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.


Bay Area Citrus in Great Danger

If you have citrus trees in your garden, or know someone who does, listen up. A pest insect that has wiped out half of the citrus crop in Florida is spreading in California and has reached the Bay Area. Last year, a new quarantine area was created in the San Jose region, because the pest was found in trees there. Now the most recent quarantine area covers the northern peninsula and a swath of the southern part of San Francisco.

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Lemons on a Healthy Lemon Tree in San Francisco

The insect itself will not kill the tree, but it often carries a deadly disease, and if a particular individual insect is carrying that disease, it will infect the tree while it is feeding. And then there is no cure. Other Asian citrus psyllids will pick up the disease from that infected tree, and will spread it.

So far, none of the insects found in our region have been carrying the disease, but it seems like only a matter of time till one does. Scientists are looking for a cure, or a way to breed resistance to the disease into citrus trees, and would like to buy as much time as they can by keeping the problem in as small an area as possible.

What to do? Inspect your trees. Spring is a good time to do it, since it is a time when there is much active growth on citrus. Look carefully at as many of the growing tips, with their small, new leaves, as you can. The insect, which is called the Asian Citrus Psyllid, or ACP, lays very small yellow-orange eggs in new growth. They will be easier to see with a magnifying glass. The eggs hatch into yellow nymphs that average sesame seed-sized. They are also distinctive in having long, white "tubules" with bulbous ends that extend from their bodies. The adults are aphid-like, mottled browns, and stand with their rear in the air, heads down, sucking sap.

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Asian Citrus Psyllid Nymphs

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Asian Citrus Psyllid Adult Feeding on Citrus Leaf

If you find the insect on your tree, and are not in an area already quarantined, you should call the California Food & Agriculture (CDFA) Exotic Pest Hotline at 800-491-1899. If you are within  the quarantine area already, you should try to kill the pest.

To see an interactive map of the quarantined areas and more photos and learn the best ways to control the pest, see the following UC  website: http://ucanr.edu/sites/ACP/Homeowner_Options/

Also, be sure to buy citrus only from responsible sources. (Major citrus tree growers are now growing trees for the market only in covered production areas that the pest can't get into.) Don't accept plants, cuttings, or grafting material from other gardeners.

And if you are in a quarantined area, don't take any leafy branches outside of it. (You can share your fruit outside of the quarantined area if it doesn't have any stems or leaves attached.)

The insect can also infest some plants that are related to edible citrus, like calamondin (xCitrofortunella microcarpa), box orange (Severinia buxifolia), orange jessamine or orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata), and Indian curry leaf (Murraya koenigii). They should also be inspected and are subject to the same quarantine rules.

The disease we are trying to avoid, and that I hope we never see, is Huanglongbing, or HLB. It is also known as yellow shoot or yellow dragon disease. The leaves of infected trees have yellow blotches, usually starting in one section of the tree. The blotches don't look like most nutritional deficiencies in that they cross the leaf veins, and are often arranged asymmetrically on the leaf. Fruit develops unevenly, asymmetrically, ripens poorly, with little juice and a bitter flavor. The disease will kill the tree. If it appears, the only recourse at this time is to remove the infected tree before the disease spreads to other ones.

So let's get out there and look now, before it's too late!

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Yellow-blotched Leaves of a Citrus Tree Infected with HLB Disease.


Peridot Pepper--A Mild Pepper for Coastal Gardens

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This week's Chronicle column, the one that ran on February 6, 2016, introduced Peridot peppers, a different species of peppers than the common garden peppers. Most of our peppers are Capsicum annuum, but Peridot peppers are Capsicum baccatum. These are South American peppers, and some of them are from higher elevations, in the Andes. At these elevations, the day and night-time temperatures are lower, so the plants are better adapted to our region's cooler summer temperatures. Peppers in this species range from mild to very hot, and share a flavor that is called "fruity, almost citrusy."

A famous Capsicum baccatum variety is the Aji Amarillo. a very hot pepper that matures to an orange color. Annie's Annuals offers plants of this variety. It is traditionally used in ceviche, a raw fish salad.

Peridot is not so hot, in fact it is quite mild if you remove the seeds and internal white ribs. Though I use hot peppers, I was delighted to be able to grow a mild one in SF. I enjoyed the flavor they added to a mixed salad and also used them in a Southwestern corn salad.

The fruits of Peridot are of an interesting shape, oval, but with several wide wings that make the pepper wider than long. The plants reach four feet tall, are V-shaped, or flaring, with 30 to 50 peppers per plant. They set late and ripen into fall. Because the plant is so large, it would be stunted by all but a very large pot, say 18" deep. My plant has survived into February, but does not look as though it will be able to recover and bear fruit a second year. That is, unlike Rocata pepper, Capsicum pubescens, I don't think it will be perennial here.

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 Annie's Annuals should have plenty of Peridot pepper plants this spring (2016). They sell at their nursery as well as by mail order from anniesannuals.com.

I didn't locate any commercial seed source for Perido peppers. I found seed for two varieties that are C. baccatum, and have similar-looking fruit, but both are probably hotter and they seem to grow on plants with different habits than Peridot. The seed I found was for Christmas Bell Hot Pepper, from Reimer Seeds (they say the plants grow to 20 inches tall) and Brazilian Starfish, from Baker Creek Seeds (said to grow on a weeping, almost vine-like plant).


Overwintering Vegetable Crops: Seed Sources

California gardeners who live in mild winter climates (all but the Sierra foothills and mountains), can grow overwintering types of broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. We may also be looking for varieties of some other crops that grow well in our winter months. For example, some lettuce varieties handle cold better than others. In addition, if you live in a coastal part of California, you will want to locate vegetable varieties that will thrive in cool summers. For the widest choice of varieties, you can start them from seed.  In my book Golden Gate Gardening, I have described many of the best overwintering and cool-tolerant varieties, given sources for seed, and included a chapter explaining when and how to start seedlings. Following is a short list of some of our best mail order seed companies for regionally adapted varieties, and two local stores that sell seed from some of these otherwise mail order companies.

Yr frost 0299697-R01-008 copyOverwintering 'Purple Sprouting' Broccoli

Bountiful Gardens  Bountiful Gardens Web Site

Kitazawa Seed Company  Kitazawa Web Site

Niichols Garden Nursery   Nichols Web Site

Territorial Seed Company  Territorial Web Site

Two East Bay stores offer seeds from some of these seed companies:

Pollinate Farm and Garden, 2727 Fruitvale Avenue, Oakland, 510-686-3493

Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, 1310 McGee Avenue, Berkeley, 510-526-4704

 

 


Fish with Seafood Sauce and Shredded Raw Beet Salad

The wild onion in the following recipes is shown below. The first image shows the plant, which grows from late fall to spring, usually as a weed in gardens and wild urban places in the San Francisco Bay Area. It could be made with ordinary green onions. If you live in the Eastern US, you might have access to a plant that is native there called ramps, which is similar and could be used instead. (Ramps don't grow in the West.)

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The second image shows a close up of leaves and flowers, so you can see the ridge, or keel, on the underside of the leaves and also that the flower stem is triangular in cross section. Note that there is a green line down each of the petals.

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Fish in Seafood Sauce (Adapted from the book From Sea and Stream, by Lou Seibert Pappas, 101 Productions, 1986) (The wild onion referred to in this recipe is Allium triquetrum, a Mediterranean escaped species that is a weed in California gardens. Please only eat weeds if you are sure of your identification skills.)

8 medium mushrooms, sliced                                               3 tablespoons cornstarch

2-3 green onion or wild onions, cut up                                 1/4 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon butter or margarine                                         a dash of nutmeg (that's like half a pinch)

1 cup milk (nonfat is fine)                                                       1/4 cup dry white wine

3-4 ounces of small peeled shrimp or other seafood

1 to 1 1/3 pounds rock fish like snapper (or swai, which is also called white roughy and basa)

Set oven for 400° F. Spray-oil or grease an approximately 9x12 oven proof casserole or pan. Arrange pieces of fish in the casserole in a single layer. In a small skillet, saute mushrooms and onion in butter or margarine until soft. In a small saucepan, put the milk, then add to it the cornstarch, salt, and nutmeg. Cook the milk mixture, stirring often, until the sauce thickens. Stir in the wine, mushroom/onion mixture, and shrimp or other seafood. Pour the sauce over the fish. Bake, uncovered, for 15-25 minutes, until fish separates easily with a fork. Good served over rotelli pasta. Makes 3-4 servings. 

Some photos follow, showing preparation and serving of the dish:

Cutting up the wild onions and the mushrooms. The fish is in the casserole.

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The casserole ready to bake.  Wild onion IMG_2926 copy

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The recipe calls for shrimp, but in this case the dish has been made with cut-up cooked mussels, purchased frozen.

 

Shredded Beet Salad (Adapted from Farmer John's Cookbook, John Peterson, Gibbs Smith, 2006)

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2-3 cups coarsely grated raw beet                              1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup olive oil                                                           2 Tablespoons white or rice vinegar

1 Tablespoon finely chopped  shallot (or white part of wild onion , scallion, or chopped bulb onion)

1 small clove garlic, finely minced (1/4-1/2 teaspoon)

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh dill leaves or one teaspoon of dried dill weed)

salt and black pepper if desired

leaves and flowers of wild Mediterranean onion for garnish

             Put the grated beets in a large salad bowl. In a small jar with a lid, combine the rest of the ingredients. Put the lid on and shake vigorously to mix ingredients. Pour the dressing over the beets and toss with two spoons until well coated. Adjust flavor if needed. The salad is now ready to eat, but it's even better if marinated in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Keeps in the refrigerator for several days.

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Help Learning to Use Plant Scientific Names

There is another post containing resources for gardeners learning to use plant scientific names. You will find it if you search for "Plant ID". I have added the following new one today:

http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ldplants/2plants.htm Searchable list of common garden plant genera. Click on a genus name to get description and links to many photos of different parts and stages of the plant. It also links to another database, this one providing a simplified plant key for woody landscape plants.


Master Gardener Spring Sales--Mostly Tomatoes

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Master Gardeners will be holding spring markets in three Bay Area counties in April. As reported in my SF Chronicle Column of April 5, they will be as follows:

San Mateo/San Francisco Master Gardeners will hold two sales. The first is on April 11, 9-1, at Redwood High School, 1968 Old County Road, Redwood City. The second is April 18th, 10-2, at Central Park in San Mateo, and is part of an open house at the park on that day. For more information: 2015 San Mateo/SF Spring Garden Market Information

Marin County Master Gardeners are having two sales on the same day, April 18th, both 9:30-12. One is at the Bon Air Shopping Center, 50 Bon Air Ctr., Greenbrae, the other is at the Pini Market, 1535 S. Novato Blvd, Nave Shopping Center, Novato..For more information: 2015 Marin County Tomato Market Information

Santa Clara Master Gardeners are having their sale on April 11, 9-2 at History San Jose, 1650 Senter Road, San Jose..:For more information: 2015 Santa Clara Spring Market Garden Information

All of the sales include tomato plants galore and Master Gardeners on hand to answer questions and the  April 11th sales in Redwood City and in San Jose include other kinds of seedlings and garden talks, and  a "green elephant" sales.

Each of the Master Gardener Organizations have prepared lists of the tomato varieties they will be selling, with information on the qualities of each variety. Here are links to the three 2015 tomato variety lists:

2015 San Francisco/San Mateo Tomato List

2015 Marin County Tomato Varieties

2015 Santa Clara County Tomato List

 

 

 


Fall Plant Sale--Master Gardeners of San Mateo/San Francisco

Coming soon is the fall plant sale of the Master Gardeners of San Mateo and San Francisco. Here is their announcement:

Please join us for our Fall Plant Sale on Saturday, September 20th from 9:00AM to 1:00PM.
 
We are offering an exciting array of vegetables, succulents, perennials, edible flowers, cover crop seeds and a wonderful choice of garlic seed and shallots perfect for your Fall Garden!
 
Vegetables Varieties
Beets_Chioggia, Bull’s Blood, Golden, and Shiraz
CabbageAll Seasons, and January King
Broccoli_Quartina, Di Ciccio, Romanesco, Piricicaba, and Solstice
Peas_Maestro, and Alderman Pole Peas
Spinach_Giant Winter, Monnopa Low Acid, Monster of Viroflay
Lettuce_Outstanding Red Romaine, Bronze Arrow Looseleaf, and Arctic King Butterhead
Chard_Fordhook Giant, Rainbow Mix, and Perpetual Spinach Chard
Kale_Vates Blue Curled, Lacinato (Dinosaur), Dwarf Green Curled, Portuguese, and Russian Red
Bunching Onion_White Spear
Endive_Frisee Fine Cut
Mustard_Red Giant
Leek_Musselburgh
 
LOTS of GARLIC and SHALLOTS!!!
Artichoke Seed Garlic_Inchelium Red                                     
Rocambole Seed Garlic_Killarney Red
Porcelian Seed Garlic_Magic
Shallots_Dutch Red
 
Succulents and Perennials…too many to list
 
Cover Crop Seeds
 
Our sale location is 2645 South El Camino Real San Mateo, CA 94403. Parking is limited so please park off-site.
 
Let us help you get your FALL GARDEN off to a good start.