I consider most garden blog posts to be the equivalent of an evening at the neighbors watching vacation clips – or sitting through a session with the boss, as he shows off his collection of wallet pics of his kids – wow! But, WTH, I’m a blogger and the garden takes up a lot of my summer time – and the garden also fills a gap in my food life, since I’m one of those gardeners who tend to grow the things I most want to eat, and just coincidentally, are not even available at my local markets. And so the garden deserves at least a few seasonal mentions – right?
I’m what’s known to the insiders as a ‘kitchen gardener’. And I look at this relationship in a very practical way – I would like the garden to provide me, most cost and labor effectively, a goodly amount of tasty ingredients for the meals I cook. I don’t profess to be an organic gardener – this is Oregon – that means it is garden pest heaven. In my defense, I do not pull out the chemicals until I see serious damage being done to my crops – and the only exception to that rule is my annual preemptive chemical attack on slugs and snails – and I will not apologize for that.
I don’t grow things which I can buy down at the Farmer’s Market for much less than I can grow it (the list of things I want to grow exceeds my garden space as it is), so no potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage and such. My post today will center on those special garden items which I’ve selected to grow this year – I’ll tell you why I want to grow it, and I’ll tell you about the problems of growing it. In that way, maybe we can make this post more interesting and more helpful than the usual mundane garden post.
First, an admission – mine is not the ideal yard in which to do gardening. There is too much shade, and few vegetables grow well without lots of sun. But one of the prime reasons why we bought this property was that it had beautiful trees on it. So, … I lick my garden wounds and do the best I can.
The truth is that for most vegetables, it simply means they grow more slowly – the only things which I grow regularly that come up short in some years are tomatoes, and winter squash – I don’t even try to grow peppers, corn or eggplants. But I have good soil, and I treat it well, and this gives me an advantage.
Another admission – this year has been a difficult one for getting the garden off to a good start. Simply too much rain, and not enough warmth. A few vegetables seem not to care – lettuce, beets and many kinds of greens do OK, but I’m sure if conditions were better, they’d do even better.
And one final admission – all gardens look great when they are young! Garden pests have not yet had a chance to do their damage – and the many garden viruses and diseases have not yet taken hold – and we gardeners have not yet over or under watered. The skill of a gardener may best be seen by how his/her garden looks at harvest time – if there even is a harvest!
OK, here are this year’s garden hopes and dreams.
In the Oregon climate, only a dummy would ignore growing lettuce – and lettuce is one of those veggies that doesn’t necessarily need lots of sun. Add to that the fact that the kinds of lettuce we like are also the more expensive ones in the market, and you see why lettuce makes up a significant part of our garden. If I didn’t have a garden, I’d still grow lettuce in old buckets on our deck.
A plant of multiple identities -alternatively known as radicchio, endive, chicory, and lettuce, this is a new garden addition for me – I’ve grown the little round red heads of radicchio before, and enjoyed their slightly bitter taste in salads, but last year I read an article about the growing popularity of Treviso Radicchio and how the Italian growers of California were increasing their acreage of it annually – the article described in delicious detail how the heads were split in half down the middle, drenched in olive oil, and grilled over charcoal. Since I’ve never seen this one in a store or market, I knew I’d have to grow it myself to enjoy it – I eagerly look forward to my first bite.
I frankly don’t understand the negativity that surrounds the public perception of mustard greens – maybe it’s something that grows with you as you age – and maybe gardeners have a greater appreciation of them than eaters in general, as they are one of the easier garden veggies, and they literally grow here all year round. It’s no wonder then that the Japanese have utilized the family of mustard greens for many of their hybrid vegetable creations of the last 100 years – they may well be my most useful family of vegetables in my entire garden.
Another member of the brassica family, although in this case, a Chinese member – quite popular in the Asian community, Gai Lan shows a visual relationship to broccoli, but is actually a closer relative of kale – each plant has several long stalks, each ending with a small budding head – its taste is more aggressive than that of broccoli, and I think a bit sweeter too – my personal favorite of the Asian broccoli/kale family.
Lacinato or Tuscan Kale:
A plant of a hundred names (dinosaur kale, palm tree kale, nero de Toscana, cavolo nero), Lacinato Kale is my garden favorite for this year! I’ve been hearing about it for several years, but only this past winter did I have an opportunity to taste some. An epiphany, as they say – it does not share the usual kale taste, which I think is a but aggressive, but rather has a much more mild, sweet and interesting flavor than its rather rugged looks would suggest. I found it a bit of a challenge to find the seed, and so armed myself with two packs. As one would expect -and as my luck would have it- I had problems getting my seed to maturity seedlings – every possible challenge popped at every juncture, and still no seedlings to show – until finally I was down to my last few seeds. With crossed fingers, I sowed them directly into the ground just a few weeks ago – what I can show you here is the result of that last planting, and I am determined to give these few survivors the star status they deserve, and to enjoy this exceptional garden sensation to the fullest.
There, now you know my innermost garden secrets – OK, maybe not secrets, but at least my hopes and desires – but as I suggested above, not all garden desires come to fruition. But you can bet that I’ll be doing my best to make these dreams come true, and whatever, I’ll be back here in October to let you know how it worked out – just don’t hold your breath.
I leave you today with one of my garden beauties – this is an oregano plant in my herb section – oregano is a perennial, and this one is rather unique in that it looks like a variegated type – but maybe not, because I think variegated means each leaf has several colors – but hey! What’a I know? Whatever, it’s still pretty.
So what’s growing in your garden?