Tried and True Seeds for Spring

Feb 8, 2018

Credit Elspeth Hay

During the growing season, Sarah Smith spends most of her time taking care of other people’s gardens—it’s her job. She also has a young son at home, and between these demands, she likes to keep her home garden easy and fun. 


She says this starts with planting a lot of the same things year after year, "always snap peas, always Bright Lights Swiss Chard, because it’s just so easy and delicious. This has become a standby the red-cored chantenay, carrot."

I asked her to tell me a little bit more about these carrots. "They come up, so that’s really why I keep going back to them," she said. 

Anyone who’s tried to grow carrots knows they can be very tricky to germinate. They need extremely consistent water in the beginning, but red cored chantaney seed doesn’t seem to be as sensitive to drying out as some other carrots.

Sarah says, "we don’t do a whole lot of watering in our garden. And they come up and they’re delicious and they grow like gangbusters. They taste awesome."

She tells me more about what she's written down, "the other one that I’ve just started two years now, is French baby leeks," she explained. "I got the primor and you don’t have to wait until they mature you can just pick them when they’re small and then they’re like sweet and you can almost eat them raw— it’s a really nice taste."

Sarah also likes to eat the baby leeks grilled, or in her go-to Swiss chard pie (recipe below). She says you can also leave the leeks in the ground to mature to full size.

One thing Sarah wants to plant more of this year are blueberries, particularly a variety she planted a few years ago on her patio in a pot.

"We’ve had really good luck with the peach sorbet, and I think it’s a half high so it’s like a knee length basically and it’s our best, by far our best blueberry," she says.  "I don’t think it’s continuous so once you’ve picked ‘em all, that’s it, but nice sized blueberries and great flavor."

I asked her, when you plant a blueberry in a pot, can it overwinter that way? She explained that hers did really well and that this, she thinks, is "the third full year in a pot."

You have to get a glazed pot, so it doesn’t crack during thaws and freezes, and you have to be a little more careful about watering; Sarah keeps her potted peach sorbet blueberry on her patio, where she sees it all the time and remembers to water.

Last fall Sarah also put in an apple tree, and she says with any kind of fruit bush or tree, it’s a good idea to protect the roots with a special companion plant that deters moles.

She explains,  "I’ve used it in the past with really good results, it’s a euphorbia and it’s got some sort of milky sap that they don’t like, so I put in three in the garden." She adds, "it’s an ugly plant, but it has a purpose."

The euphorbia Sarah’s talking about is also called Caper Spurge. It’s tall and skinny with thin leaves and it’s an annual, but it can reseed itself. The entire plant, including the sap, is poisonous, and just the smell of it is enough to repel moles.

Sarah says just as important as what she is growing are the plants she’s decided with limited time and space just aren’t worth it for her home garden.

"We’ve stopped growing tomatoes because we have so many volunteers from our compost that are leftover," she said. "So we just kinda leave the ones that look the best for volunteers. Unfortunately our kale got eaten and I think we’re going to stop growing squash because of the squash bugs and the powdery mildew."

Instead Sarah focuses on easy to grow fruits and veggies and plants that will come back and seed themselves. One example is wild arugula.

She explained, "a friend of mine has them wild, growing crazy where she lives, so she gave me some. I actually just dug out a plant and put that in in the fall, so I’m hoping that does well, that’s a nice flavor. And then I always let edible flowers come in."

She tells me that calendula and pansies are her favorite, "And another favorite is borage. And that’s not wild, you start the seed, but once you start the seed and you have one plant, you should be good to go. And that flower you carefully pick it and it tastes kind of like a cucumber. It’s delicious."

It’s a philosophy more than anything of going with the flow to keep things in the garden easy, productive—and delicious. 



This Swiss Chard and leek pie comes from Sarah Smith of Wellfleet. 



1 cup unbleached flour

Pinch salt

1/4 cup cool water

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil



1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 leek, white part only, finely chopped (Sarah Smith note: I use more)

1 lb. (1 large bunch) Swiss chard, leaves stripped from stems and chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

3 eggs

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan (or any good hard cheese)

1/4 cup pine nuts


Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. 


Start the leeks: heat the olive oil. Saute the leeks until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Let them cool off. 


While the leeks are cooling: For the crust, put the flour in a mixing bowl, blend in the salt with a fork. Stir in the water and oil until a dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface—marble is good—and knead until dough is smooth. Do not add more flour; the dough should be very soft.


Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch tart tin. Fit the dough into the tin, pressing it in place (SS note: I just use a little olive oil—the dough is already oily). 


In another skillet, cook the chard, seasoned with salt and pepper (SS note: I add only a tiny bit of water to what's left on the leaves from washing). Simmer until the chard is just cooked (2-3 minutes). 


In a mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, cheese and pine nuts. Add the leek and chard and stir well. Pour into the pastry shell.


Bake about 40 minutes, until the crust is golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. If the top browns too quickly, lay a sheet of aluminum foil on top and lower the oven temp to 375 degrees. Let cool on a rack, serve at room temp.