Talk Dirt To Me

Gardening in Alaska presents big challenges, whether it's the extra effort in finding plants tough enough to survive our Zone 2-4 climate, communicating with like-minded Alaska gardeners, or keeping up with the latest trends, issues and solutions. We'll try to help with that. We'll also tour gardens from Homer to Anchorage to Wasilla to Willow whenever we get the chance, and post the best garden photos around. Presenting a forum about cold-weather gardening and for cold-weather gardeners is what we are all about. We hope you'll join us on the Talk Dirt garden blog.

Photographer and gardener Fran Durner ( writes the blog.

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Book Review: Growing Chinese Vegetables in Your Own Backyard

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Growing Chinese Vegetables in Your Own Backyard: Grow 40 Vegetables and Herbs in Gardens and Pots by Geri Harrington.Growing Chinese Vegetables in Your Own Backyard: Grow 40 Vegetables and Herbs in Gardens and Pots by Geri Harrington.By guest book reviewer Rosemary Kimball of Sterling:

When I was a kid in Honolulu many years ago, my parents would occasionally pick up some Chinese takeout in McCulley and once in a while there would be the most delicious flavor in a dish, which years later, I found out was cilantro, or Chinese parsley. Because of that memory that was the first vegetable I turned to in the book Growing Chinese Vegetables in Your Own Back Yard by Geri Harrington. (Storey Publishing, softcover, $16.96.)

This book is a revised and updated version which was first published in 1984 and a joy and delight for foodies. The book starts with photos of each covered veggie and the page on which its information is found which is so handy as it cuts search time for what you want to know. It has a good table of contents and an index but that’s like reading directions after all else has failed. The broad classifications are: Greens, Cucurbits, Beans, Cabbages, Herbs, Potpourri, and Water Gardens.

Greens, for instance, covers amaranth, mustard greens, mizuna and garland chrysanthemum. When my husband came back from China one fall he brought me lots of packets of seeds of which that chrysanthemum was one. I had no idea what to do with it so I cut the flowers (it’s an annual chrysanthemum, white with a yellow center) and fed the 2-foot greens to to the ducks who greatly enjoyed them. The rabbits demanded them too. Now I know what to do with the vegetable because at the end of each chapter is a section on culinary uses of the vegetable. It turns out that both the leaves, when young, and the flowers are edible. The chapter also started with a little of the history of the plant which is actually a native Mediterranean flower.

The chapter on watercress tells how to grow it year round and it will work for us in Alaska. It needs cool water---we have that for sure!--and bright light but not necessarily sun. I saw some watercress at Fred Meyer’s that had been grown hydroponically in a two-inch pot that could easily be used for a starter garden. My mother used to make a chicken soup in which she cooked the long stems that we didn’t eat and it was memorable.

There are vegetables that would be a challenge to grow up here without a greenhouse like ginger, melons or yard-long beans, but there aren’t many listed in the book that we can’t grow in the garden. The greens and cabbages will work fine with our summers. Somethings that you wouldn’t really think about using are daylily buds as an ingredient in a stir fry. Mother would send me up to the garden to pick buds that were going to bloom the next day to slice and add to a dish she was making. Harrington tells how to dry the buds for winter use.

The chapter titles give the Mandarin and Cantonese names for the plants as well as the botanical binomial and at the back of the book is planting guide for starting your own vegetables from seed for containers or in the garden with information on soil requirements, fertilizing and bug control. There is also an extensive list of seed or root suppliers, many of which you probably have in your personal catalog library.

Plowing through my seed catalogs, the ones with the largest number of mentioned vegetables are John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds and Pinetree Garden Seeds. I know Park Seed has a good selection, probably even better, but I couldn’t find even an old catalog and going on line means having to sort through 448 selections, many of which aren’t Chinese.

Now off to Freddy’s for my watercress start up.

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