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blacbird
06-08-2008, 11:44 AM
I posted this here, as it seemed to be a more appropriate place, as a response to a thread in the politics & current events forum. I do a lot of gardening, and through the years have some experience with producing edibles. So this is my tonight's writing exercise: Some tips on edible gardening:

Herbs: Many herbs are ridiculously easy to grow, and the stuff available to you at the grocery store is almost always pure gack. Dried herbs are to fresh herbs as a newspaper photo of Van Gogh’s Starry Night is to the real thing. Plus they tend to be outrageous in price. Most culinary herbs can be grown nicely in pots (you don’t use a lot at one time), and be available as needed. Some of the most interesting, like chervil, you might never see at a grocery because they don’t keep well enough. All fresh herbs, without exception, are so much more flavorful it’s hard to describe them.

So, my recommends for herbs:

Chervil (mentioned above)
Oregano (Greek oregano I especially like)
Chives (worth finding a spot outside in some obscure corner, because they are essentially immortal; once established, they’ll come up every year and you’ll always have more than you can use).
Garlic chives (actually a different species from regular chives, but equally good and similar to grow).
Basil (a gazillion varieties, all nice)
Thyme
Cilantro (if you’ve never used fresh cilantro, you’re really missing something)
Parsley
Shiso (if you can find it; a Japanese green used in many things, and excellent in salads)
Mint (peppermint, and many others, including catnip; beware of doing the latter indoors if you have, uh, cats; like chives, however, mints are easily established outdoors, even in cold climates, and are perennial)
Sage
Rosemary
Dill


Now, for greens: If you like salads, there’s no good reason not to make them interesting. Sure, lettuce is nice, though you’d be surprised how good a salad can be with no lettuce in it. But, I grow lettuce, of several varieties every year. I don’t generally grow iceberg or head lettuce, as I find it more difficult to get good than I want. But romaine lettuce is excellent, and leaf lettuces, of which there are many many many varieties, are excellent and have the further advantage of being usable a leaf at a time, as you wish.

But, there are many other wonderful greens to be had. Spinach, of course, better in cool weather or cool climates. New Zealand spinach (which isn’t actually spinach) is a good substitute in hot climates. Likewise collards. Other really good greens, easily grown:

Arugula (has a weird reputation as an “elitist” kind of thing to eat, but it is a fabulous addition to any salad, with a unique slightly sour slightly bitter flavor that complements sweeter greens perfectly. And it is as easy to grow from seed as dandelions).
Mustard (wide variety of types and flavors, from very mild to quite spicy; the easiest thing to grow imaginable)
Mustard spinach (a very mild variety of mustard; I grow it every year, and consider it a necessity)
Mizuna (botanically, a turnip, but grown for its frilly dark green leaves, which are terrific in salads or any cooked meal where greens are featured)
Bok choi (a Chinese cabbage, again with many varieties, but extremely useful in all kinds of cookery)
Swiss chard (this is actually a variety of beet, grown for its leafy tops rather than its root; an extraordinarily useful vegetable for all kinds of things; I recommend the “Bright lights” variety, which produces varicolored stems ranging from dark red through bright yellow to white, and brightens up casseroles, soups and stews as well as salads. Way nutritious, too)
Mache, or corn salad (unrelated to corn, and I have no idea where that name came from. But it’s really good in cooler climates, with a crisp sweet flavor, excellent in a salad).
Radicchio (a nicely bitter taste, with a red color that complements sweeter greens in a salad)
Radish greens (if you plant radishes for the root, don’t forget the greens. I plant many seeds, and then eat the thinnings in salads)

Now, for my favorite neglected vegetables, often hard to find, or utterly unavailable, in grocery stores:

Kohlrabi If you haven’t eaten a kohlrabi, you’ve missed something. Excellent raw or cooked, but very different in flavor raw or cooked. Terrific on a relish tray with sliced carrots, cucumbers, etc. Equally good in soups or stews. Grows best in cooler weather, like many cabbage family veggies, but easy from seeds.
Snap peas Increasingly available in stores nowadays, but definitely worth growing.
Asparagus peas I’ve never seen these in a grocery store, and the seeds can be tricky to find, but if you can, these are waaaaaaay worth growing. They produce small winged pods with a unique flavor that can be eaten raw or cooked. Note, these are not asparagus beans, which are a very long-podded green bean from Asia (these also look good, but I can’t grow them where I live and so have never tried).
Beets Lots of people claim to detest beets, which I think is mainly based on the tendency of the dark red forms to bleed intensely-colored juice all over everything. Try golden beets, which are a nice clear yellow color and don’t bleed. There are several varieties, and I think they’re great. Plus (see Swiss chard above) you can eat the greens perfectly well, too.
Kale The hardiest green. A terrific substitute for spinach in cooking, because it retains firmness and doesn’t get mushy. I’ve picked kale as late as November here in Alaska, with snow on it.

Finally, some of my favorite slightly adventurous eating tips: Across the U.S. is a very common introduced weed called Lamb’s quarters, among other things. I’ve had it spring up in my garden, and I know it grows across the Midwest in profusion. Learn to recognize it. The leaves are excellent in salads, with a slightly nutty flavor, and it can be used in anything you’d use spinach in.

Radish seed pods Let some of your radishes go to seed, and pick the pods when they are green and fresh. Excellent in salads. Another item you’ll never find at the grocery.

Broccoli stems I grow broccoli every year, but most people only like to eat the green flowery tops. The stems below actually work very well in cole slaw; chop ‘em up with your cabbage, or all by themselves.

Nasturtium flowers Lots of gardeners grow nasturtiums for their showy red and yellow flowers, but few realize how good these are to eat. They are soft, succulent, and have this wonderful honey-mustard flavor that complements any salad, both in taste and in striking appearance. Grow some (dead easy, by the way), and throw half-a-dozen of the flowers on top of your greens in a salad for guests, and see what the reaction is. I grow the things now more as garden veggies than as decorative flowers.

Enjoy.

caw

Lyra Jean
06-08-2008, 11:57 AM
I'll definitely be trying some of these or try and get my fiance to start some up. Especially the herbs since they grow in pots and he lives in an apartment.

HeronW
06-08-2008, 12:10 PM
Oh, wish we had room for a gardon--a balcony is kind of small and if we spray for bugs, can't eat the stuff :[

Hey Blacbird--do you know the name of the hairy lettuce? I had some 25 years ago and never forgot it--it was fuzzy like a kiwi on one side.

blacbird
06-08-2008, 12:32 PM
Hey Blacbird--do you know the name of the hairy lettuce? I had some 25 years ago and never forgot it--it was fuzzy like a kiwi on one side.

I'm afraid I don't. I'm always on the lookout for new vegs; I'll see if I can find anything out about it.

caw

SPMiller
06-08-2008, 02:05 PM
For those of you with limited growing space, beware of rosemary. All varieties that I've grown have a tendency toward rapid spread, and some varieties will also grow surprisingly tall. Just remember to trim it, because you probably won't be able to eat it quickly enough ;)

L M Ashton
06-08-2008, 02:59 PM
Most excellent topic, blacbird! :)

About five or six days ago, I coincidentally planted seeds: basil, oregano, spearmint, peppermint, catnip, chives, garlic chives, sage, cilantro, parsley, wild parsley, and one or two others I don't recall at the moment. I'm starting to see tiny little green dots. There are a whole bunch more I'd like to plant, but I have to get the seeds first, and that's going to require some international ordering and I'm not sure what else.

Parsley, mint, and cilantro are occasionally available at the grocery store, but they're usually in such rough condition that, were I in Canada, I would automatically reject them. But being desperate... We can get dried oregano, basil, sage, and a few other things here on occasion, but they are completely stale and flavorless. I've never seen, smelled, or tasted worse dried herbs in my life.

I'd really like to grow not just the popular variety of the various herbs, but some interesting varieties, like chocolate mint, apple mint, or pineapple, for example. For fun but also for the flavour variation. :) But this being a very hot tropical country, I have no idea how these ones will do. Time will tell. :)

Mumut
06-08-2008, 03:30 PM
Broccoli stems I grow broccoli every year, but most people only like to eat the green flowery tops. The stems below actually work very well in cole slaw; chop ‘em up with your cabbage, or all by themselves.

Nasturtium flowers

Broccoli stems ar good diced in stir fries.

Nasturtium flowers are quite hot.

When you steam veges (much better than boiling them) save the water to add to soups and caseroles - don't throw away the flavour and goodness.

Elaine Margarett
06-08-2008, 03:48 PM
This is my first year growing herbs in pots, as well as spinach and argula. We've had a very cool spring (although we're in the midst of a heat wave now) and everything is doing really well.

When I pick/trim my herbs, how should I do it. They are all growing like weeds and some are starting to flower. I don't want them to flower, right?

Blackbird, you don't have thyme on your list. I make homemade pizza with fresh dough and I love using the fresh thyme for my sauce.

And what's the best way to use basil and sage? Do you use it whole, or chop it up. (I have some kind of purple basil if that makes a difference.)

TIA,
EM

Mumut
06-08-2008, 04:23 PM
Basil is great in Thai recipes. Sage and onion stuffing for chicken. If you cut some herbs regularly, they'll grow better - parsely etc. Steam baby new potatoes and melt over butter combined with chopped thyme. Use the stems of thyme as shashlik sticks for chunks of lamb.

Ldyjarhead
06-08-2008, 06:11 PM
Great post!

I've got limited experience with gardening, but you can read about my adventure here (http://gallongarden.blogspot.com/) . The rest of the blogs have nonsensical garbage in them, so either don't look, or please be kind if you do!

Here's to a bountiful crop!

NeuroFizz
06-08-2008, 06:24 PM
I'll give a nod to the trees and shrubs.

I have an average-sized tract home lot (1/4 acre or so) but I have the following in the back yard: peach tree, cherry tree, plum tree, pear tree (all grafted on dwarf rootstock so they will only grow to about ten or twelve feet high and as wide); apple tree (golden delicious, on semi-dwarf rootstock); blueberry bushes, blackberry bushes, raspberry bushes, grape vines (two varieties); I had strawberry plants which took over my garden, but they just ended up feeding a population of snails and slugs; two wonderful asparagus stands; a garden with tomato plants, onions and cucumbers. I've grown melons, but the squirrels get to them before they are ripe. Also, many leafy veggies bolt to seed too fast in our heat. I'm limited in space because Mrs. Fizzy goes for the flowering plants, shrubs and trees (like our weeping, flowering peach tree--not fruit bearing).

I get most of my trees and vines from here (I have no connection financially or otherwise):

www.starkbros.com

They have good variety (for various areas of the country) and a good selection of rootstocks in standard, semi-dwarf and dwarf. They ship bareroot and it takes a few years to get production. I've found one can't always trust the local stores like Lowes and Home Depot to stock varieties that are appropriate to the local area. A good nursery is the best place to look for direct-buy.

Ol' Fashioned Girl
06-08-2008, 06:55 PM
For those of you with limited growing space, beware of rosemary. All varieties that I've grown have a tendency toward rapid spread, and some varieties will also grow surprisingly tall. Just remember to trim it, because you probably won't be able to eat it quickly enough ;)

Amen, to that. My front porch faces south and has several stone planters built into the foundation. I've got bay, parsley, rosemary, and thyme planted. The bay and the rosemary have been there since the mid '90s. The rosemary looks like a shrub - it would quickly overgrow the planter if I didn't trim it like a hedge. Parsley will bolt, too - and it'll reseed itself, too. We grow ours mainly for the black swallowtail butterflies, but we enjoy the benefits of the plants early on.

Out in the back, I have many big clay pots filled with chives, oregano, various different flavors of thyme, sage and garlic chives. Herbs are a fabulous way to exercise your green thumb in small spaces.

NeuroFizz
06-08-2008, 07:21 PM
A beware about the various forms of mint as well (at least in warm weather areas). Many will take over a plot of land in short order--they can be invasive. I believe they use underground runners (rhizomes).

PattiTheWicked
06-08-2008, 07:39 PM
Fennel is easy to grow too, and you can use the stalks in a salad, or the soft, fuzzy fronts as a seasoning. It does tend to spread, though, so if you don't want it to take over, put it in a pot.

blacbird
06-08-2008, 10:36 PM
Nasturtium flowers are quite hot.

Well, it gets to be a standard-of-judgment thingie. You're dealing with someone here who eats a lot of jalapenos, serranos, habaneros . . .

caw

blacbird
06-08-2008, 10:40 PM
This is my first year growing herbs in pots, as well as spinach and argula. We've had a very cool spring (although we're in the midst of a heat wave now) and everything is doing really well.

When I pick/trim my herbs, how should I do it. They are all growing like weeds and some are starting to flower. I don't want them to flower, right?

Blackbird, you don't have thyme on your list. I make homemade pizza with fresh dough and I love using the fresh thyme for my sauce.

And what's the best way to use basil and sage? Do you use it whole, or chop it up. (I have some kind of purple basil if that makes a difference.)

TIA,
EM

Actually, thyme is in the list, but kind of hidden in the middle. And I undoubtedly left off some other good ones.

Regards basil, there are lots of varieties, with some differences in flavor, but still all basically basily. If you chop it up, you get more intensity of flavor when you cook, but it probably doesn't matter a lot, as long as it's fresh.

caw

PattiTheWicked
06-08-2008, 11:28 PM
And with basil, you don't have to grow a lot. Three plants last my family all summer long, and my son and I snarf down pesto by the gallon. Yum.

brianm
06-08-2008, 11:37 PM
I grow weeds good. Haven't lost a one.