Gazette Gardener: Sweet potatoes, red-stem celery worth growing again

It’s nearing the end of the season and my friend Robin Wolfe came by Tuesday morning for coffee. As

It’s nearing the end of the season and my friend Robin Wolfe came by Tuesday morning for coffee. As she got out of the car, her arms were laden with the beautiful leaves of Swiss chard and a robust broccoli head. I love this time of year and special gifts from the garden.

The chard will be cooked into a chicken soup, and the broccoli was eaten that night with dinner. Yum.

This is a great time of year. On my kitchen counter sits a cardboard box with an ample number of apples from my sister’s orchard. Already, some have been cooked into a pie and a coffee cake.

Future plans

I intend to peel the rest and cut them into slices. About half I will mix with cinnamon, sugar and nutmeg and freeze in plastic bags. These will be future apple pies ready to go.

The remainder of the slices will be frozen without additions, as these are destined to be added to muffins or pancakes, or made into applesauce in the winter days to come.

As Robin and I talked, our conversation turned to what grew well this season and what we are likely to add to our “must grow again” list. Robin, who is a landscape designer for Wells Nursery in Niskayuna, encourages me to try the sweet potato Vardaman.

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamins A, C and B6. They are also a fine sources of A potassium, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, iron and fiber. But what Robin raved about was how great it looks in the garden. She said the leaves are a burgundy color on top with green underneath.

The flower is a purple “a little more intense than lilac” in color and resembles morning glory flowers, to which sweet potatoes are related. Robin knows I like to grow beautiful — as well as productive — plants. This should be on the list, she said.

Another recommendation is to grow a red-stem celery in a container. If you’ve never grown celery or had the opportunity to buy one grown locally from a farmers market, you wouldn’t know that homegrown celery tastes very different from what is available at the supermarket. The difference is as dramatic as the difference between store-bought and homegrown tomatoes.

Another red-stemmed beauty Robin likes to use for dramatic containers is the Queen Charlotte chard. They are so attractive that the green leaves with red stems are highly prized for arrangements. I grew a different red-stemmed variety in a three-foot-tall cobalt blue urn, and the color and robust structure of the leaves was a winner worth repeating.

Winning tomato

Speaking of winners, Robin made my mouth water with her description of a tomato saved by a Washington County gardener. The plant came from New Minglewood Farms in Greenwich, an organic farm that grew the seeds saved by a neighbor of theirs who had saved the seeds of this tomato for many years.

“It’s a meaty heirloom tomato called Millie’s Ox Heart that is a bright vermilion color with greenish streaks that tastes delicious,” Robin said. Her biggest tomato weighed in at about 28 ounces. “You need only one slice per sandwich, and one tomato provides enough slices for four BLTs,” she added.

On the downside, it is susceptible to all the usual diseases, but in mid-September it still had leaves and was still producing. Not a lot of tomatoes per plant but a nice steady supply of big heart-shaped tomatoes, she said.

This wasn’t the easiest season to grow a vegetable garden. While many had success, some plants just didn’t perform well with all the rain we had. How did your garden do?

Happy gardening.

Categories: Life and Arts

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