My friend Sabina, since she's not yet found out how to grow silver bells and cockleshells, plans to focus this year on applecumbers and leafless peas in her garden. Sabina's foremost mission has always been to overwhelm her friends with produce they'll never find in any market.
Now, I agree with her. I'm planting peanuts, but my friends will share in the harvest only for megabucks. I already have a peanut butter-making machine.
It's not just that peanuts are scarce and expensive, due to last summer's drought (and a bumper commercial crop this year won't hit the market until winter). They're also foolproof for the small-scale gardener, being virtually immune to most fungi, depredating bugs, wilts, rots and borers. They're also easy, being vigorous enough to thrive with a modicum of weeding and cultivating.
The only reason I've never grown peanuts till now is that they've been cheap. You could buy peanuts, for, well, peanuts, and they weren't worth even a little slaving over.
For the reasons I didn't plant peanuts in the past, I'm not going to plant potatoes (sweet or regular), lettuce, lima beans, cabbage, spinach or Swiss chard, pumpkins, broccoli, Brussels sprouts or cauliflower.
I am going to plant tomatoes, green beans, peppers and corn, but in all cases the varieties will be the kinds developed for flavor and tenderness, not for durability in shipping.
As in tomatoes, I'm going with Burpee's Supersteak, a "new hybrid that is reversion to the old standby, but with bred-in resistance to wilt and root know nematodes; and Roma, the fail-proof Italian staple that keeps bearing for months, rich and pulpy fruit that the blender turns into zesty juice and which is easily the best for canning and sauce-making. Half my packet of cherry tomato seeds will be planted for early and midsummer harvest; the rest will go into pots indoors in late August. They should keep producing almost to Christmas.
Sabina is planting a new kind of tomato that looks like a unripe cherry and supposedly tastes like pineapple. She said I was unkind when I asked, why not a pineapple that tastes like a tomato? She's also ordered from Lakeland Nurseries in Hanover, Pennsylvania, something called "Topeperatoe," touted in Lakeland's catalog as an "amazing gardening achievement." It grows potoatoes for roots and the bush bears green peppers and tomatoes. This must be her year for potaotes with everything since Lakeland is also sending her some "cabatoes," potatoes below and cabbage on top.
She ordered her pineapple-flavored tomatoes and leafless peas from Gurney's of Yankton, South Dakota, and as an afterthought asked for their golden beets. She's a messy cook, she admits, and hopes she'll be able to make borscht without her kitchen looking like an abattoir. I'm sticking with good old Red Ball beets because beets aren't beets unless grown commercially in Oregan for Navy blue dye; your mouth is purple for days after eating them and your hands for weeks after picking them, but if you can live with the stains, it's worth it. So too, with beets.
Gurney's claims for the leafless peas that they're sending Sabina sound reasonable. They're a hybridization emphasizing tendrils rather than leaves so the vines cling to minimum support and the pods are high, easily picked and wilt-resistant. But growing any kind of peas in the Washington area is an exercise in frustration -- the soil is too acid, which a few tons of lime can fix, and the heat and humidity set in too soon, which nothing can fix. Peas are for Canadians. a
The same problem of too short a time span between warm enough to plant and too hot to survive applies to lettuces and spinaches and chards here. Plus bugs. It's not just that I've finally heeded the reports of the perils of pesticides and herbicides and fungicides, it's the fact that they're all paininthecides. I'm tired of pumping hand sprayers. And I'm tired of buying new hand sprayers every year because I can't remember which was used for what last year and the labels I've put on them have faded during the winter when they've taken up shelf space I'd rather have used for tools that I can't find when I need them because I've had to tuck them away behind the tomato sauce of the window screens and air conditioners.
Sabina has solved the spray problem by interspersing her bug-prone plants with garlic and onions and horseradish and nasturtiums. These disperse the bugs, she says, and she's got lots of friends who'd be happy to share her bushels of garlic and horseradish. Well. I don't, and her friends are the same ones who were never home last year when she wanted to drop off excess yard-long beans and vegetable spaghetti.
As always, I'm planting Kentucky Wonder pole beans around homemade towers that Burpee and other garden suppliers are now selling in an easy-fold, easy-storage form. I'm using similar frames for the tomatoes, and I'm saving net bags from the produce market to tie up the Supersteak tomatoes so they can get full growth without collapsing the vines.
For corn I'm trying Illini Xtra Sweet, a new hybrid that tastes like good old Golden Bantam but stays longer on the stalk without getting tough and keeps longer after picking without losing sugar and turning starchy. As always, about two dozen stalks in at least three rows to promote pollenization. a
The reason I'm planting peppers -- Burpee's new Gypsy hybrid -- is that they're so decorative as they ripen, turning from green to brilliant yellow to bright red, edible at all stages. I'll take them early, as with the tomatoes and beans and corn, and apart enough that most of my tending will be done with the lawn mower. Weeding is for people like Sabina, with strong backs. . .