2014 was ‘Year of Green,’ with new seeds, success
The 2014 gardening season seemed to be a real “Year of Green” in my vegetable garden. I grew some new-to-me herbs and vegetables that produce edible leaves and stems, and I’d like to tell you about some of my favorites.
Lemongrass is a delightful, easy-to-grow herb that lends a subtle lemony flavor to teas, sauces, soups, stews and stir fries. This native of Asia is not winter-hardy here in Western Pennsylvania, but it’s easily grown as an annual herb. New plants can be started from seed, grown from supermarket purchased stalks (they’ll root in a glass of water in just a few weeks), or from nursery-propagated plants.
The plants require full sun and well-drained soil high in organic matter. Lemongrass grows slowly in the spring, but once summer’s warm temperatures arrive, the plant takes off, tripling or even quadrupling in size. To harvest, select stalks a minimum of a half-inch in diameter and cut them off at ground level. Discard the woody outer leaves and use the lower, soft portion of the stalk.
Radicchio, also sometimes called Italian chicory, is a “green” that has deep-red leaves with white leaf veins. Much like iceberg lettuce or cabbage, radicchio forms a tight cluster of leaves called a head. It is most often used fresh in salads, where it has a slightly bitter flavor, but cooked radicchio also is delicious.
Radicchio, like many other greens, prefers cool weather. Seeds can be sown directly into the garden in spring, about four to six weeks before our last expected frost. Spring planted crops are harvested sometime in early July. It’s also possible to grow a fall crop by sowing more seeds in late August. Avoid excessive nitrogen fertilization, which can prevent the formation of tight heads.
“Beira Tronchuda,” a loose-headed cabbage also known as Portuguese kale, is sweet and delicious. The big, rounded leaves are bright-green with thick, white ribs. Like other cabbages and kales, “Beira Tronchuda” is very cold tolerant, but it’s also extremely tolerant of heat, making it a perfect crop for both spring and fall harvests. Late-summer plantings can be picked all winter long when grown under the protection of a floating row cover. The flavor of Portuguese kale is a cross between chard and cabbage and grows sweeter with cold temperatures. Plants grow 18 inches tall.
Miner’s lettuce, also called winter purslane, is the perfect, early-season green that I’ve been seeking for many years: one that I could sow as early as the first of March and begin to harvest weeks before the lettuce started rolling in. Miner’s lettuce is a green that’s about as cold-hearty as they come. Maturing in just 40 to 45 days, Miner’s lettuce bears lily pad-shaped leaves with a lovely, subtle flavor. It’s delicious steamed, sauteed or used fresh in salads.
This native of the Western United States prefers semi-shaded conditions and wet spring soil. I harvest only the oldest leaves on each rosette and leave the younger ones to develop into subsequent harvests. It will be the first homegrown green to grace your salad bowl each spring.
Seeds of all these unique vegetables are available from many seed purveyors, including Renee’s Garden Seeds, Territorial Seeds, and Burpee Seeds.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.