Many of us get locked into what we are used to planting, and never try new things. In my experience, a garden can be something between a laboratory and a playground. You should always be playing around with new plants and varieties, and comparing results. In this episode I’ll discuss a few things that I’ve found to be very productive.
1) Vietnamese Coriander (wikipedia link)
Coriander and ‘cilantro’ are the same thing. In North America, we tend to use the term ‘cilantro’ to refer to the leaves, and ‘coriander’ to refer to the seeds, but elsewhere in the world other conventions are used. Regardless of what it’s called, it’s a key ingredient in many popular dishes such as curries, soups, and salsas. One problem with coriander is that the plant grows very quickly, and then has to be used before it goes to seed, so succession planting is necessary if a steady supply is desired, and this can be annoying. I stumbled across Vietnamese Coriander a number of years ago, and have been planting it ever since. The thing is, it’s not really ‘coriander’ at all, it just tastes like coriander (or cilantro rather, given that it’s the leaves that you eat), but instead of growing quickly and going to seed, it just keeps growing and getting bigger all summer long – so it’s ideal if you desire a regular supply. One other benefit is that it’s is at its largest and best when your tomatoes are ready harvest, so the timing is perfect for preserving salsa!
2) Lovage (wikipedia link)
If you’ve ever tried to grow celery, you’ve probably noticed that our short summers are not ideally suited to the 100 days usually required by celery. An easy alternative is Lovage, a perennial herb that can grow to two meters tall! You can lovage seeds, or simply buy it as a transplant in a garden center. The leaves and stalks have a taste that is very similar to that of celery, so the plant gives you a perpetual supply of this essential culinary ingredient. Lovage is also one of the first things to grow in your garden, poking out of the ground before rhubarb and asparagus, so it’s a wonderful sign of spring, the beginning of the gardening season. This is my kind of plant: buy the transplant for the price of once bunch of celery at the supermarket, put it in the ground, and you have free celery every spring summer and fall for years.
3) Kohlrabi (wikipedia link)
I’ve mentioned kohlrabi before, and I’ll keep mentioning it because the greens are just so wonderful. While this plant is primarily grown for its root, which tastes somewhere between a turnip and a radish, for me the greens are the star of the show. The greens are somewhere between collards and cabbage, but they taste better than both, and only require a couple minutes to cook. They also keep for a ridiculous amount of time in your fridge. Like most plants, the greens taste even better once there has been a frost, both don’ let that stop you, harvest them all summer long as you need them. I like to mix them with kale and Swiss chard when cooking, as all the flavors and textures seem to work well together, and this way I’m only harvesting a little from each plant at a time.
For information about growing Kohlrabi, click here.
4) Delicata Squash (wikipedia link)
The ‘delicata squash’ is a winter squash, meaning that it stores well for later use when winter has arrived. This squash grows well in the Maritimes, and can produce a lot of squash if your soil is fertile. The flavour is somewhat like that of a sweet potatoe, except unlike the sweet potatoe, it can actually mature in our relatively short growing season. I’ve tried growing sweet potatoes, and trust me, stick with these squash – you’ll get much more back for far less effort! The gourds are also very interesting in appearance, and make a nice (and edible) decoration in the fall.
5) Costata Romanesco (Zucchini Squash) – (halifax seed link)
My general opinion of zucchini used to be that they are not very big on flavour, but they make a nice relish. Once I tried Costata Romanesco, I changed my mind on the whole flavour thing. These zucchini are very flavourful relative to other varieties, and they are also an heirloom variety so you can save the seeds if you are so inclined. Costata Romanesco have a very dramatic appearance, and the plant is also dramatic in its size, growing to outrageous proportions when conditions are right. If you are in the mood to try something new this year, gives these wonderful squash a try, you will not be sorry.