The garden catalogs have started arriving and I’m already thinking about what to grow in the coming season. Every year I like to try something new in the kitchen garden. I always set some space aside to grow an edible crop I haven’t tried before, the stranger the better. Some past “experiments” are relatively safe bets, like unusual colors of common vegetables. Purple carrots, green tomatoes and golden beets are a few of examples. The beets have actually become a regular part of the garden. Other crops, however, have been things I’d never thought to try or even heard of until I ran across them in some catalog, article or podcast. This category has included things like cumin, edible chrysanthemum, Malabar spinach, cowpeas, salsify, fava beans, alpine strawberries and collards. This year I grew peanuts and oca for fun. One was a qualified success, the other not so much.
Here is where you come in. I’m looking for suggestions of unusual garden noms to try out in the 2015 garden. Nom-inations should be for crops that are:
- growable in my USDA Zone 5 garden where I have roughly five to six months of growing season with the ground getting warm enough for warm-weather crops about a month after the last spring frost.
- containable within a portion of one of my garden beds which are roughly a meter wide. Anything wider than that or that needs to ramble I just don’t have the space for.
- edible and while not absolutely required, tasty is a plus.
- obtainable. I can usually sniff out where to find most horticultural oddities when I know what it is I’m looking for.
One of the joys I get from gardening is the give-and-take I’ve found in the online communities. I’ve learned so much and have been able to share the bits that I know. So, what can you share for new crop ideas? I’m looking forward to all the wonderful new possibilities I’m going to hear about in the coming weeks!
You may recall that last spring I announced I was trying some fun, new-to-me things in the garden this year. One of those exotic vegetables was Oxalis tuberosa, a.k.a. oca. Well, after a slow start, coddling it through the summer and protecting it from the cold it finally died back on top and I was ready to dig.
Pulling back the row cover this is the scene I found.
It’s a little hard to tell from this bad picture in bad lighting, but the voles appear to have taken advantage of the protection of the row cover I put over the plants. They had tunneled all over around and probably through the roots and chewed off most of the stems. The little pests have been just terrible this season and I often see them rocketing out of our plot into one of the neglected neighboring plots where they have plenty of cover. Needless to say, it didn’t take me long to harvest the oca crop this year.
Yup, that’s it. A single, centimeter long tuber and it’s damaged to boot. I don’t think the voles ate them all. It actually looks like they just didn’t form. On one of the plants I pulled out there were places along one of the stems that had rested against the ground where roots had gone down and tiny tubers were just starting. I’m guessing the reason oca isn’t grown around here is the shortness of the season. As much as I like to experiment I’ll take this as a reminder not to push the limits too much and to do a lot of research before diving into something new.
That’s two successful new crops—the peanuts and Malabar spinach—against one clear failure. So I’m ahead, right? I’m still open to trying new things so if you have any fun suggestions, I would like to hear them.
Much as I like the idea of late season and even winter gardening, I don’t seem to be able to get the timing right. This year I might have, but I can’t be sure because the lettuce seed that was just fine last spring failed to germinate for my fall planting. At least there is one reliable crop I can put in in the fall and keep my planting skills sharp.
Right around Halloween is the time to plant garlic here. We’ve been getting our seed garlic from a vendor at the farmers market. They’re all hardneck types. The guys we buy from don’t have a huge selection and this year we chose only three—Leningrad, Chengdu and German Porcelain. Interestingly, the bulbs we buy for seed are much smaller than the bulbs we grow out from them. I plant them in a grid I’ve scratched out on the bed and record the varieties on a diagram in my garden notebook so I don’t bother labeling them. According to what I’ve read I’m planting them too close together but we’ve been getting great crops so I’m not going to worry about that.
Now they’ll spend their time growing roots until it’s too cold to grow. I’ve mulched them with the asparagus tops I cut down the same day to keep the soil temperature fluctuations to a minimum and catch snow for additional insulation. Next spring their green leaves will spear up through the ground and I’ll be glad I got one more planting done of something in before winter really hit.
Halloween is here! Every year I love to celebrate this little holiday by cooking up this old family recipe. It’s a little tricky to get all the ingredients, but the result is a treat!
First, you must obtain a goblin stomach like this one…
Once you’ve captured and dispatched your goblin—I find a shovel to the back of the skull to be the quickest and easiest way—hack out all the guts to remove the stomach. Save whatever else you might want to grill or broil over the weekend. Try to keep the nerve to the esophageal sphincter as pictured above. It can be used to tie that end shut and keep the filling from leaking during the boiling.
Next, chop together some oats, suet and…oh, I can’t do this to you. This is really a, actually “the” sweet potato I got from the the garden this year. Despite planting three healthy starts gifted to me by a fellow gardener and surrounding them with metal mesh to thwart burrowing vermin I got next to nothing. The biggest problem was an unanticipated aboveground assault. Voles, I suspect, ate off all the leaves from the vines and in some cases chewed through them completely leaving the roots no way to obtain and store nutrients in nice, fat tubers. I may or many not steam this little fellow for some appetizer. And I may or may not try growing sweet potatoes again in the future. If I do, I’ll certainly take measures to protect them from gobblin’ rodents!
When we were in the garden doing the first big round of cleanup I noticed the peanut plants, one of this year’s garden experiments, were starting to look a little “done.” Yesterday I took up a fork and harvested them all.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to find so I was pleased to see that each plant had a fair number of fat pods down around their roots. Peanuts have a fascinating way of flowering and forming their seeds. After the bloom is pollinated it grows a stem that pushes the ovary down into the soil where the pod forms. They seemed to have enough decent soil to grow in above the more clayey layer below and didn’t look distorted at all. The tops, however, were another matter. Some had been chewed completely off by some rabbit or rodent.
Once I plucked them from the plants and gave them a good washing I ended up with a decent bowlful for our little patch. They do take a lot of space for the amount we got, though. I’m not sure if the spots on the shells are caused by a soil problem, pests or disease. Time to do some research. I also need to find out how to roast them. We’re sure we won’t be making boiled peanuts, a southern treat. Last weekend we were visiting friends in Alabama and tried boiled peanuts for the first time and, while we thought they were edible, didn’t feel a great need to have them again.
In other underground news, the oca patch seems to have hit its stride and the plants are looking lush and happy. As I mentioned before, they will have only just started forming tubers after the Autumn Equinox. We’ve had some cold nights since then, but no frost yet. Still, I’m keeping them covered with some row cover as insurance. It would be great if we got a harvestable crop from these, but I don’t see growing them again until I’ve got a lot more space to play around with.
Did you try any garden experiments this year? How did they do?
I’ve known for a while that October was going to be a busy month. Not garden-busy, necessarily, but other-stuff-busy. Life happens, so what can you do? I elected to take advantage of a window of opportunity that occurred one recent afternoon when the Co-Conspirator and I weren’t at work and were actually in town to get some cleanup done.
Recent cool weather and Septoria leaf spot had pretty much done in the tomatoes. I didn’t anticipate getting any more harvest from them and couldn’t see much time left on the calendar to do garden cleanup. We trekked up to the garden and started removing anything that was “done” for the season. The two bare beds are where the tomatoes grew. We removed all the plants, fruit, fallen leaves and mulch to the compost heap to try to keep the Septoria in check. I also won’t grow tomatoes in those locations for a couple of years. The stakes got stacked inside the cages to keep them off the ground, though they will most likely still be under snow for much of the winter. Along with the tomatoes went all the bean plants, the tomatillo, chard and squash remains. I pulled the rest of the carrots, topless thanks to varmints. The same varmints also ate off my sweet potato vines so I doubt there is going to be any harvest of them this year.
There are a few things still growing including leeks, more Brussels sprouts than we’ll ever eat, herbs including a huge lemongrass plant along with spinach, bok choy, arugula and this year’s three “experimental” crops. I’ll report on them later. For now I’m just glad to have such a good amount of the fall cleanup out of the way.
This is a view of the back yard from upstairs. It was earlier this summer when things were probably at their most lush. In early spring the garden is a patchy sea of blue Scilla, a bulb I have mixed feelings about. Then the trees leaf out and the perennials fill in and it looks like this.
A few weeks ago I re-established the edge of the lawn. It was originally a perfect circle but over the years overhanging perennials have encroached in spots and the lawn has crept into gaps in the beds. I took a few measurements to see where best to set the center, drew a radius and went from there. In the end it was a bit smaller than the original design. I had to add another stepping stone at the main entry and fill a few perennial gaps with extra hostas from here and there.
The next step in my cunning plan was to set stakes every 16” around the circumference of the circle. For some time I’d been contemplating planting a ring of some variety of Crocus to define the lawn in spring. But something that low would probably not show in the marauding Scilla.
Instead, I picked up a big ol’ bag of mixed daffodil bulbs at Costco. I’m planting them three to a hole and many of the bulbs in the bag were double-nosed. I hope the clumps don’t look too weak. I’m almost done. There are still nine spots to do and I’ll need to get a dozen more bulbs to finish those, provided I go all the way up to the beehives. I can’t wait so see how this looks next spring!