It’s that time of year again. Seed catalogs are pouring in through the mail, and home gardeners are plotting and planning for the growing season ahead. It’s fun, but it can also be overwhelming. This year, rather than muddle my way through alone, I decided to talk with someone a bit more experienced. I met master gardener Celeste Makely in her home greenhouse, and she told me what seeds she’s planting this year.
“Bright lights Swiss chard, everybody should have Swiss chard. You can do tons of things you can make stews with them you can do them in salads I just read a recipe online this morning C. L. Fornari takes her Swiss chard she puts cheese in it rolls it up and bakes it.”
Bright lights Swiss chard is the beautiful rainbow variety you often see at farmers’ markets—the one with stalks in pink, red, yellow, and orange. It doesn’t mind the cold in early spring or late fall, and like many greens, doesn’t require much attention once it’s in the ground. Makely has other ideas, too:
“Defnitely lettuce. Spinach is so easy, lettuce is so easy, carrots, Danvers is a wonderful carrot. But also I work at the soup kitchen in P’town and someone donated some beets they were red with white circles and I think they’re called Coja and those beets are amazing we cook them for the soup kitchen and we just roasted them don’t boil your beets just roast them with a little oil and salt and pepper and it was the sweetest thing.”
Makely also has a few recommendations for cucumber varieties, like early spring burpless and bush pickles that are nice for canning.
And for peppers there’s a little hot pepper that’s called Pointsetta. She’s going to plant that one this year.
“These little Pointsetta peppers they don’t grow down they point up so I thought that would be kind of fun to have and jalapeño peppers. If you like hot peppers you have to do jalapeño peppers they’re so easy you know they grow I had a jalapeno pepper plant probably lasted five years I would bring it in it became a tree and eventually it passed but it was wonderful I would have jalapeños and you take a jalapeno slice in half put cheese in the middle and just put it in broiler or on the grill it’s really wonderful.”
Finally, Makely recommends putting in a good patch of herbs. Most herbs can be planted from seed, but she says with some types it’s better to start with a seedling.
“If you’re going to do herbs, do a pot of rosemary and rosemary will come back every year if you are careful to mulch it up a little bit and parsley, it’s very hard to germinate parsley so you’re better to buy one or two plants and then you leave em in the ground you can go out now and pick parsley in my garden because it will stay all winter.”
Makely also grows a big, broad-leafed Italian basil called Genovese, and Thai basil and lemon basil for soups and salsas. She avoids oregano because it spreads like crazy, and says that if you aren’t careful, a small patch of mint can take over your yard. Of course, as a Master Gardener, she’s also grown a few more unlikely plants from seed.
“That’s an orange tree, there’s a Meyer lemon that must have 150 buds on it right now. There’s another Valencia Orange, this is a Ponderosa lemon and the lemons get to be the size of grapefruit but if you look around you’ll see the fig trees are already blooming and I have figs down the end.”
Granted, Makely’s sunroom is extraordinary. But maybe it’s an inspiration to try something a bit more adventures in your south-facing window this spring.
This piece first aired in 2010.
Here’s a list of the recommendations by Celeste. They’re on Elspeth’s blog, "Diary of a Locavore.”