Monday, April 15, 2013

Asian Greens

If you haven't investigated the world of Asian greens, they will surprise with their versatility and tastiness. The striking appearance of many are a welcome addition to the garden. Cool season types such as those mentioned here can be planted now.

'Brisk Green' pak choi
Pak choi (a.k.a. pac choi, bok choy, Chinese celery cabbage, Chinese white cabbage) Brassica rapa var chinensis, is generally a cool season vegetable though improved heat tolerance has been bred into some. The green leaf stalk types like 'Shanghai' and particularly the F1 varieties 'Mei Qing' and 'Brisk Green' with more heat and bolt resistance are good candidates for us. They can be sown in place and the young greens cut in 20 days while thinned plants left to mature in 45 or 50 days depending on variety. Pak choi may be eaten raw, stir fried, grilled, steamed or added to soups.

Pak choi 'Brisk Green' bolting mid-June
Seed of pak choi is available from general seed companies such as Johnny's, Nichol's Garden Nursery and Territorial as well as specialty Asian vegetable seed suppliers like Kitazawa Seeds. Sow directly in the garden in April and again in early July for a fall crop. As with other cabbage family members, flea beetles and cabbage caterpillars can be troublesome. Try floating row cover fabric to screen them out.

'Indian Red Giant' mustard
Asian mustards, Brassica juncea, are fast growing cool season crops. A particular beauty is 'Indian Red Giant' mustard, 40 days to maturity or half that time for baby salad greens. This maroon leafed plant forms a welcome addition to lettuce or spinach mesclun mixes and can also be used as wilted greens and in soups and other cooked dishes. The peppery flavor and texture of the leaves are very different than American mustards. Originally thought to come from India, it is popular in many places in Asia. Seed can be obtained from local Broomfield based Botanical Interests.

Photo credit: All story photos credit Carl Wilson

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bees to pollinate your Vegetables and Fruits

Digger bee coated with pollen - Whitney Cranshaw
Devoting valuable growing space to flowers to nurture bee pollinators may seem like a waste of time to vegetable and fruit growers. Perhaps it's time to rethink and plant some low-care perennial flowers for bees.

Pollinators have been in decline with increasing urbanization and the mysterious honey bee colony collapse disorder. We need bees to pollinate our food. Vegetable growers need to be concerned about pollinators for their vine crops: cucumbers, melons, squash and pumpkins. Fruit growers are even more dependent on pollinators for brambles, strawberries and tree fruits.

Sweat bee and honey bee - Whitney Cranshaw
Although you may automatically think of honey bees, don't sell bumble bees and solitary bees short when it comes to pollination. There are a whole variety of native solitary bees to consider.

Some of the better low water and low care perennials to consider growing for bees are:

  • Sunflower (Helianthus sp. but not pollen-free florist types or fancy doubles)
  • Catmint (Nepeta extend flowering by cutting back after first flowering for a second flush of bloom)
  • Beardtongue (Penstemon sp. including Rocky Mountain penstemon, P. strictus)
  • Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
  • Mint (Mentha sp.)
  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Blue mist spirea (Caryopteris x clandonensis)
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Silverheels horehound (Marrubium rotundifolium)

Also consider succession of bloom over the growing season. Don't know when perennials bloom? Click to find a helpful publication from Utah State University Extension complete with flower bloom time chart that is highly applicable to us in Colorado:  Gardening for Native Bees in Utah and Beyond.