True Leaves

When seeds sprouts, the sproutlings will have one (monocots) or two (dicots) leaves. Most of the herbaceous plants and vegetable types in our yards and gardens are dicots, including the cabbages. These initial sprouts grow from the nutrients provide by the seed, activated by light and water. After a few days, these cotyledons will sprout their first set of “true” leaves. These will be shaped more like the mature leaves that the plant will develop (the cotyledons have a few shapes and are all quite small, cabbages have sort of heart shape). 

This morning, day 10 of the cabbage sproutlings, I noticed the true leaves are budding. You can just see them at the node between the two first leaves.  

(The onions are monocots so will have a single leaf. More on them later.)


Cabbage Sproutlings

After the first week, the cabbage sprouts are one to two inches tall. This is the “Mei Ching Choi” variety of Brassica rapa.

Some of them (two next to the label) still have the seed husks stuck on the first leaves: 

Within a day after 90% had sprouted, I placed them under a fluorescent light and started an initial mist with a liquid fertilizer. The fertilizer is mixed from a seaweed concentrate, SeaCom-PGR, diluted approximately 1:1,000. This concentrate should be rich in cytokinin hormones and deliver a 0-4-4 mix (i.e., no nitrogen but phosphate and potassium), so it should help root growth.  

I’m hoping these will be ready to transplant after 4-6 weeks. That will put them in the ground early, but I’m planning to plant in staggered groups about a week apart to  leave some backups if there is a hard frost. And if we’re lucky, that will also get us some early cabbage!  

If you’re trying this at home, too, and your seedlings aren’t looking too healthy, they may be afflicted by “damping off,” a complex of fungal disease that can affect germinating seeds and seedlings. More information about that at “How to Prevent Seedling Damping Off.”

Seed Project 2016

This year we’re gardening again. We’ve done a small garden the past two years. 2014 was not a good year – we didn’t prepare the soil well, didn’t sufficiently water the plants, and didn’t protect the harvest from birds or squirrels. We did better in 2015, when I took a gardening course through the Maryland extension, and we got a modest crop of tomatoes, a few zucchini, and strawberries (from the plants we started in 2013).

This year, we have fallen farther into the gardening trap. We’re not increasing the plot size (yet!), but we are planning for more veggie varieties and starting some from seed. So far the seeds are started for the cabbage (an Asian variety of Brassica rapa called “Mei Ching Choi”) and onions (Allium cepa of the “Ailsa Craig” variety).

Cabbage is quick! These were planted on Feb 13, just over three days ago. Already, more than 50% have sprouted! Here’s the little cotyledons earlier today:

For the selection of varieties and plant types for the early garden, I consulted the recommended vegetable cultivars for the MidAtlantic region (HGIC 70, U of Maryland) and bought seeds from Johnny’s and Territorial Seed.

Many more helpful tips and information sheets at the University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center.

Thinking of doing this yourself? Here’s another helpful resource from the University of Minnesota Extension: “Starting Seeds Indoors.”

Adobo to the Fore!

I’ve traveled a lot in the Philippines. It’s a big country, with many islands, and there are many variations on the recipe of adobo, an often salty (sometimes sweet) way of preparing chicken or pork. It’s usually served warm with white rice. I must admit that I’ve rarely had adobo while in the Philippines, but I’ve had it many times in North America. It’s a dish that will make you love Filipino cuisine if you don’t already. Cook and author Mark Bittman writes that “this Philippine classic has been called the best chicken dish in the world by a number of friends of mine” (How to Cook Everything [1998], p. 377). This week there was a great feature on the dish and its myriad varieties in the New York Times. In “The Adobo Experiment,” Sam Sifton writes:

There is great fun to be had in asking Filipinos how to make adobo, particularly when they are in groups. Filipino cooking is an evolutionary masterpiece, a cuisine that includes Chinese, Spanish, American and indigenous island influences, all rolled into one. But where for one Filipino the most important aspect of the dish is Spanish, for another it is Chinese, or both, or neither. (The journalist and food historian Raymond Sokolov has made the point that the ingredients for adobo were present in the Philippines before Magellan — only the name, which comes from a Spanish word for sauce, came later. “Lexical imperialism,” he called this process.)

There are a number of quotes from New York chefs Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, authors of Memories of Philippine Kitchens and proprietors of Brooklyn’s Purple Yam Restaurant.

Although I’m not sure of the dish’s history beyond the article, it seems to be a food preparation style that has taken shape to preserve the food as much as cook it. You will notice that the dish will keep a long time in the refrigerator, and you can imagine that historically this was a good way to prepare tasty food that wouldn’t go bad immediately in the tropical climate of the Philippines.

I prefer the soy-sauce-based dish, especially prepared with chicken and lots of garlic. It’s wondrously simple to make. Here’s a basic recipe from my Manila friend Ricky Punzalan (with permission):

Ricky’s Basic Adobo


  • pieces of one chicken (or cubed pork, or a combination)
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce (prefer a Philippine brand according to my Filipino friends)
  • 1/4 cup coconut vinegar
  • 1 head of garlic (cloves separated, crushed, and peeled)
  • 1/2 cup water (or a bit more to cover the meat, but be wary of adding too much since the sauce will take longer to thicken with more liquid)

Preparation. Combine the ingredients in a pot, then boil until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened (about an hour). Serve the meat over white rice, and spoon the sauce over the meat and rice.

As the NYT article points out, each family or community will have its own recipe. This is just a basic outline for the soy-sauce-based dish. Enjoy!