Kitchen Garden Series: Seeds

July 20th, 2009


kitchen_garden_tools

Now that the kitchen garden revival is in full swing, thousands of newly minted gardeners are starting to savor their first harvests. But what if you missed the boat on the spring planting season? Don’t worry, it’s not too late. And it’s Monday – the perfect time to start a new personal project. This week respected food blogger Kerry Trueman launches her Kitchen Garden Series where you’ll discover mid-summer is a great time to plant certain delicious veggies!

The salad greens and snap peas flourishing on the lawn of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have inspired humbler households across the country to follow Michelle Obama’s lead and install their own productive food gardens. In front yards and back, on rooftops and windowsills – pretty much anywhere you’ve got access to a little soil, water and sun – folks are rediscovering the pleasures of harvesting homegrown produce.

Right now it’s a little late to start planting things like tomatoes, eggplants, melons, squash or peppers. But late July/early August turns out to be the perfect time to sow everything from sweet and spicy salad greens to crisp, refreshing-to-eat-raw root veggies like radishes, baby turnips and beets. Mid-summer’s also a great time to plant exotic Asian cabbages like bok choy, tatsoi and mizuna, as well as their southern cousins, kale and collards.

So don’t throw in the trowel and shelve your garden dreams just yet. Your local garden center may still have seeds to sell, but if it doesn’t, you’ll find an excellent selection of salad greens and other choice vegetables suitable for late summer planting from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Fedco Seeds, and Pinetree Garden Seeds.

Choose varieties that are listed as heat tolerant or slow to bolt (i.e. go to flower or set seed). That mature quickly, before the season winds down and the first frosts approach. Here are a few tried-and-true favorites:

Bull’s Blood beets: this heirloom variety is best harvested when the beets are small; the lovely maroon leaves can be cooked just like swiss chard, to which they’re related.

Watermelon radish: don’t be fooled by its plain vanilla exterior; inside, this slightly sweet, not-so-spicy radish is a stunning magenta, a stand-out in salads and crudités.

Hakurei turnips: another sweet, crunchy treat, this Japanese turnip is prized by chefs and is best eaten raw or lightly steamed. Use the greens as you would kale or collards.

Upland cress: if you like watercress, but haven’t got the swampy kind of soil it requires, upland cress offers an equally peppery punch, and it’s easy to grow.

Lacinato kale: also known as dinosaur kale, or nero de toscano (“black Tuscan’) kale, this heirloom variety with striking, dark blue-black puckered leaves offers outstanding flavor whether harvested young or allowed to mature.

Space spinach: this high-yielding, heat-tolerant spinach features smooth, spoon-shaped leaves with an excellent texture and taste.

The varieties of lettuces and Asian greens that grow well this time of year are too numerous to name. Any kind of arugula or swiss chard will do fine, too. So this Monday spend a few dollars on some seed packets. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how great the returns are on your modest investment.

(This is the first installment in Kerry’s series on kitchen gardens. Check back with us for the next installment: how to prepare your soil and get everything ready for planting.)

Kerry Trueman is an edible landscaping advocate who writes about real food, low-impact living and sustainable agriculture for the Huffington Post, AlterNet, the Green Fork, Air America, and EatingLiberally.org. Her latest project is Retrovore.com, a website for farmers, gardeners and eaters who favor conservation over consumption.