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September 2016

A Shout Out for Nichols Garden Nursery Seed Company

               When I first arrived in San Francisco, many years ago, living in a rented flat, wanting to plant a few vegetables in a neighbor's yard. I discovered the Nichols Garden Nursery herb and rare seed catalog. They had everything I needed to try out my new climate and microclimate. They are still there, still carry old and new favorites, and now, of course, they are also on the web.  

               Located in Western Oregon, the nursery is experienced with cool summers, especially with cool summer nights. In their catalog I discovered many varieties that were to become staples over the years. They had purple-podded bush beans, which are your best bet to grow regular garden beans in near-coastal microclimates because they germinate well in cold soil. If those worked in a particular location, then I tried 'Roma II', a bush romano bean, the kind with broad, flat pods and a buttery texture. If the garden was too chilly for the purple bush beans, then I knew I had better plant Scarlet Runner beans, because they are, as the Nichols catalog states, "an excellent cool weather variety." If I had great success with the Roma II beans, it was time to try some regular pole beans, like 'Goldmarie', a yellow-podded pole romano or old standby 'Kentucky Wonder Pole'.

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Left to right: Scarlet Runner climbing bean, 'Royalty Purple-Podded Bush Bean, and 'Goldmarie' yellow-podded pole Romano bean.

               Nichols still carries all of these bean varieties, all open pollinated, all heirlooms, and many more. And they still carry 'Early Sunglow' corn, a variety listed at 62 days to maturity. It succeeds in milder San Francisco neighborhoods, taking 90 days due to the cool microclimate, but still allowing two plantings a summer--one in May and another in July. That second planting comes out in mid-October, right before the usuals start of the rainy season. The stalks are short, but bear 2 ears. The ears are smaller than supermarket corn, but worth it for the chance to eat fresh, fresh, corn-on-the-cob.

               They also still carry overwintering cole crops like 'Purple Sprouting' broccoli, the beautiful and the delicious 'January King' cabbage. And many kinds of kale, including two packets of kale mixes that let you see the wonderful diversity of this nutritious leafy green.

               It was also the place I first found 'Stupice' tomatoes, early and tasty in cool summers. They carry 'Early Girl', 'Green Zebra', and 'Oregon Spring', all of which have borne fruit well in my Mission District community garden. And they have kept up with the times, now the sweet golden cherries 'Sungold', and offering late blight resistant 'Jasper' cherry and larger-fruited 'Mountain Magic'.

               There are many other choice varieties in this catalog that I discovered since I first saw it. They have sweet, orange cherry tomato 'Sungold', reliable and early 'Snow Crown' cauliflower, the choice color-mix 'Bright Lights' chard, striped and ribbed heirloom zucchini 'Costata Romanesco', red-splashed and long-bearing 'Flashy Butter Oak' lettuce, and 'Bull's Blood' beets, the red leaves of which seem not to interest leafminers in my garden.

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'Bright Lights' Swiss Chard

               They have also kept up with the issues of the day when it comes to garden seeds. They signed the Safe Seed Pledge, which promises they will not carry seed that is transgenic or genetically engineered. They have also joined the brand new Open Source Seed movement, offering many of the varieties that are pledged never to be patented, keeping seed these open-pollinated varieties available for seedsaving and further selection by gardeners and farmers.

               The first page that attracted me to Nichols was the "New and Unusual Vegetables" page. Here I found the uncommon crop, the surprises, unusual varieties and little-known crops. Many unusual crops are also in the rest of the catalog. They have 5 varieties of hops roots, 4 kinds of potato starts, walking onion bulbs, seed for the exquisitely flavored herb, Shiso, 'Lemon Gem' edible marigold, 3 varieties of Quinoa, miner's lettuce, magenta-leaved orach, and Tromboncino climbing summer squash.

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Walking Onion is a scallion (green onion) that propagates by stem-top bulblets.

I have only ordered seed from Nichols Garden Nursery, but they sell many other products, from essential herb oils, herbal teas, and 2 kinds of sourdough starters to ingredients and equipment for making beer cheese and wine.

               Nichols Garden Nursery is a family-owned business founded in 1950 by Nick and Edith Nichols and run currently by their daughter Rose Marie Nchols McGee. They are located at 1190  Old Salem Road, in Albany, Oregon. At their brick and mortar nursery, they sell herb plants and seasonal seedlings, including many specialty plants they don't sell through the mail. You just missed their annual Plant Day, with the traditional serving of Lavendar/Ginger ice cream, but it is the Saturday after Mother's Day, in case you are planning a trip through Oregon next spring.

               The website of Nichols Garden Nursery is nicholsgardennursery.com. Pay it a visit and discover a treasure for our west coast gardens.


A New Protector Against Burrowing Animals

This spring I found that a burrowing animal was eating plants, roots and tops, in my small front garden. I know it was not a mole, because moles don't eat plants, just insects and earthworms. Could have been a gopher, but by the amount it ate in a night, I thought maybe something smaller, maybe a RAT! (The rats that burrow are called sewer rats; the ones that don't, roof rats. Rats have burrowed in my backyard before so this seemed a good guess.)

Whatever it was, my Chinese forget-me-nots, the ones I grew lovingly from seed and transplanted into the garden, were disappearing night by night. Then whatever it was started in on the primroses I just bought and set out, and the large 'Moonglow' yellow yarrow was losing branches, then roots. Then it ate most of the tops off of two x kellereri yarrows!  These were divisions of my original plant-which is one of my favorites. Something had to happen.

I dug out all of the yarrow, both 'Moonglow' and  Kellereri, and what was left of the primroses and put them all in pots on the back porch. Then I cleared away and found the place the varmint had blocked up the opening of its burrow. I dug it out, exposing the hole. The varmint had replugged it the next morning. I repeated. It repeated. I repeated. After many repeats, over several days, I decided I had to escalate. I have heard that water down the burrow can discourage a burrowing pest, but doubted it in a large garden, but in my 10 x 12 foot front garden, maybe it would work. I wanted to tell the varmint that this was not a good place for a home, before it ate everything left there. At this point about a quarter of the tiny space was a wreck. My husband was beginning to ask whether maybe I should be looking for a trap. I said hold on, let's see if this works.

So, the next day, I dug the plug out again, got the hose, attached a jet nozzle, and put it down the hole. Turned on the water. Most of it stayed in the hole. But the next say, the plug was back.

Over the course of a week or so, I dug out the burrow plug 8 or 10 times, used the hose 3 times. And then the varmint stopped replugging the hole. 

During the battle, I decided to replant a couple of plants in gopher baskets. And here is where my problem led to a discovery that will be useful to other gardeners. When I went over to San Francisco's Flowercraft nursery, they offered me a new kind of basket, made of a soft stainless steel wire mesh. So this is what I have used, and have written about it in my May 8th, 2016 SF Chronicle column.They are called Grow Master Baskets. To learn more about them and see who sells them, see westernplantingsolutions.com or call 530-751-3366.

These baskets are less expensive than the old kind, easier to handle, and come in many sizes.  The company suggests fitting a basket over the rootball like a glove, but I have used baskets that are a bit larger than present rootballs, spreading the baskets in a wider planting hole, and putting some soil in them, then setting the plants in the soil.That way the plant has room to grow more roots and still be protected.

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'Moonglow' yarrow plant in a Grow Master anti-gopher basket

When I first used the basket, the varmint was still active. Because I had used a somewhat larger basket than the rootball, there was enough of it to roll up over the plant and secure with some plant-tie that I ran through some of the openings in the mesh. This protected the top of the plant as well as the roots while it got re-established, and while I figured out what to do next.

But now I have uncovered all of the protected plants. The 'Moonglow' yarrow is about to bloom. The x kellereri yarrows are still recovering in pots, but they shall return. And one Chinese forget-me-not survived to bloom beautifully!

 

 


Peppers Leafing Out After Winter

In the post I wrote about Peridot pepper, I said it was not leafing out again in spring, and that I thought it would not be a perennial plant in San Francisco. But perhaps I spoke too soon.

As background, I should say that even common garden peppers, the ones in the species Capsicum annuum, are perennials in a tropical enough climate. I have overwintered them in San Francisco. They lost their leaves, but did leaf out moderately well and bore a small crop the second summer. They were not as productive as in the first summer, and since in San Francisco, they weren't hugely productive the first year, I decided overwintering them wasn't worth the trouble.

One species pepper is fully perennial here. That is the rocata pepper, in the species Capsicum pubescens. It keeps almost all of its leaves over the winter, and, with moderate pruning of damaged branches, keeps right on going in the spring. The peppers are usually very hot, though some varieties have fruit that is milder when it is green. Plants are  shrubs, up to 6 feet tall in milder parts of SF.

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This is what Rocata pepper looks like. It keeps most of its leaves all winter, just needs light pruning in spring.

Peridot peppers are in the species Capsicum baccatum. They grow in the lower elevations of the Andes, where nights are cool, so they can bear a crop in cooler Bay Area sites. And they are a sweet pepper, with only a flash of heat now and then. (See earlier post on Peridot pepper for more photos and details.)

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Peridot Peppers bear in September and October then lose most of their leaves in winter.

I also grew a second variety of C. baccatum last year, which had long fruit, similarly mild, that ripened to orange. I thought it might be Aji Amarillo, the hot pepper often used in ceviche in South America, but apparently not. (Aji Amarillo seems to be a shorter pepper, in addition to being fiery hot.) From looking at web descriptions of C. baccatum varieties, I think I grew Peru Long Orange. The fruit reached 7 inches long, the plant was five feet tall, and it bore very late, into November and December. (It was great to have peppers in winter.)

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This is the one I call Peru Long Orange, before the fruit turns orange.

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Here is how it looks in winter if you leave it on to ripen. Notice the leaves are becoming yellowish.

So now its spring. I left the plants in, to see what would happen. First, a fine, deep green shoot emerged at the base of the Long Orange plant. Then little shoots appeared here and there on that plant as well as on the Peridot. The best, most vigorous, shoots were often lower on the branches, not at their ends. I began a careful pruning program, cutting branches back just above strong shoots. That is, I was letting the plant leaf out first, to guide me as to where to cut. I also worked some aged manure into the soil near the plants (I had turkey manure.) to give them a boost.

By May the Peru Long Orange plant has become quite leafy, lots of big, dark green leaves. It is a foot or two shorter than it was, due to my pruning, but growing nicely. The Peridot shoots are not quite as vigorous (and I don't have a good photo of it yet). Perhaps the fact that Peridot bears fruit earlier in the season is related to its being slightly less able to recover from winter. However, it is too soon to tell whether either plant will bear a good crop this year. I'll let you know.

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Peru Long Orange leafing out in the second year, shown in late April.

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Close-up shot of Peru Long Orange leaves in second year, showing their healthy size and color, and a pruning cut (center)

I must say, however, that plants in a friend's garden are not leafing out as well. The Long Orange in that garden was cut back heavily, before it began to grow new leaves, so perhaps this was an error. The Peridot in that garden was allowed to hold onto much of its ripe fruit through the winter, so perhaps it used up too much energy ripening seeds to have much left for regrowing. (I ate most of my Peridot peppers green, finding the flavor nicer than when it was red, and took off the last fruits in about December.)

I have put in new plants of each, next to the old plants, and will be comparing their performance, to try to decide it is worthwhile to overwinter these plants.

Annie's Annuals anniesannuals.com, grew both kinds of C. baccatum this spring, and even offer Aji Amarillo. If anyone grows any of these plants and has new info to impart, please send a comment.


I'm Still in the Chronicle Once a Month

If you are a reader of my column in the SF Chronicle, you will have noticed that it has not been running on the first Sunday of each month. Since the start of the year, in some months it has been postponed until the second Sunday. They hope to return to more predicatability. I hope for it as well.

I have curtailed material on one-day gardening events, in fear that the event will be over before the column appears, but am still writing timely gardening tips, book reviews, and Q&A segments that will appear in the Chronicle once a month. This month I am told that the column will appear on May 8th.

At the end of this week, I will be posting more information here on the battle I just won with some burrowing, plant-eating animal--a gopher or a rat. It was during this battle that I discovered the new solution for protecting plant roots I described in the upcoming column.

Also, later this week, I will post photos of my overwintered Capsicum baccatum pepper plants. They are leafing out pretty well, but I have put in new plants as backup and for comparison. I will compare crop size and earliness this fall and see if it was worth it to overwinter the plants. In the meantime, see the post on Peridot peppers and be aware that Annie's Annuals has Peridot Pepper plants this spring in case you want to try them.

Happy Gardening!