But in late winter of 2020, I ordered cucumber seeds from a catalog that featured heirloom varieties. I guess I wasn’t paying close attention and inadvertently checked the box for lemon cucumbers. We were in the early weeks of a global pandemic and my brain wasn’t fully functioning. When the packets and spring arrived, I sowed the little pellet-like seeds into my community garden bed. And waited and watered.
Eventually a couple of hardy plants appeared with strong stems and healthy looking prickly leaves. And then cucumbers began to grow. But they didn’t look like cucumbers. They looked like lemons. Huh??
Back to the catalog to double check my order. No the seed company had not made a mistake. I had clearly ordered lemon cucumber seeds.
So what exactly are lemon cucumbers? Officially, they are categorized as Cucumis sativus and also referred to by some gardeners as apple cucumbers and garden lemons. A cucumber that doesn’t want to be a cucumber?
When one was large enough to pick, I brought it home and began slicing. I took a bite expecting a lemony flavor. But even though it looked like a lemon, it tasted like a mild cucumber. And every lemon cucumber that matured on the vine, proved as mild as the one before. So, it has won a place in my garden as the first cucumber to survive to maturity and for its mild, non-bitter flavor.
Curious about its history, I learned that the lemon cucumber was introduced to this country in the late 1800s. It is popular in Indian food, where it is used to make a soup called Daal and added to chutney.
Out West, it is considered a specialty crop and if you grow lemon cucumbers you can download an app and sell your lemon cukes to restaurants, especially near San Diego.
Growing them requires well drained soil and a sunny spot. They need regular watering or they develop into odd shapes ..unlike the pleasing yellow rounded shape that you are looking for. They prefer temperatures of between 65 and 75 degrees and wither in hot weather. They also will not tolerate even a light frost.
Lemon cucumbers must be eaten in a couple of days and are best kept in the refrigerator wrapped in a paper towel inside a plastic bag.
Hands in the Dirt: Moonflower
Photo and article by Donna Iverson
There is one flowering plant in my community garden that continually draws my attention. It’s called Moonflower and sports spectacularly large white flowers that beg to be noticed. It most likely self-seeded itself inside the fence that surrounds the garden.
Mysterious and romantic, Moonflower is native to North and South America. Often found along the roadside or in waste places, this heirloom is considered a weed by many. But not this gardener. Night flowering plants have always intrigued me, like evening primrose, night-blooming jasmine, nicotiana, and evening primrose. And like all night-blooming plants, it’s scent is intoxicating
Plus I admire its ability to jump the fence and ingratiate itself alongside the cultivated flowers and vegetables.
As its name implies, Moonflower is a nocturnal plant. If you are an early riser, you will see it’s giant white trumpet-like flowers open to the sky. As the sun rises, these otherworldly blooms slowly close and become large cone shaped buds.
Symbolically, Moonflower is considered a sacred visionary plant that leads to creative insights emerging out of the darkness.
A member of the bindweed family, it’s closest cousins are the morning glories. Not surprisingly, Moonflower is sometimes called a tropical white morning glory. It is drought tolerant, deer resistant, and low maintenance. It can be grown in a container on your patio or back deck. Place in full sun.
The Moonflower attracts moths and bees, which pollinate the plant. A word of warning: Moonflower is toxic, all parts, flowers, leaves, stem and root. So if you have children or pets that like to nibble, best to avoid it.
Come fall, the Moonflower will produce hundreds of seeds which look like small brown nuts. Collect these for spring plantings. If you don’t collect the seeds, Moonflower will self seed anyway in multiple locations.
Moonflowers would work in an heirloom native garden, in a white garden, in a night garden and a xeriscape garden. Or perhaps you prefer it as an accent plant. Wherever it is placed, it will call attention to itself.
August gardening tip: difficult to believe but it’s time to think about fall planting. Some seeds and seedlings that can be planted in mid to late August include: arugula, beets, kale, radishes and spinach.