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Fruits and Vegetables

There are many fruits and vegetables that are beneficial for kidney health. METRO photo
Increasing fruits and vegetables may protect kidneys

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Chronic kidney disease is on the rise in this country. Approximately 37 million U.S. adults have chronic kidney disease (CKD), with as many as 9 in 10 not aware they have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (1). In this article, we will look beyond the more obvious causes of chronic kidney disease, like diabetes, smoking, aging, obesity and high blood pressure (2).

Why is early-stage CKD so important? It is associated with a 40 percent increased risk of developing cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks (3). It also significantly increases the risk of peripheral artery disease (PAD). Those with decreased kidney function have a 24 percent prevalence of PAD, compared to 3.7 percent in those with normal kidney function (4). Of course, it can lead ultimately to end-stage renal (kidney) disease, requiring dialysis and potentially a kidney transplant.

One of the problems with early-stage CKD is that it tends to be asymptomatic. However, there are simple tests, such as a basic metabolic panel and a urinalysis, that will indicate whether a patient may have mild chronic kidney disease. These indices for kidney function include an estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR), creatinine level and protein in the urine. While the other two indices have varying ranges depending on the laboratory used, a patient with an eGFR of 30 to 59 mL/minute/1.73 m2 is considered to have mild disease. The eGFR and the kidney function are inversely related, meaning as eGFR declines, the more severe the chronic kidney disease.

What can be done to stem early-stage CKD, before complications occur? There are several studies that have looked at medications and lifestyle modifications and their impacts on its prevention, treatment and reversal. Let’s look at the evidence.

Leveraging Medications

Allopurinol is usually thought of as a medication to prevent gout. However, in a randomized controlled trial, with 113 patients, results show that allopurinol may help to slow the progression of CKD, defined in this study as an eGFR less than 60 mL/min/1.73 m2 (5). The group using 100 mg of allopurinol showed significant improvement in eGFR levels (compared to the control group over a two-year period. The researchers concluded that allopurinol slowed CKD progression. Allopurinol also decreased cardiovascular risk by 71 percent.

Fibrates are a class of drug usually used to boost HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and reduce triglyceride levels, another cholesterol marker. Fibrates have gotten negative press for not showing improvement in cardiovascular outcomes. However, in patients with mild to moderate CKD, a meta-analysis (a group of 10 studies) showed a 30 percent reduction in major cardiovascular events and a 40 percent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular mortality with the use of fibrates (6). This is important, since patients with CKD are mostly likely to die of cardiovascular disease.

The authors concluded that fibrates seem to have a much more powerful beneficial effect in CKD patients, as opposed to the general population. So, there may be a role for fibrates after all.

Diet’s impact

Fruits and vegetables may play a role in helping patients with CKD. In one study, the results showed that fruits and vegetables work as well as sodium bicarbonate in improving kidney function by reducing metabolic acidosis levels (7).

What is the significance of metabolic acidosis? It means that body fluids become acidic, and it is associated with chronic kidney disease. The authors concluded that both sodium bicarbonate and a diet including fruits and vegetables were renoprotective, helping to protect the kidneys from further damage in patients with CKD. Alkali diets are primarily plant-based, although not necessarily vegetarian or vegan diets. Animal products tend to cause an acidic environment. The study was one year in duration with 77 patients.

In the Nurses’ Health Study, results show that animal fat, red meat and sodium all negatively impact kidney function (8). The risk of protein in the urine, a potential indicator of CKD, increased by 72 percent in those participants who consumed the highest amounts of animal fat compared to the lowest, and by 51 percent in those who ate red meat at least twice a week. With higher amounts of sodium, there was a 52 percent increased risk of having lower levels of eGFR.

The most interesting part with sodium was that the difference between higher mean consumption and the lower mean consumption was not that large, 2.4 grams compared to 1.7 grams. In other words, the difference between approximately a teaspoon of sodium and three quarters of a teaspoon was responsible for the decrease in kidney function.

In my practice, when CKD patients follow a vegetable-rich, nutrient-dense diet, there are substantial improvements in kidney functioning. For instance, for one patient, his baseline eGFR was 54 mL/min/1.73 m2. After one month of lifestyle modifications, his eGFR improved by 9 points to 63 mL/min/1.73 m2, which is a return to “normal” functioning of the kidney. Note that this is an anecdotal story and not a study.

Therefore, it is important to have your kidney function checked with mainstream tests. If the levels are low, you should address the issue through medications and/or lifestyle modifications to manage and reverse early-stage CKD. Don’t wait until symptoms and complications occur. In my experience, it is much easier to treat and reverse a disease in its earlier stages, and CKD is no exception.


(1) CDC.gov. (2) JAMA. 2004;291:844-850. (3) N Engl J Med. 2004;351:1296-1305. (4) Circulation. 2004;109:320–323. (5) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2010 Aug;5:1388-1393. (6) J Am Coll Cardiol. 2012 Nov. 13;60:2061-2071. (7) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2013;8:371-381. (8) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2010; 5:836-843.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com. 

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Plant a row of beans every week or two to prolong bearing time. Photo from All-America Selections

By Ellen Barcel

Well, Mother’s Day has come and gone, a heads up that it’s time to start planting your more tender veggies. Plants that fall under this category include corn, tomatoes, certain herbs, beans, squash and melons.

Corn does well on Long Island, if you have enough room. You need enough plants so that they can pollinate the ears. For the home gardener, plant the corn in a square format. Ears grown on the edge of the square may not fully pollinate.


Just about every gardener puts in a few tomato plants. When selecting plants put in several that are very early bearers, like Early Girl and Early Cascade (at approximately 55 days or so, you should have tomatoes by July) some that come in at a later time and some that bear fruit in late summer. Better Boy and Big Girl produce fruit in about 70 days — by the end of July. Beefstake tomatoes come in even later but are definitely worth the wait.

How soon you get tomatoes depends on how big the plants are that you select. If you buy plants that already have tiny green tomatoes on them, you’ve got a head start.

Remember that tomatoes are tender plants. They will not set fruit unless the night temperature is above 50 degrees, which is why the gardener is told not to put out tomato plants until after Mother’s Day (or better yet, Memorial Day). Night temperature above 75 degrees and day temperature above 85 to 90 tend to keep fruit from setting as well since high temperatures render the pollen no longer viable. Tomatoes are self-fertile so you can even grow one of each variety and not worry about having a second plant to pollinate the first.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders so apply fertilizer. Photo from All-America Selections
Tomatoes are heavy feeders so apply fertilizer. Photo from All-America Selections

Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so make sure you either use sufficient compost or compost tea or a chemical fertilizer. Always follow manufacturer’s directions when using a chemical fertilizer. If a little is good, a lot is not necessarily better. You could burn the plants doing that.

Also remember to provide enough water for your tomato plants as well — not soggy, but evenly moist and well-drained soil is ideal. Don’t let the plants dry out.


Squash should also be planted now. There are many varieties, so consider what you and your family enjoy eating. There are two main groupings of squash, summer squash and winter squash. Summer squash are squash that are harvested in summer, when the rind is immature, soft. Summer squash include zucchini, yellow summer squash, pattypan squash and crookneck squash among others. Squash are low in calories and are great served with a tomato sauce. I steam them (sliced) in the microwave.

Squash can be grown in large containers. Since they are vining plants, they can grow up trellises or fences. They’re easy to grow in a variety of soil types and climates. They have both male and female flowers on the plant, so don’t be surprised if all of the flowers you see don’t produce fruit — the male ones just provide the pollen.

Winter squash are basically squash that are more mature than summer squash and have a hard rind that is not edible. Winter squash include butternut squash, acorn squash, hubbard squash, spaghetti squash (great served as a low-carb spaghetti replacement) and, of course, pumpkins. As with the summer squash, they are low in calories. My favorite way of preparing butternut squash is to cube it, simmer in chicken or beef broth with onions, thyme, salt and pepper and add in cooked sausage.

Green beans

It’s also time to begin planting your green beans. Don’t start beans inside as they don’t transplant well. Don’t plant them all at once, but row upon row every week or two until midsummer. This last planting should provide you with beans well into the fall. Plant them one-inch deep in full sun. Keep them evenly moist but in a well-drained area. A soil pH of 6 to 6.8 is ideal. Since this is only slightly acidic, you may need to add lime to your soil. Test your soil first.

There are basically two types of Phaseolus vulgaris, bush beans and pole beans. Pole beans need some sort of support, such as a trellis, while bush beans don’t. There are many varieties of each. In general, bush beans mature in 50 to 60 days while pole beans take 60 to 80 days. Like corn and squash, they are native to the Americas — particularly Mesoamerica and the Andes region. P. vulgaris comes in a variety of colors besides green, including purple and yellow. The yellow ones are commonly called wax beans or butter beans.

Tender herbs, like basil and cilantro as well as melons should be planted now as well.

All of these are ideal plants if you are gardening with children or grandchildren. They can check day by day to see how their plants are coming along. You may also be able to get them to eat more veggies — fresh and right out of their garden.

It is my personal preference to grow veggies and fruits organically and definitely without pesticides. If, however, you must use chemicals, read the package directions and follow them carefully. They will indicate how long before harvest you can still apply the chemicals and be safe eating the produce.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to [email protected] To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

The Smithtown Town Board announced last week the Kings Park Farmers Market will be returning on June 5 and running through the fall. File photo

For a sixth year, Smithtown residents will be treated to something fresh, sweet, organic, savory and local.

The Kings Park Farmers Market, which was founded in 2010, is set to open for the 2016 season very soon. The Sunday market will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. from June 5 to Nov. 20 in the municipal parking lot on the corner of Route 25A and Main Street in Kings Park across the street from the fire department. The market will offer certified organic vegetables and greens, Long Island corn, poultry, eggs, heirloom tomatoes, potatoes, squash, onions, cheese, milk, pasta, pickles, smoked pork, soaps, local fish, baked goods, gluten-free cookies, soy candles and more.

“We are excited to be back in Kings Park after a long off-season and we just enjoy reconnecting with our friends and customers who are all so loyal to the market,” Bernadette Martin, who organizes farmers markets across Long Island through her company Friends and Farmers Inc., said in an email Tuesday. Martin’s markets get the name LI Green Market.

One of the new vendors participating in the Sunday market this year that Martin is excited about is Crimson & Cove, a Nesconset-based line of organic herbs and spices. They join returning vendors Blue Duck Bakery, St. James Brewery, Salce Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegars, The Fink Family Farm and many more.

The market began years ago when Kings Park residents Ann Marie Nedell and civic association member Alyson Elish-Swartz each separately wanted a farmers market for Kings Park. Kings Park Civic Association President Sean Lehmann got Nedell and Elish-Swartz in contact with each other, and after some community crowd-sourcing they came up with logistical ideas for the market. When they met Martin, the idea turned into reality. Martin’s Friends and Farmers Inc. paired up with the Kings Park Civic Association to sponsor the market. Martin manages the market every Sunday.

“The Kings Park Civic Association is such a great partner on this project and bring wonderfully entertaining live music to the market weekly,” Martin said. “We will also be having more cooking demonstrations scheduled for this year as we launch our Know Real Food Campaign for 2016.”

The market is a popular spot for shoppers every year.

“Everyone in the community is really looking forward to another exciting year at the market,” a statement on the Kings Park Civic Association website said. “It has become the cornerstone of our town and really enhances the sense of community in our hamlet while vitalizing our downtown business area.”

For more information about the Kings Park Farmers Market visit www.ligreenmarket.org.

The East Setauket Farmers Market kicked off the season with a grand opening on Saturday, May 14, with proceeds going to the Hope for Javier Organization. Complemented with beautiful weather, the event featured live music, raffles and local vendors.

The market, located next to the Three Village Historical Society at 93 North Country Road, will continue every Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. through Oct. 29. Call 516-551-8461 for more information.

Farmers markets are springing up along the North Shore with a terrific lineup of local farmers, specialty food vendors and artisans. In addition, many markets have live music and samples galore.

The Sunrise Craft & Farmers Market will be held in the Sunvet Mall parking lot, 5801 Sunrise Highway, Holbrook from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday from June 4 to Nov. 6. For details, call 631-667-3976.

A farmers market will be held at the Holtsville Ecology Site, 249 Buckley Road, Holtsville from 2 to 7 p.m. every Friday from June 17 to Sept. 2. A grand opening event is scheduled for Saturday, June 11 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call 516-551-8461.

The Huntington Center Farmers Market will be held at 238 Main Street, Huntington every Sunday from 7 a.m. to noon from May 29 to Nov. 20. Call 631-323-3653.

Kings Park
A farmers market will be held in the municipal lot at the corner of 25A and Main St., Kings Park every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. from June 5 to Nov. 20. Questions? Call 516-543-6033 or visit www.ligreenmarket.org.

Mount Sinai
The Rose Caracappa Senior Center, 739 New York 25A, Mt. Sinai will host a farmers market every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. from June 4 to Oct. 29. Questions? Call 516-551-8461.

The Nesconset Plaza, 127 Smithtown Blvd., Nesconset will host a farmers market on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. from June 4 to Nov. 16. Call 516-543-6033 or visit www.ligreenmarket.org for more information.

Port Jefferson
The Village of Port Jefferson will host a farmers market in the parking lot next to The Frigate at the corner of Main Street and Broadway every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through November. For additional information, call 516-551-8461.
From July 14 to Sept. 29 a farmers market will be held on Thursdays in the Steam Room parking lot at the corner of Main Street and Broadway from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Questions? Call 631-323-3653.

Rocky Point
The Rocky Point Farmers & Artisans Market will be held at Old Depot Park, 115 Prince Road, Rocky Point every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. from May 29 to Nov. 20. Visit www.rockypointfarmersmarket.org for a list of vendors.

By Ellen Barcel

Most Long Islanders know that there are certain fruits that grow well here. Come spring, the strawberries are ripe for the picking. As the summer progresses, blueberries, which love our acidic soil, are ripening. Later in the season, both grapes and apples are ripe. However, consider trying at least one unusual fruit in your garden this year.

1 — As you look through your gardening catalogues or other research material, read the descriptions carefully. Especially note the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s hardiness zones in which the plants will grow. For example, I’ve seen some really unique fruit available in catalogues, but they only grow in warmer climates. Long Island is hardiness zone 7. Fruit that is only hardly is zones 8 and above, will not survive our winters. Note that plants that do well in zones 2 or 3 to 6 usually will not do well here since either they don’t do well in our summer heat or they require a really cold winter to thrive.

2 — Check out whether the plant is self-fertile or needs more than one to pollinate it. Some need a second of its same variety while others need a different variety.

3 — Check the soil pH in which the plant will thrive. If your soil is too acidic you need to add lime. If yours is to alkaline, you need to add something like Miracid or Holly Tone to make it more acidic. Once you begin changing the soil’s pH, you need to do this ever after, or the soil will revert to what it would be naturally. Read the package and test your soil.

4 — Note the size of the plants. A row of eight-foot-tall blueberries can make a lovely living screen while a dwarf variety (like ‘Dwarf Tophat’) can be grown in a container on the patio for a tiny garden. If you are making a living screen, remember that since virtually all of the fruiting plants are deciduous, you’ll only get the benefits of the screen in warm weather when the plant is growing.

figwNow, for some unusual fruits to look into:

  • Gogi berries (Lycium barbarum) are considered to be a superfood because they are very high in antioxidants. The plants grow in zones 5 through 9 and will reach eight to 10 feet tall. They do well in full sun and partial shade. The plants produce white, lilac and purple flowers before the berries themselves form in July. The plant continues to flower and fruit until heavy frost. The plant has no known pest or disease problems and is self-fertile. The berries, which are slightly tart, can be eaten right off the plant or used to make juice, wine and even dried to be used as a snack in trail mix.
  • Honeyberries (Lonicera caerulea) do well in zones 3 to 8 and produce blueberry-like flavored fruit, also high in antioxidants. The fruit can be eaten fresh or used to make preserves. The plants can live up to 50 years. Honeyberries need another plant to pollinate it; so when you select plants note which other varieties are good choices. ‘Berry Blue’ reaches just four to five feet tall and blooms in spring followed by the fruit.
  • Figs are traditionally associated with warm climates, but a number of varieties have been developed that are hardy in our area. ‘Chicago Hardy’ grows in zones 5 to 10 and ‘Brown Turkey’ is zones 5 to 9. Both are self-pollinating. Figs are great to eat right off the trees, can be dried or used to make preserves. These are not the old fig trees you’ve seen wrapped up in winter, but cold hardy. However, just to make sure, I keep mine small, growing them in large pots and bringing them into an unheated garage in winter.
  • Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a small specimen tree with large leaves. It grows in zones 5 to 9 bearing fruit in late summer. So, here’s one that adds to the landscape besides giving you tasty fruit. Since it grows well in a soil pH of 5.5 to 7, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to adjust your soil pH for the tree to thrive.
  • Native plum (Prunus americanus) does well in zones 3 to 8 but requires two plants for pollination. This is a tall shrub, eight to 10 feet at maturity; so it can be used as a specimen or use a few to make a living screen. It does form thickets, so this can be a factor in your choice. On the other hand, it produces food not only for you but for wildlife as well.
  • Dwarf citrus trees  such as Dwarf Meyer Lemon, Dwarf Key Lime and Dwarf Calamondin Orange are tender in our area, growing in hardiness zones 9 to 10. But, if you don’t have a greenhouse, you can grow any of these as houseplants in the winter in large pots, bringing them outdoors in the summer. Although the plants are dwarf, they produce edible fruit. Citrus trees do best in an acidic soil, 5.5 to 6.5.

Whatever you select, do try at least one unusual fruiting plant this summer in your garden.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener.

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Photo from All-America Selections

By Ellen Barcel

Yes, it’s been a comparatively mild winter (just that one blizzard in January) and much of February and March has been milder than usual. My periwinkle were blooming in early March; spring bulbs were blooming by mid-March and on Easter Sunday, March 27, I saw not only forsythia in full bloom but  magnolia trees as well. Yes, it’s time to get out into the garden. But, remember to be careful with what you put outside. As generally mild as it has been, we have had a few really cold days, with a coating of snow just a few weeks or so ago. Watch the weather forecasts and use a cold frame if appropriate for your new little plants.

Photo from All-America Selections
Photo from All-America Selections

If you can’t wait to have those fresh, homegrown veggies, there are a number that can take the cold and even prefer it. So, in early April, you can get out in the garden and get started with some of the following. As with most crops, it’s best to rotate your veggies every two or three years. This will help prevent the spread of disease and will help to fend off insects.

Traditionally peas are planted on St. Patrick’s Day or soon thereafter. So, now is ideal. Pea plants can even tolerate a light frost. Peas prefer a sandy soil. Select a location where the pea plants can climb, either a fence, trellis or other support. Don’t let the soil dry out. Make sure you add compost to the soil. Select a variety that is disease resistant and that’s about it. You’ll soon have a tasty crop that should be harvested before the heat of summer arrives. If you decide to have a second crop, you’ll have to nurse the baby plants through late summer’s heat.
There are several general types of peas: garden peas (English peas), which need to be shelled to be eaten (put the shells in your compost pile); sugar snap peas (nice and plump, with an edible pod); and snow peas, which can be used in stir fry recipes, whole. Peas mature in 55 to 85 days depending on variety.

Photo from All-America Selections
Photo from All-America Selections

While lettuce prefers a cool climate it can be kept growing all season long. Plant a new crop every two weeks. For the plants that will mature in the heat of summer, plant in a lightly shaded area. Like peas, lettuce can tolerate a light frost. There are many different varieties including head lettuce, leaf lettuce and loose head lettuce; so plant whatever you prefer. I particularly like Romaine lettuce.
Lettuce prefers a sandy but fertile soil, so add compost as needed. Using a mulch will keep down weeds and keep the soil moist and cool. For leaf lettuce, you can leave the plant growing, and just pick a few outside leaves as needed.

Photo from All-America Selections
Photo from All-America Selections

Radishes grow quickly, so you can have a number of crops, planting a new row every couple of weeks. Radishes mature in 25 to 40 days depending on variety. As with most root crops, it’s best to sow seeds directly into the soil. If you try to transplant them, you’ll get some strange looking produce. Since radishes need sun, select a sunny location, and thin to about two inches apart once the seeds germinate. Radishes can be grown in pots since they are so small and can also be grown indoors year round, since you don’t want root crops to go to seed. Radishes are ideal for children just starting to garden, since they mature so quickly.

Cruciferous veggies
Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi) mature quickly. You can get two crops, if you plant one in spring and a second in mid-summer to mature in fall. You’ll get broccoli in 55 to 60 days, cauliflower in 55 to 80 days and kohlrabi 55 to 70 days. Broccoli needs full sun, as most veggies do, and can be planted two to three weeks before the last spring frost date (mid-April). It likes fertile, moist soil. Since broccoli (and other cruciferous veggies) tend to get large, you need to space your plants 12 to 24 inches apart. While some varieties are heat tolerant, all need moist soil.

Photo from All-America Selections
Photo from All-America Selections

Other cool weather crops include parsley and spinach (which matures in 45 to 60 days). Always read the seed package directions for maturity date, special growing instructions etc. as the above are generalities.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to [email protected] To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

'Purple Haze' is a sweet flavored hybrid carrot that has a dark purple skin with a bright orange interior. Photo from All-America Selections

By Ellen Barcel

Sometimes two fruits or veggies develop together to form a twin. Just this past fall, I bought some chestnuts and found just that — two chestnuts that formed a twin. Sometimes carrots form two or three roots rather than just one or potatoes develop into strange shapes.

Just because a vegetable or fruit looks ugly or strange, doesn’t mean that it tastes terrible or lacks the vitamins and minerals you are looking for. In fact, most ugly or strange veggies are delicious and rich in the same vitamins, minerals and other nutrients found in the more conventional ones. Usually, these strange bits of produce are filtered out by the vendor, so we, the consumer, see only perfectly formed items — the item that fits the ideal we have in our minds. Tomatoes are round, smooth and reddish orange, for example.

But there are also strange, weird or ugly veggies and fruits that are grown on purpose. They’re different from the norm, the ideal. There are tomatoes with wrinkles, potatoes of different shapes or colors etc. Here’s a rundown of some strange or uglies you may want to try.

Ugly tomatoes
Ugly tomatoes are wrinkly and usually very juicy and flavorful. They’re great sliced on a grilled hamburger or a BLT. They can even come in different colors, including yellow and purple besides the traditional orange. ‘Black Krim’ is a deep purple color as is ‘Cherokee Purple.’ ‘Chocolate Sprinkles’ is a variety of grape tomatoes that are a dark purple to brownish color.
‘UglyRipes’ are a delicious variety of heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom plants are not crosses with any other variety (i.e., are not hybrids) and so, once you grow some, you can sacrifice one to save its seeds for the next year.

Most people think of potatoes as having a brownish skin with a creamy white interior. But there are several varieties of potatoes that are very different. ‘Red Gold’ has a reddish skin but has a golden interior. ‘Purple Majesty’ has both a deep purple skin as well as deep purple interior.
Potatoes are easy to grow on Long Island with our sandy soil and excellent climate. On average we have over 200 (up to 220) growing days a year with approximately one inch of rain each week.
Once you start growing a particular variety, it’s very easy to keep them growing year after year. After harvesting them, store a few in a cool dry place and come spring, cut each stored potato into pieces making sure that each piece has an eye in it. Then plant the pieces outdoors, water and fertilize over the growing season and harvest in the fall. Each small piece of potato with an eye will have turned into a large potato plant and underground each you’ll find lots of edible potatoes.

Carrots are another crop about which people have a very definite opinion. They should be a long, single-rooted veggie bright orange in color. But, some carrots will produce several roots making it look sort of weird. ‘Purple Haze’ is a hybrid carrot that, as its name implies, is a deep purple color.
If you are growing your carrots in a container, make sure it is deep enough for the roots to form. Also, do not transplant carrots since it disturbs the roots and it’s the root of each plant that you want to eat. Start the seeds either where you plan to grow them or in a peat pot that can be moved whole into the garden.

Most of us think of cauliflower and expect it to be a head of creamy white curds. They can be cooked in a whole variety of ways, including boiled, steamed and raw (with dip). But there are a number of other unusual (and colorful) varieties of cauliflower. The cultivar ‘Cheddar’ has bright orange curds and has lots of beta carotene. Cooked, it has an even brighter color.
Other varieties include ‘Graffiti’ and ‘Purple Head,’ which have, as the second name implies, purple heads. They have a mild flavor and certainly add color to a salad. ‘Cauliflower Romanesco’ (Roman cauliflower) is really weird looking — its’ lime green curds are pointed. Since cauliflower prefers a near neutral soil pH, you need to add lime to your soil.

Yes, there are many other strange varieties of plants. There are long, white radishes, bumpy white pumpkins and even giant kohlrabi the size of a head of cabbage. Since it’s always fun to try something different in the garden, do try one (or more) of these ugly, strange or weird veggies. You may find that children and grandchildren are fascinated by them, making it easier for you to get them to try and taste something new.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to [email protected] To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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Coleus looks stunning in a decorative planter. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Last week we took a look at how you can turn your need to garden, even in tiny places, into a reality. We looked at some generalities then. Now, we’ll take a look at some specific plants that can be grown in small spaces.

Flowering annuals
Any number of flowering annuals can be grown in hanging baskets, including hanging geraniums, petunias, chenille plants and fuchsia. Look for plants that trail down like nasturtium or sweet potato vine. But you can also grow herbs in hanging baskets, perhaps even mixed in with the ornamentals.

Full-sized tomato plants can be grown in a large tub or specially designed planter while grape or cherry tomatoes can be grown in hanging baskets. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Full-sized tomato plants can be grown in a large tub or specially designed planter while grape or cherry tomatoes can be grown in hanging baskets. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Hostas are wonderful plants for a shady area. They come in a wide variety of sizes, so select carefully if you have a tiny place. One of my favorites is ‘Mouse Ears,’ but there are many tiny hostas, some variegated. Consider ‘Blue Mouse Ears,’ which grows to eight inches tall; ‘Chartreuse wiggles,’ a 10-inch-tall plant with narrow golden leaves; or ‘Bedazzled’ just eight inches tall with blue green leaves trimmed in yellow.  ‘Crumb Cake’ is just four inches tall. Most will spread, easily two or three times their height. They can be grown in a small rock garden or a small container or around the edges of a larger planter.

Dwarf hydrangeas
Hydrangeas are beautiful shrubs filled with colorful and long lasting flowers. But, be very careful here. Some hydrangeas can easily reach 10 to 15 feet tall or more. In general, Hydrangea paniculata tend to be large shrubs or small specimen trees; however, there are dwarf varieties. Again, oakleaf hydrangeas tend to be large shrubs, but ‘Ruby Slippers’ is a dwarf variety that reaches just three to four feet tall and produces flowers that come out pink and deepen to red as the summer progresses. They grow in full sun to partial shade. The flowers will not turn blue, however, in acidic soil.

Tomato plants are divided into two types of plants: indeterminate, that is, vining plants that continue to grow throughout the growing season, and determinate plants, bush-type plants that flower at the end of each branch and cease growing. Indeterminate plants can be grown in large pots or tubs since they have the room to produce a large root system. Determinate plants do better in a smaller hanging basket since there is a smaller amount of soil in hanging baskets. Cherry tomatoes are ideal for hanging baskets. I’ve even seen them growing in outdoor restaurants, both functional and decorative. Put one or two per basket, possibly interspersed with herbs or flowers. Remember the fertilizer since tomatoes are heavy feeders.

A sweet potato vine spills over a large planter. Photo by Ellen Barcel
A sweet potato vine spills over a large planter. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Herbs are great for a small garden since most of them are small plants to start with. Most herbs prefer a sunny location; so take this into consideration when selecting a planting location. Herbs can be grown in pots, even grouped together in a large pot, but a really great place is in a sunny window box. If the window box(es) are located outside your kitchen window, so much the better. Just open your window and pick the herbs you need.

Small herbs include sage (some are larger than others, for example, pineapple sage can easily reach two feet tall, and has beautiful red flowers while common sage is smaller), thyme (common thyme, lemon thyme, lime thyme, orange thyme, red creeping thyme, French thyme, etc.), parsley [curly parsley, flat leaf parsley, Chinese parsley (cilantro), etc.], mint (chocolate mint, orange mint, spearmint, banana mint, variegated mint, pineapple mint, apple mint, etc.). Note that orange mint has a hint of an orangey flavor, pineapple sage a hint of a pineapple flavor, etc.

Basil, chives, dill and oregano are a few other herbs that you can grow in a window box. Scented geraniums have the advantage of pretty flowers as does nasturtium.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions and/or comments to [email protected] To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

Farmers markets have certainly evolved over the years and the Long Island Winter Farmers Market at the Jack Abrams School at 155 Lowndes Ave. in Huntington Station is no exception.

On a recent Sunday morning, the market was bustling with activity. Bread, vegetables, preserves, fudge, cheese, granola, salad dressings, smoked salmon, pickles, champagne tea , yogurt and coffee, to name just a view, were available for purchase as live music played.

Vendors, who came from as far as Brooklyn and Manhattan, offered free samples of their products and were eager to answer any questions.

The Huntington Station winter farmers market will run every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. through April 24. For more information and a list of select vendors, visit www.longislandfarmersmarkets.com.

The Northport Farmers’ Market enjoyed a busy opening day on Saturday, June 6. This is the fifth year the market has been in business. Shoppers browsed fresh pickles, breads, jams, fish and more to performances by musicians Roger Silverberg and Jacob Restituto. The market is located in the parking lot at the end of Main Street and is open every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. until Nov. 21.