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Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Let’s Get This Garden Party Started

We visit a local organic seed company and an urban farmer talks about raised beds. While you wait for your plants to grow, enjoy the recipe using red buds.

Purple Calabash Tomato

Photo: Nature's Crossroads

Nature's Crossroads sell some 40 different varieties of tomato seeds, including this Purple Calabash Tomato.

Local Seeds For Local Gardens

Every garden starts with seeds. For folks who are interested in local living, it only makes sense that you’d seek out seeds that were grown locally as well.

Art Sherwood of Nature’s Crossroads Seed Company is here to help. Sure, he wants to be your local seed man, but for him, it’s more about recruiting new gardeners. “If you have to buy your seeds from Wal-Mart, go buy them from Wal-Mart. Whatever. Don’t let ideology get in the way of growing great plants in your backyard. Better than lawns.”

Nature’s Crossroads partners with LIFE Certified Organic Farms to grow organic and earth-friendly seeds. This means using all-natural pesticides and fertilizers, and their seeds have absolutely no genetic-modification. Their goal is to have 70 percent of their seeds be local in seven years. They are at 40 percent after three years, so they’re right on track.

More: Read more about the various local seeds offered by Nature’s Crossroads.

Raising Carrots In Raised Beds

Now let’s go to the garden and get our hands dirty.

Throughout the next few weeks, we’ll be speaking with a number of farmers (both urban and rural) to see how they get everything started in the spring. First stop is at Swainway Urban Farm just north of downtown Columbus, Ohio. This place specializes in growing a rare gem of summer farmers markets: fresh-from-the-garden carrots.

“If you only have one or two farmers at your market who are selling carrots, you can pull a pretty good penny,” says farmer Joseph Swain, “because people absolutely love fresh garden carrots. They’re simply delicious, and (taste so much better than) a carrot sent from California.”

Of Swain’s 3,000 feet of growing space in his backyard farm, 25 percent is dedicated to growing carrots.

  • Joseph Swain At Swainway Urban Farm

    Image 1 of 3

    Joseph Swain transformed his backyard into a 3,000 square foot garden. This is only his second year growing food to sell at markets and to restaurants.

  • hands holding black compost

    Image 2 of 3

    With raised beds, you can add compost, organic material, and other amendments directly to the growing area. This builds nutrients into the soil for your plants.

  • wood and dirt in a garden, raised beds

    Image 3 of 3

    Swainway Urban Farm boasts a dozen or so raised beds. The beds covered in straw have been planted with seeds, while the bed with only dirt has yet to be cultivated.

The dozen or so raised beds take up the majority of the garden.

He has a long list of reasons why building raised beds for your garden is so beneficial. First of all, you have control over the quality of the soil by adding amendments, compost, and organic material directly to that specific growing area. For the raised beds that house his carrots, he created a potting soil of sorts, which includes peat, perlite, green sand, kelp and general fertilizer.

Raised beds also provide a lush 6-8 inches of growing depth for the plants, which is key for a successful carrot crop. This way the plants can spread their roots farther down before hitting hard pan. As a result, you can plant your crops closer together because the roots then aren’t expanding horizontally.

He hopes to be selling his first batch of carrots by the middle of June. He’ll then plant two new rows of carrots every two weeks, so he should be well-stocked for the rest of the summer market season.

More: Listen to next week’s podcast to hear how Joseph Swain preps his beds in no time at all, using three simple tools and with minimal elbow grease.

A Simple Red Bud Dessert

Morel mushroom hunters see the blooming of the red bud trees as an indication that their coveted mushrooms are now in season. But these beautiful little pink flowers aren’t just nice to look at. You can also eat red buds.

They’re a member of the legume family right along with beans and peas. They have little pods, and if you pick them when they’re young and tender, you can use them in stir fries.

But we’re eating dessert today! This dish features red buds with yogurt, berries, and meringues.

redbud dessert

Photo: Alycin Bektesh/WFIU

The red buds are mostly a garnish for the yogurt, blueberry compote, and meringue cookies.


  • Meringue cookies (recipe follows)
  • Plain yogurt (if you’re feeling adventurous, you can make your own)
  • Fresh berries (whatever is seasonal, we used blueberries and blackberries)
  • Local honey
  • Blueberry compote (recipe follows)
  • Red bud flowers (rinsed)


  1. Place meringues in the middle of a plate (make a few large flat ones as the base for your dessert)
  2. Top meringue with plain yogurt and some fresh berries
  3. Drizzle with local honey and blueberry compote (you could also use blueberry jam or any other kind of berry sauce you like)
  4. Top with a little more yogurt and sprinkle the red bud flowers over the top.

Meringue Cookies

  • 3 large egg whites
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar
  • food coloring (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In an electric mixer, beat egg whites until they hold soft peaks.
  3. Add sugar a bit at a time until the egg whites hold stiff peaks and the texture is no longer gritty (the sugar should be fully dissolved).
  4. Form meringues using spoons or a pastry bag and then bake for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, rotating the baking sheet halfway through to ensure even baking. Leave meringues in the oven to finish drying overnight and then store in an airtight container.

Blueberry Compote

A compote is basically a mixture of sugar and fruits that you cook down and season with spices. It’s an easy way to preserve fruit.

  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • spices (cinnamon, ginger, cloves, etc. – your favorites)
  • dash of lemon juice

Combine ingredients and cook in a saucepan over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Stored in a jar, your compote will last 2-3 weeks in the fridge. The same method can be used with other berries or fruits.

News Stories In The Podcast:

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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