Deciding what to grow

It's one thing for a neophyte gardener to sign up for a 4-by-15-foot Carson City community garden plot, but quite another to decide what to do with it.

For someone whose biggest patio accomplishment was the creation of a Japanese Zen sand garden, 60 square feet of cultivated and prepared soil is daunting. The plot number is 20 and is about in the center of the area.

The rules are quite definite: No tall plants such as corn or sunflowers, which would shade neighbor plots. A messy or unkempt plot will be frowned on. Put the tools away, and don't snitch tomatoes from a neighbor. OK, that's easy enough.

But what to put in all those square feet?

As a bachelor of the senior persuasion, quantity isn't important. Most herbs can be raised in pots on the patio for easy access at cooking time. There's no use planting such as celery or potatoes, which are inexpensive at the supermarket.

Happily, a catalog with an amazing variety of seeds for sale just arrived to go with the arugula, radicchio and zucchini seeds given by a niece. So what pops out of the 42-page catalog from John Scheepers?

Well, artichokes (expensive in stores) are nice - used to be "carcoffi" in Italy - but growing them seems like a lot of work. But beets grow quickly, 40 to 60 days. Beets win.

Broccoli is always on sale so skip it. Asparagus is a delight if it's white and served in the German way as "spargle und schinken," but no white type is listed. It's lots of work to plant anyhow, so forget it.

Beans - lima, bush, pole, fava. Naw, go to the store. Cabbage, ditto. Cauliflower? Maybe. Carrots, no. I'm happy with the small ones from markets. Kohlrabi, now there's an idea. I loved it in Europe, but don't see it very often here. I mark it as a maybe. Fennel ("finochi" in Italian) has too long of a growing period. Radishes? Sure, quick growing. Go for the white ones. Daikon radishes, no, thanks.

Cukes take up too much room, so skip them (too bad, "cornichons" are great for picnics). Eggplants, now we're talking. Small Asian ones have a nicer taste, so that's what we'll plant. Lettuce? Romaine is what they eat in Italy and Germany. Nobody in Europe eats iceberg, as it's so tasteless. So baby Romaine it is. As already mentioned, arugula is a must. It gives salads a nice touch of the bitter. Ditto radicchio, great sautéed whole with garlic in good olive oil.

Leeks, now we're getting somewhere. Remember that recipe Ernest Hemingway had for leeks in "A Moveable Feast"? Sauté them in butter, then simmer in chicken stock for 20 minutes. Delicious. Shallots? Nope, they take too long. Peas are a problem because they grow too high. Besides, we'll never find the kind of peas we loved in Italy - "piselli" - small and much more tasty that American peas. Pass on turnips, and tasty parsnips take too long.

Hot peppers we can find in the stores, including the fiery habaneros. But tomatoes? Of course, but how many, what kind? We'll have to wait to see what's in the garden stores, but we'll want to plant varieties that ripen in different times so we can have fresh ones all the time. Down with the cannon balls that the super markets call tomatoes!

Sounds like more than our 60 feet can handle, but we'll see.

Meanwhile, there's the question of patio-grown herbs. Basil, of course, one Italian, one Thai. Oh, the happy days of wandering Greek islands amid flowering, scent-rich basil! Coriander, yep. Marjoram and oregano, sure. Rosemary (that's "for remembrance," said Ophelia), of course. Parsley close to the kitchen were it can be snagged fresh in moments. Thyme? Lots of it left growing from last year.

Looking back over this, it seems that we're in over our 60-square-foot heads. Too many choices, too little room. Well, we'll just have to work it out. We'll keep you informed.

n Contact Sam Bauman at or 881-1236.


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