The Creative Vegetable Gardener

The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden Book

The Creative Vegetable GardenerHooray! My new garden book is ready for a February release date. Published by Ten Speed Press, this classic small-space gardening best seller is revised for a new generation of gardeners. If you’ve enjoyed my blogs, now you can find all the gardening information in one book.

To accommodate today’s lifestyles, a garden needs to fit into an extremely tiny plot, take as little time as possible to maintain, require a minimum amount of water, and still produce prolifically. That’s exactly what a postage stamp garden does. Postage stamp gardens can be as small as 4 by 4 feet, and after initial soil preparation, they require very little extra work to grow a tremendous amount of vegetables – for instance, a 5-by-5-foot bed will produce a minimum of 200 pounds of vegetables.

When it was first published 40 years ago, the techniques in The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden were ground breaking. Now, in this fully revised and updated edition, I include new information on the variety of heirloom vegetables available today and how to grow them simply, easily and organically. Four decades on, this proven approach continues to be an invaluable resource for gardeners who wish to weed, water and work a whole lot less, yet produce so much more.

Even though we had 10 acres to grow whatever we wanted, a series of postage stamp gardens were much more practical. In California where summer water can be a concern, my gardens flourished with little water and a drip system. Eventually I grew themed garden beds to accommodate our eating habits. My husband loved Italian cuisine, I loved Mexican. I could garden all year-round. During the winter, my Asian garden and soup garden gave me just what I needed. Springtime meant planting early salad greens peas, and other quick-growing cool crops. Our summer heat meant tons of tomatoes for both our Italian meals and Mexican meals. Not only did I plant our favorite varieties, but I tried a lot of new vegetables, some quickly became a staple in our garden.

The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden book can be pre-ordered from Barnes & Noble, Google books, Amazon, IndieBound, or iBooks. It will be in all bookstores by late February.

Enjoy the gardening experience.
Karen Newcomb

The Postage Stamp Vegetable Gardern Book

Postage Stamp Vegetable Gardening: the website for gardening instruction, seed sources, and much more.

How Colorful Vegetables Benefit Our Health

The Creative Vegetable GardenerIt doesn’t surprise me to learn there are medical benefits when it comes to the color of our vegetables. I love color in the food I prepare for my family and friends. My summer salads are always vibrant with different colored tomatoes, cucumbers, grated carrots and zucchini, sliced olives, colored bell peppers, grapes and anything else that’s appealing both for taste and the eyes. All nestled on a bed of different lettuces each with its own texture. During winter months I mix up coleslaw with green and red cabbages, add a bit of apple and/or mandarins. I usually buy a bottle of coleslaw dressing, but would love a good recipe from scratch.

Yet, we’ve always heard there’s no real healthy benefit to salads. Wrong.

colorful vegetables | 


Let’s talk about the power of color in vegetables and fruits.

Red color is said to promote heart health, lower cancer risks, and protects against memory loss. I’m beginning to think I need more red veggies in my diet. One can only claim a “senior moment” just so many times.

What’s red in the veggie kingdom? Beets, strawberries, red bell pepper, cranberries, tomatoes, radishes, raspberries, cherries, blood oranges, pomegranates, red grapefruit, red potatoes and watermelon.

Orange and Yellow colored vegetables are said to support the immune system and vision health, reduce cancer risk, promote collagen formation and healthy joints.

Select from carrots, yellow peppers, cantaloupe, pumpkin, corn, sweet potatoes, oranges, mangoes, peaches, apricots, and yellow squash.

Green color is said to promote vision health, lower blood pressure, normalize digestion time, boost immune system, and reduce cancer risk.

Green vegetables to choose from are dark lettuce, kiwifruit, avocadoes, cucumbers, celery, honeydew, green beans, leeks, okra, broccoli, and asparagus.

Blue and Purple is said to increase memory function, lower LDL cholesterol, improve urinary tract health, reduce cancer risk, and encourage healthful aging.  

Blue and Purple fruits and vegetables include purple cabbage, purple grapes, blackberries, blueberries, figs, plums, eggplant and raisins.

There are, of course, many other fruits and vegetables that fit in these color categories, but this list is a place to start your healthier eating habits. If your family hates anything green, as most kids seem to do, try mixing a small amount of a green veggie into other colors. Of course you might find a pile of little green bits on the floor beside the dinner table. My grandson hates anything green, except for peas. I think it’s because he’s a vegetarian and has had too many green vegetables. As for me, I am not a vegetarian, but I don’t particularly care for certain green veggies either. However, I now have an appreciation for the power of that color in our health management and will try to include it more in our meals.

When you’re planning your garden next year you might keep in mind the health benefits of color.

Visit Karen's website for more information on creative gardening.

Good Cooks Love Their Culinary Herbs

The Creative Vegetable GardenerThese days I personally run hot and cold in the kitchen department. I’m guessing it’s because I’m a widow and only have myself to cook for. When my grown son moved in with me two years ago, I told him he could do his own cooking. That was easy, he’s a vegetarian. But, in order to give his dishes some taste, I’ve encouraged him to experiment by adding herbs.

Selecting culinary herbs to grow is a personal choice and depends on what you and your family enjoy eating. Basil is always a staple in my garden. I got carried away one year and planted my 4-foot-wide, 20-foot-long bed in so many different basils I couldn’t keep up with it. Of course, no one can eat that much fresh basil. I always dry basil when it begins to flower so I had enough of the dried herb to last for what seemed like several seasons. It was a good thing my husband loved spaghetti and other Italian recipes. A ‘New Age’ acquaintance told me I had been a witch in a past life and that’s why I plant basil. Well … I’m not sure about that, but if it’s true I’m sure I was a good witch.

Today I grow herbs in pots on my patio. There is always the ever present basil, marjoram and thyme.

A few of Karen's herbs 

Here are a few seed companies that package and blend their herbs, making it easy for us to select what we want. I encourage any good cook to try new herbs each year.

Annie’s Heirloom Seeds offers a culinary herb collection that features the most commonly used herbs in European cooking and includes Genovese Basil, Plain Leaf Parsley, Chives, Oregano, Sweet Cilanto, Marjoram, Dukat Dill and Thyme.

Bountiful Gardens offers many herb collections from tummy soother to tasty tea, but their culinary herbs collection consists of culinary basics: Thyme, Sage, Flat Parsley, Savory, Chervil, Basil and Chives.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds makes herb planting quick and easy with an herb disk collection. Six different seed disks complete with pots and saucers. Included are Cilantro, Chives, Parsley, Thyme, Genovese Basil and Arugula. Remember that cilantro grows best in cooler climates.

Burpee has a complete herb garden kit that includes Oregano, Basil, Parsley and Chives. The kit includes a biodegradable container, soil and the four herb packets.

If you love Asian recipes, Kitazawa Seed Co. has an herb garden that features a collection of essential herbs for Asian cuisine. Each herb has an intense flavor and scent. It includes Ao Shiso Green Perilla, Evergreen Nebuka Japanese Bunching Onion, Broad Leaved Nita Chinese Leek, Kintsai Chinese Celery, Leisure Cilantro Chinese Parsley, Mitsuba Japanese Parsley and Sweet Thai Basil Red Stem. Kitazawa Seed has a variety of chef specialty garden collections.

Have fun growing culinary herbs you may not be acquainted with, you can always offer fresh sprigs to friends.

Karen Newcomb is the author of  The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden Book, in bookstores February 2015.

Seed Catalogs: What Is New in 2014

The Creative Vegetable GardenerIt’s that time of year when the 2014 catalogs are being printed, and we’ll be receiving them in our mailboxes starting in December. Since we are in-between garden seasons, now is the time to start dreaming about next spring and what you want to plant. I can’t cover every seed catalog simply because this blog would turn into a long winded article. I’ve selected only a few new varieties from these catalogs.


Tomato Steak House Burpees

When I saw this giant tomato I couldn’t believe the size. Steak House tomato (above, photo courtesy Burpee's) is a hybrid. 75 to 80 days. Tips the scales up to 3 pounds. It is a broad shouldered tomato. The indeterminate plant produces humongous fruit.

Tomato Baby Boomer BurpeesBaby Boomer is another hybrid tomato (left, photo courtesy Burpee's). 50 to 65 days. It is a red cherry tomato, determinate whirling bush plant that produces 300 little cuties. 20 to 25 inches tall and a 20- to 25-inch spread. Great for patio container gardening.

Beet Moulin Rouge Burpees

Moulin Rouge is a hybrid beet (left, photo courtesy Burpee's). 55 to 60 days. Dark, deep wine-purple-red color. Best harvested when 1 inch in diameter. Grows 10 to 12 inches high.

Squash Burpees Best

Burpee's Best Hybrid is a deep green zucchini (left, photo courtesy Burpee's). 35 to 40 days. Spine free plants grow 20 to 30 inches high, 47- to 50-inch spread. Produce full-size 6- to 8-inch fruit.

Pepper Sweet Tweety Burpees

Tweety is a hybrid 1 to 2 inch, bright yellow little stuffing pepper (above, photo courtesy Burpee's). 70 to 75 days. Grows 24 to 32 inches high with a 24- to 32-inch spread. Real cutie.

Potato Midnight Moon BurpeesA new yellow fleshed potato is Midnight Moon. 70 days (left, photo courtesy Burpee's). Regal purple skin with moist golden-yellow flesh. High moisture content that is perfect for mashing or baking. Grows 40 inches high with a 20-inch spread. High yielding variety.

Terroir Seeds offers new varieties to their company.

UC 72 Asparagus is a perennial and granddaughter of Mary Washington variety asparagus. Developed at UC Davis for better production and tolerance of Fusarium Wilt, heat and drought than other varieties. Heavy dark green spears with fairly compact heads.

Oaxacan Green Dent corn has been grown by the Zapotec people of southern Mexico for centuries for green corn tamales. 70 to 105 days. The corn kernels are smooth in striking shades of green from bronze to pea-green to emerald green. Drought resistant sturdy 5- to 6-foot stalks produce 6- to 8-inch ears.

Also new to the market is a hard-to-find green. Argetti (Salsola soda), 45 days for baby greens, 90 days to full maturity. A small annual that is salt tolerant. Looks like a cross between fennel fronds, rosemary and grass with its bright green color and feathery texture. This Italian leafy green in expensive and highly sought after by American chefs since availability is limited to spring and early summer. Freshly harvested it is firm and crisp with a robust acidic tart flavor.

Stokes Seeds is always on the forefront of developing new varieties.

Baby broccoli ASPABROC grows 50 to 60 days from transplants. It resembles broccoli raab with an asparagus-like stem with a mild taste. Plants produce tiny broccoli heads in 50 days plus three to five side shoots in 10 days. Continues producing heads for four weeks.

Red Jewel is a hybrid red cabbage. 75 days. Deep red medium-large heads have short cores. No tolerance to Fusarium Wilt, some Tip Burn tolerance.

A novelty colored carrot is Snow Man. 63 days. Bright white imperator type with no green shoulder. Smooth skin, uniform shape and sweet flavor. Eight- to 10-inch root length. Strong tops.

They offer three new synergistic hybrid sweet corn. Bi-Sweet S-5 76 days. Very sweet, tender bicolor 8-by-2-inch ears with 16 rows of kernels. Profit 72 days. Large 8-inchears with 14 to 16 rows of bicolor kernels. Waist high ears on tall plants. Good cold soil emergence. Excellent taste.

Essence 79 days. Refined very tender bicolor ears average 8½ by 2 inches with 14 to 16 rows filled to the tip. Strong tall plants.

A hybrid cantaloupe, Dutchess, 75 days, is perfect medium size, oval 4½ pounds. Amazingly high sugar (14 percent brix), firm orange interiors and nice netting.

Crocodile is a semi-savoyed spinach. 46 days. Oval leaf type with a good tolerance to bolting. Upright dark green, thick leaf plant that washes easily.

Ace, 70 days. Is a hybrid pollen producer for seedless watermelons. Green small fruits are not edible and are easily recognized. Provides pollen early enough to pollinate any seedless types.

Cucumber Silver Slicer Harris SeedsHarris Seeds are offering a beautiful cucumber, Silver Slicer, 62 days (left, photo courtesy Harris Seeds). Distinctive cream white color with excellent flavor. 7- to 8-inch long fruit is consistently straight with tender skin and pleasant crunch.

Zucchini Green Tiger Harris SeedsGreen Tiger is a hybrid zucchini (left, photo courtesy Harris Seeds). 50 days. Glossy, smooth skin with well defined light and dark green stripes makes it especially striking. Harvest at 7 inches for maturity or 3 inches for baby zucchini. Strong bush plants have intermediate resistance to some viruses.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Lilly Johnny Seeds

Lilly (above, photo courtesy Johnny's Seeds) is a hybrid Crenshaw melon that averages 6 to 8 pounds. 78 days. Pale yellow rind with light orange sweet spicy flesh. It is earlier than most Crenshaws and performs well in short season areas.

Blush cherry tomato Johnny Seeds

Blush (above, photo courtesy Johnny's Seeds) is a new elongated yellow bicolor cherry tomato. 70 days. Sweet fruity flavor. Bright yellow skin has red stripes that appear as the blossom-end red marbling develops. Indeterminate.

Truchas romaine Johnnys Seeds

Truchas, 47 days (above, photo courtesy Johnny's Seeds). A compact, dark red, mini romaine lettuce. 6 to 8 inches in height and fills out nicely.

Annie’s Heirloom Seeds has an entire new line of organic heirlooms they are proud of, and can be found online.

Totally Tomatoes

Copia tomato Totally Tomatoes

Copia (OP), 85 days (left, photo courtesy Totally Tomatoes). An indeterminate beautiful bi-colored, slightly ribbed slicer that weighs up to 1 pound, streaked in gold and crimson with red and yellow swirled flesh inside. Named in honor of Copia, the American Center for Food, Wine and the Arts in Napa, California.

Mint Julep tomato Totally Tomatoes

Mint Julep, 75 days (left, photo courtesy Totally Tomatoes). Indeterminate plum/pear shape fruit that weighs 1½ ounces each. Green and yellow striping with green flesh. Nice sweet flavor that is less tart than other green varieties.

The Cook’s Garden

Hot Diabito is a Thai flame thrower 2-inches long hot pepper by the way of Portugal. 80 to 90 days. Conical shaped red pepper that can be used fresh or dried. 20 to 25 inches tall with a 20- to 25-inch spread.

All Purple radish is 12 inches long and 12 inches tall. 60 days. A carrot-shaped purple daikon with mild flavor. Adds color and tang to cole slaw or pickled with ginger.

Purple Podded shelling pea is a beauty. 55 to 60 days. 48 inches tall and 36 inches wide. A fragrant heirloom that has purple-pink flowers that is followed bvy clusters of deep purple pods filled with green peas.

These are just a few of the new varieties being offered, there are many more in each of these catalogs.

Vegetables Brought to the Doorstep

The Creative Vegetable GardenerI live in northern California, just outside Sacramento and since moving into an apartment I miss my garden. I never realized just how much until I started vegetable shopping in the grocery store. Not only was it sticker shock (since I never considered what “a” vegetable would cost) but the produce was not fresh.

The Sacramento Valley is farm land after farm land, and they grow 90 percent of Japanese rice here. At one time rice paddies dominated the landscape along the Sacramento River, but today they’ve been cut back. We have farms that grow everything the country can eat and then some. Some 60 percent of the seed growers farm in the Sacramento Valley. And of course in the late summer we’re known as “Sacratomato” since more tomatoes are grown here than you can imagine.

Today, our local TV station featured their “Produce Man” standing in a beautiful field of celery root, and I learned that at Thanksgiving time they ship the majority back to New York. For their Jewish customers they leave the roots, dirt and leaves attached. I also got a lesson in eating and cooking celery root. I still don’t intend to try it. Then the camera panned to another field of cabbage, then on to leeks. Field after field of cool crop vegetables, all to be shipped to vendors outside California.

Not long ago the Sacramento restaurants started pairing with farmers to create Field to Table events. Now, that isn’t a new concept, since most restaurants want to use locally grown vegetables, and diners do appreciate this. And of course there are always farmers markets on specific days of the week, where the local produce is displayed and purchased.

What is different about field to door is that, for a price, you can order a box of seasonal vegetables delivered before dawn right to your door. You have a choice of weekly deliveries, or whenever you desire. So far I’ve only found one such group of farmers doing this, located in the Capay Valley, outside the Sacramento Valley. You can order different size boxes and most will have local seasonal fruit, too. My son is a vegetarian, I am not, but realized that after I left my garden behind, that I feasted mostly on veggies by grazing my garden. Maybe that’s what I miss the most. This week’s box consisted of golden beets, radishes, spinach, kiwi fruit, mandarin oranges, leeks, lettuce and carrots. I quickly chopped the leeks, sautéed them, then added cooked potatoes, potato water, and made a leek/potato soup. I thickened it with cream. Wow, what a flavor. The beets, carrots and more potatoes, I roasted for last night’s dinner. I used the lettuce, radishes and mandarins in a salad.

I’m hoping to find another smaller house to rent in the near future just so I can have my garden again. In the meanwhile, I continue to write garden columns and vegetable garden books. My latest, The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden Book will be out February 2014. After gardening most of my life I can’t just simply quit. But for now I garden in pots on my patio and dream of getting back to in-ground gardening where I don’t have to think about the price of “a,” and have that mean only one vegetable, not what the whole plant would cost.

Since it is in-between gardening seasons and the new seed catalogs will be arriving shortly, now is the time to reflect on what you got out of last year’s garden and what you want to try in your next garden. For help with varieties and gardening how-to visit my web site at

Try adding some new varieties to your garden this year just for the fun of it.

A Guide to Edible Flowers

A Guide to Edible Flowers

            Many good cooks love to add new ingredients to their meals, not only their favorite herbs or spices, but an edible flower or two.  Many herbs do double duty in the garden because their flowers are also edible.  No garden should be without an herb garden or herbs planted among the vegetables.  Most seed catalogs have a section on herbs and edible flowers. 

Anise Hyssop The fuzzy finger-sized mauve flowers add an anise (licorice) undertone to green leaf or fruit salads.

Basil is a valuable kitchen herb that produces bracts of tiny white flowers on green or purple stems, which you’ll want to snip immediately to keep the plant from setting seed and lose the aromatic oils in its leaves.  Toss blossoms in your salads or herb butter.

Borage has azure blue flowers with a star-shaped black center and a clear white eye.  This herb likes to grow in a cool season garden.  Leaves and flowers lend a faint cucumber essence to iced drinks and salads.

Calendula or Pot Marigold, use the mild orange and yellow petals when you want to add color to your salads.  They may be used as a saffron substitute.

Carnation, Clove-Pink, and Dianthus need the bitter white ends at the base of the fringed petals clipped before using.  The petals can be used in fruit salads, vinegar, or in syrups.

Chervil flowers are mild anise scented.  Toss the scented umbrellas with field greens, baked with fish or in any bean dish.  This herb likes growing in the shade.

Chives  are a staple in most gardens or grown in pots and have an onion flavor.

Cornflower or Bachelor’s Button have blue petals that add color to a picnic salad, or steam as a mild vegetable.

Daisy use the small, whole flowers of wild daisies in salads.  Use only the tender petals. The buds can be pickled like capers.

Dandelion All parts of this common yard-flower are zesty and edible.  Use the butter-colored flowers in salads or cook with their leaves.  If the common variety doesn’t appeal to you the Italians grow a variety you can order from seed catalogs.

Day Lily  A tradition in the Cuisine of Central Mexico.  Use as a daytime garnish (they close their petals at sunset). 

Geranium or Pelargonium come in many scented leaf varieties.  They can be used to flavor teas, pastries, cakes, and jellies.  Add petals to salads for color.

Hibiscus is a vibrant, semi-tropical flowers which may flavor and color a beverage, be eaten raw, steamed, or made into lemony, tart flavor.  Dried red blossoms are available in oriental and Mexican markets.

Lavender  The resiny flower heads can be used in cooked meals, in homemade vinegars, or mixed in a green salad.

Mexican Tarragon has aromatic leaves and yellow-gold blossoms that are infused with an anise-licorice scent. 

Mustard  is yellow and pungent and is a wild favorite for the gourmet kitchen.  Used to make mustard.

Nasturtium has a peppery flavor and comes in a circus of colors, red, yellow, orange, and maroon.  Pickled buds are a classic caper substitute. 

Orange Bergamont is a mint that has small pink-white flowers and an intense citrus-mint flavor.  Add to salads, vinegars, herb mustard, or cooked vegetables.

Oregano and Marjoram  Use prudently; the tiny rose or white blossoms contain the same oils as the leaves.  These herbs love to grow in the sun.

Pansies and Violas  can be candied and added to desserts or use the flowers in salads.

Plumeria or Frangipani are honey-sweet flowers used in salads, cook them in candy, or dry them for an exotic tea.

Rose   Clip the bitter white end from the base.  Toss all colors in salads, steep them in vinegar, or dry for tea.  They can be crystallized, candied, minced for conserves and red rose sause, or made into your own exotic rosewater.

Sage use the colorful blooms of the garden varieties.  The blooms are as pungent as the leaves.

Savory  The tiny purple flowers of both summer and winter savory is intense and similar to thyme.

Squash, Pumpkin, and Zucchini  Use the young flowers of this large and useful family.  Use boiled, stuffed, baked, grilled, or batter-fried. 

Thyme  Snip the tender flowering tips and mince them into your green salad or serve on fruit.

Tuberose  Individual florets are used by the Chinese in vegetable soup.

Violets  Both flower and leaf are edible.  Candied flowers brushed with egg white are elegant and used on cakes.

Garden Disease and Pest Prevention Calendar

Garden Disease and Pest Prevention Calendar

When to Handle                Steps to Take

 Before planting                   Choose the right site

                                          Cut down or remove weeds outside the garden

                                          Deep spade the garden

                                          Fertilize before planting


                                          Plan for crop rotation

                                          Plan planting time to avoid peak insect infestations

                                          Buy certified disease-free seed

                                          Buy healthy transplants

                                          Select resistant varieties

At planting time                  Companion plant

                                          Give the vegetables proper spacing

                                          Plant several different vegetables together across the bed

                                          Plant at proper time to avoid peak insect infestation

                                          Plant resistant varieties

                                          Rotate crops

                                          Use selective organic herbicides as weed killers

During growing season       Clean up garden trash on a regular basis

                                          Immediately destroy infected plants or plant parts

                                          Weed regularly

                                          Smokers, wash hands

                                          Stay out of garden during wet weather

                                          Use selective organic herbicides as weed killers

                                          Water early in the morning

At or after the harvest        Clean up garden trash

                                          Clean up plant debris, dead fruit

                                           Destroy infected plants or plant parts