For Fast Cabbage Try Greyhound!!

For a sprint to the finish line try Greyhound (Ersterling) cabbage. Just 63 days for this heirloom variety from transplant and you will have lovely pointed head cabbages.

Eaten raw or cooked, this cabbage has a light sweet taste. Cold or hot weather will not stop this cabbage from performing its’ best. Greyhound did well grown in my hoop house. Plant it spring or fall. This one is a winner!


Aren’t they pretty!


Papa is Published!

What a pleasure! The Heirloom Gardener magazine has published three of my articles. The 2016 Spring edition has highlighted the Etiuda orange bell pepper, Red Express red cabbage and Hilton Chinese cabbage.

Heirloom Gardener Spring 20161A

I am currently writing two more articles which may be in the Summer 2016 issue. I look forward to writing more articles for various other venues.

If interested, the magazine may be purchased online, Whole Foods, Home Depot and Barnes and Nobles.

Stay posted!!


Sweet Peas for the Sweet!!!

Now is the time to start Sweet Peas for winter and early spring production. Sweet Peas (Lathyrus odoratus) are members of the legume family Fabiaceae which hail from Southern Italy, Sicily and the Aegean Islands.

Henry Eckford of Scotland is responsible for the incredible crosses which produced many of the famous heirloom varieties known today. The noted beauty and fragrance is a direct attribute of the careful breeding by Eckford in the late 1800s through 1906. The breeding production of today focus on stem length and lasting abilities of cut flowers.

Sweet Peas require scarification (nicking or abrading the seed coat to enhance seed germination). Warm water soaking of the seeds may also enhance germination.

Use a nail file or nail clippers to nick the seed coat. The nicking or “chipping” will speed up the germination process. By the way, this is a tedious process. Make sure you give your self plenty of time to keep on schedule for your planting area.

Planting in large cell packs or 4″ pots for transplants is a proper way to plant exactly where you desire. Start the process by using a soiless soil mix with generous compost added. Make sure the soil is adequately moist and plant the seed 1″ deep. I usually plant two seed per cell or pot. Once planted, water in the cell packs/pots and place where the soil temperature is  65° to 68° (F). I know that sounds pretty cold but that is what sweet peas prefer.

The correct germination temperature will insure proper germination in 7 to 10 days. When most of the seeds have germinated move the seed flats to a much cooler area (45° to 55° (F)). A mildly heated greenhouse, coldframe or hoop house will do the trick. Sweet pea seedlings can take it down to 32° (F). The added benefit is stronger and cold tolerant seedlings.


Sweet peas may be bothered by aphids when planted outside. The aphids spread disease and stunt the plants and subsequent production. The other area for concern is powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is caused by too much shade and poor air movement. Watch cultural practices (such as full sun and planting further apart to provide air circulation) to prevent the scourge of this pernicious disease.

Be careful with sweet pea seeds! They are toxic for consumption. If you have small children the seeds could be enticing!

I will keep you posted on future development.



Further Adventures of Chile de Árbol!!

I harvested the Chile de Árbol early in November. They are drying nicely in my Rock Room. Recycling cardboard flat boxes for drying racks is a worthwhile pursuit. The tall “trees” I cut back to 8″ in the hoop house. I covered the plants with several layers of row cover to overwinter.

These giant tree chilies grew 7 feet tall and produced a good crop of 3″ to 4″ Bird’s Beak or Rat’s Tail chilies.


These peppers are not as moist as some varieties. Therefore, they dry exceptionally well.

The next step is to store in a dry place for further use plus I want to try my hand at making ristras.


Stay tuned! Have a spicy day!




The Garden of Treasures!!

My garden is winding down, but look at the treasures! I have always believed you can find beauty and bounty where you least expect it.

For example:



Look here amongst the weeds:



So easy to save seeds from Cosmos!! I go along pulling the seed heads. Several hundred seeds in a matter of a minute!!


My hot pepper “Maule’s Red Hot” is still producing!!


Last but not least! Treasure from my compost pile!


Just look at the bounty!


The Garden Grew So Fast!!

I made three garden raised beds on August 18 and now they are starting to bear fruit! I planted zucchini, green beans and zinnias.


Here are the beds two weeks later.


Finally, the same three beds on September 23!


Truly amazing!! Here are the first fruits!


37 days from seed to fruit from a 45 day variety of zucchini. Again this proves that warm season vegetables grow faster when the soil is warm and there are proper nutrients. The green beans are beginning to flower and the zinnias have large flower buds!

Planting early is not always the best policy. Plus, now there are less chewing and probing insects. Stay tuned!!


Seed Saving Garden? What’s That? Part 4

There is no more popular vegetable than the tomato. The seed is easy to save and well worth while!

  • Tomato: self pollinating

Inserted stigma: the female part of the flower is encased inside the anther    cone in the center of the flower.

-10 – 20 feet between varieties

inserted stigma

–Most tomato varieties have this blossom structure.

–Blossom bag around cluster if garden is small and isolation distances cannot    be met.

–10 plants for sufficient seed quantities

–Seeds are viable 4 – 6 years

Exposed stigma: the female part of the flower is outside the anther cone in the    center of the flower.

-20 – 50 feet between varieties

exposed stigma

–Potato leaf and black/purple varieties have this blossom structure.

–Blossom bag around cluster if garden is small and isolation distances cannot  be met.

–10 plants for sufficient seed quantities

–Seeds are viable 4 – 6 years

Tomato seed saving     seed saving cages tom flowers 1tomBag1

  • Make sure to label your bagged tomato fruit when removing bag to identify your seed savers.
  • Remember, bags may be removed with evidence of small developing tomato fruit.

Harvest when fruit is fully colored and ripe. Make sure you harvest fruit that comes from healthy plants and fruit (disease free).

Fermentation of tomato seed is required prior to drying. Fermentation removes the gel coat around each seed. The gel coat may inhibit germination.

Crush tomato fruit into a jar or bowl. Add a small amount of water to the pulp.

Tomato seed saving2

Allow pulp to ferment for 2-4 days (2 days if 80°-95° (F), 4 days if below 80° (F)).

Tomato seed saving3Strain mixture to remove the pulp and fermented material.

Tomato seed saving4

Place the moist seeds on a labeled paper plate and allow to dry for 2 weeks.

Tomato seed saving1Scrape seed off of the paper plate and place in a labeled paper envelope (place envelope in a freezer zip lock bag) or small glass jar. Place saved seed in a cool, dark and dry place or your freezer.

Saving tomato seed is easily accomplished and low tech. Plus, the saved seed will last for many years.


Seed Saving Garden? What’s That? Part 3

I met a man in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed store who lost his personal family heirloom seed in a house fire. He was saddened he could not replace those beloved seeds. All the more reason to embrace the heirlooms we can grow and make them our own.

Growing, Harvesting, Saving Seed

Beans (green, dry/fresh shell out beans), cowpeas/southern peas and peas (garden, snow and sugar snap peas) are the simplest seeds to save!!

  • Beans: 10 – 20 feet between varieties is sufficient to prevent cross pollination (self-pollinating).

–10 plants are needed for sufficient seed quantities.

–Harvest when pods are dry.

–Seed are viable 3 – 4 years

beans-dry-bush-closeupDried beans on vineBeans pods2

  • Cowpeas: 10 – 20 feet between separation to prevent cross pollination (self-pollinating) .

–10 plants are needed for sufficient seed quantities.

–Harvest when pods are dry.

–Seed are viable 3 – 4 years.


  • Peas: 10 – 20 feet between varieties is sufficient to prevent cross pollination (self-pollinating).

–10 plants are needed for sufficient seed quantities.

–Harvest when pods are dry.

–Seed are viable 3 – 4 years

Dried peas on vineDried peas1Dried peas

  • Remember, this is fun and practical! Any questions?


Seed Saving Garden? What’s That?

Have you considered saving seed from your garden? Saving seed was once an option. Not any more. It is absolutely essential!! With an uncertain economy and a shrinking heirloom seed pool, the time has come to start saving seed. Over 90% of our heirloom seed have been lost to apathy, lack of interest and the advent of hybrids.

I offered a presentation on  Planning a Seed Garden during the September Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Fall Festival. I will be sharing this information over the next few days.

seed saving cages 2bf220def13c0a7dd7fe13d3e8f860078Save okra seedGarden cages3

  • Determine your favorite open pollinated (true to type) vegetables, herbs and flowers.
  • Does your current garden have the space necessary for vegetable and seed saving production?

–Make a garden plan to fit the space available.

Start small, planting a familiar variety that you are comfortable growing.

–What seed crop or crops are worth the space?

  • Isolation requirement, pollination method and plant requirement must be considered.

Annual Crops

  • Will your seed saving choice have time to mature?

–Tomato, winter squash and grains are harvested at maturity.

–Eggplant, cucumber, snap peas and beans need additional time for seed          maturity.

–Leaf crops (Oriental greens, lettuce, spinach), stalk crops (celery, celtuce,      cardoon, Swiss Chard, asparagus, fennel) and root crops (potato, sweet potato)    need additional time for seed maturity.

Biennial Crops

  • Need cold for vernalization requirement.

–Vernalization is a period of chilling before flowering.

  • Winter chilling is critical for flower initiation.
  • Cabbage, carrots, beets, turnips, kale grow foliage the first year.

–Overwintering initiates flowering the following spring, producing seed.

Are there any questions? Please send them!


2015 University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener Conference

Preparing for the 2015 University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener Conference, O’Fallon , Illinois. I will be speaking on SEED SAVING, Friday, September 18.

Hopefully, this will be the first of many opportunities to share the absolute importance of saving your own seed. At one time it was an option to save heirloom seed. Now it is essential!!!