~photoblog of a WNY zone 6 gardener

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Wall Street Journal

Heirloom Purple Podded Peas

I was in the WSJ this past May about growing unusual vegetables. My cyber-gardening friend Jeanne from SC(who also appears in the article) had the writer, June Fletcher, contact me. I talked with her for some time. Though the article has some mistakes like I've grown Prudens Purple for years or I don't search out ugly tomatoes(I'm searching for great taste regardless of looks,) it was still in a good spirit and it was fun to see my name in the WSJ.
Here's the article:

Click Here! click here

WallStreet Journal
Pushing the Envelope on Vegetables
Friday May 16, 2:46 pm ET
By June Fletcher

The view of the vegetable patch will be decidedly odd this year: Get ready for maroon carrots, yellow watermelons and pink-and-white striped beets.

Garden centers, catalogs and seed companies are promoting strange, splashy edibles not only to intrigue veteran gardeners who always seek the unusual, but also to inspire a new generation who -- until recently -- hadn't shown much interest in getting their hands in the dirt.

The push comes as long-dormant interest in vegetable gardens has begun to revive, spurred by foodie fascination with the new and exotic, rising produce prices and headline-grabbing scares involving contamination of commercially grown vegetables. Added to that is the growing movement to eat food grown locally, both for freshness and to cut down on the greenhouse gases emitted by shipping.

The amount of money U.S. consumers spent on vegetable gardens rose 22% in 2007, to $1.4 billion, from 2006, according to a survey conducted in January for the National Gardening Association, an industry-sponsored group. Another poll, conducted in February for the Garden Writers Association Foundation, found that 39% of gardeners planned to grow edible plants this spring, up from 32% a year earlier.

Though the odd-vegetable trend has been around for several seasons, more unusual crops are appearing in catalogs and garden-oriented Web sites this year. Gurney's, a mail-order purveyor, is promoting a purple-red Brussels sprout called Falstaff. Competitor Burpee has a white cherry tomato called Italian Ice and an heirloom Chinese radish, dubbed the Radish Watermelon, that looks like a white baseball with a bright pink center. Park Seed rolled out purple Pak Choi, golden beets and Big Rainbow yellow-and-red splotched tomatoes that grow to two pounds apiece.

For longtime aficionados of the quirky, such as Remy Orlowski, the plants add elements of visual and gustatory surprise to her landscape. This spring, the 44-year-old nutritionist has been weaving red okra, purple-podded peas and a spicy, splotched and twisted plant called a fish pepper among the flowers in her Tonawanda, N.Y., backyard. She also added two odd tomatoes -- Carbon, a deep maroon, and Pruden's Purple, which is actually pink -- to the 40 varieties she already grows.

Mrs. Orlowski says she always is on the lookout for "weird and ugly" tomatoes -- especially newly rediscovered heirlooms -- both because she wants to rescue varieties that may be on the brink of extinction and because she thinks they taste better than store-bought ones. But she and her husband, Gary, who works in a hospital-supply firm, sometimes encounter resistance when they try to give away their excess produce to co-workers. "It can be off-putting to some," she says of the odd variations.

Indeed, hitting the right note with unusual plants can be difficult, says , chairman and chief executive officer of W. Atlee Burpee & Co. of Warminster, Pa. While peculiar plants can be profitable to their sellers -- they're usually initially priced 10% to 20% more than old favorites -- they can take years of breeding to produce, and the market's reaction is unpredictable. Burpee's best-selling new vegetable last year was Golden Mama, a yellow-fleshed, egg-shaped tomato designed to make paste. It cooks down to a golden-yellow sauce instead of the unattractive grayish-brown glop that other yellow tomatoes typically produce. But some of Burpee's other recent introductions, including Purple Dragon Carrots and All Blue potatoes, were "flopperoos," says Mr. Ball. "The sight of blue is unappetizing to many people," he says. "I couldn't give them away."

And some unusual veggies require that gardeners do a bit of coddling. Ferry-Morse's new "Health Smart" vegetable collection includes exotic Hakurei Hybrid turnips, touted for their vitamin-rich tops and mild-tasting white flesh that can be chopped raw into salads, as well as Nutri-Red carrots, promoted as high in the nutrient lycopene. However, the company's Web site warns that the turnips need to be harvested when they're between 2 inches and 3½ inches in diameter or they become woody, while the carrots can crack if they're watered too much.

Still, some gardeners enjoy a challenge. Jeanne Hertzog, 58, a retired police captain who owns a pet-sitting business, grows both traditional and off-the-wall vegetables in her nine-acre Lexington, S.C., yard, as well as in nearly 80 patio pots. She likes to experiment with growing techniques -- she once grew an heirloom tomato upside down through a hole in a hanging bucket -- as well as bizarre plants, such as the Egyptian Walking Onion, which puts out small bulbs on the ends of stalks that fall over and take root, running rampant through the garden if not kept under control. Although the unusual veggies can be a lot of work, and they don't always measure up to standard ones in flavor -- a "chocolate" pepper she grew had an off taste -- she says their strangeness is part of the charm. This spring, she started an "odd, odder, oddest" seed swap on an online gardening forum, and received seeds for Cinnamon Basil, Green Zebra tomatoes and Apple Green eggplants. "I'm always interested in something new," she says.

Charlie Nardozzi, senior horticulturist for the National Gardening Association, says some people grow odd veggies simply to be on the cutting edge. Other, environmentally motivated gardeners are trying to resurrect long-forgotten native plants. Mike Robins, a 27-year-old Burtonsville, Md., graphic designer, has planted an old Indian staple, Apios Americana -- also known as the Hog Peanut or groundnut -- in a patio pot this spring. The rangy vine was so prized by 17th-century colonists that they punished Indians who dug its starchy tubers with the stocks or whipping. But the bulbous tubers take two years to reach edible size, so Mr. Robins will have to do a lot of watering and fertilizing before he can harvest them. "I have no idea what they taste like," he says.

Eccentric edibles have been converting some die-hard veggie-spurners, like Michelle Reynolds, into fans. Last season, on a lark, the 36-year-old Quincy, Ill., homemaker grew blue potatoes -- which she mixed with red and white ones for Fourth of July french fries -- as well as white oval cucumbers, "rainbow" carrots in red, orange, yellow and green, and tiny, pastel-hued "Easter Egg" eggplants. The veggies were such a hit with her two preschoolers -- particularly her 5-year-old son, Timmy -- that she plans to plant more this spring. "He likes the pretty colors," she says. And she adds that she likes the way they taste, too.

Write to June Fletcher at june.fletcher@wsj.com

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Favorite Garden Blogs

Favorite Tomatoes

  • Humph - Green
  • Stump of the World - Pink, my absolute favorite
  • Little Lucky - Small Yellow Bicolor
  • Prudens Purple - meaty Pink
  • Carbon - Black


About Me

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Plantaholic, from annuals to perennials, from tomatoes to roses. You name it; I love it! I often get very busy with my business and life and don't post as often as I would like.