Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Five Garden Favorites

Deanna over at Crunchy Chicken has a post up about her top five picks among edible garden plants.  I was going to just respond to her post in a comment, but then I decided to flesh the material out just a bit and make it a post of my own.

Deanna's number one favorite plant is garlic, and I can't possibly disagree with this.  Garlic has been utterly trouble free for me in all the years I've grown it.  It's a staple of our diet, it stores well in our root cellar, and when we grow the rocambole varieties, we get garlic scapes as a bonus crop.  Garlic also fits neatly into a busy gardening year.  Harvest comes in late June or early July - just when the spring planting is done and before the onslaught of tomatoes and other crops really start to become management issues.  I did a write up of my garlic planting technique a few years back.  I don't know if it's the technique that gives me such great garlic crops, or if all my efforts are superfluous and the garlic would do just as well on its own.  But it sure is one of my favorites to grow.

A less obvious pick for my number two is asparagus.  Even though there's very delayed gratification with asparagus (as with many perennial plants), it's still a favorite.  Once you get past the minor hassle of planting, it's unfussy, produces for 15-20 years, and is sooo delicious. It gets bonus points for being an early spring crop.  This time of year we're desperate for homegrown foods, and asparagus plugs the gap.

Culinary herbs definitely make the list, especially the perennial ones.  I like anything I can plant once and harvest many times.  But even the annuals will often self-seed, as the cilantro from last year has done.  Herbs can be grown by just about anyone, whether you have access to a bit of earth or not.  They're also completely unfussy once established (are we noticing a trend here?)  Plus, growing my own herbs saves me a lot of money, since herbs are among the most expensive produce at a market.  Many of them dry well.  Cooking without herbs would just be boring, so I'd probably want them around even if they were more difficult to grow.  And if you really get into culinary herbs, you can continue the adventure by exploring the medicinal uses of them too.

Potatoes have to be on my list.  They are one of the very few calorie crops that grow reliably in my area.  They almost certainly will grow reliably in your area too.  Potatoes are adaptable to many climates, and as I found out two years back, even if the dreaded late blight hits there is a means to salvage a crop.  While there are tales of prodigious yields on potatoes, as much as 20x or 30x the weight of the seed potatoes planted, these remain for me an El Dorado.  I've been content with my 10-15x increases.  Even in a truly bad growing year I've seen 5x. Beyond their adaptability as plants, potatoes are incredibly versatile as foodstuffs.  There are so many ways to prepare and eat potatoes, and they're all delicious.  If you choose the right varieties to grow, they store very well.  They're no slouches in the nutrition department either.  As I learned in Carol Deppe's The Resilient Gardener, potatoes are also surprisingly high in both protein and vitamin C. 

Even though the urban legends about zucchini (courgettes for you British - or French - types) being left on doorsteps in the dead of night are legion, it still makes my top five list.  Mind you, you only need one zucchini plant if your family members number four or less.  Zucchini is incredibly productive, so growing too many plants is a recipe for stress if not trauma.  I love growing zucchini because it is just such an exuberant plant.  It doesn't ask much, and if you get a bush variety, it won't even take up that much space.  My plant always gets powdery mildew, and eventually, squash bugs.  But it carries on gallantly, producing until mid-summer.  Frankly, by then I'm quite content to let it go and move on to eating other crops.  Until that point there are just so many wonderful uses for zucchini: stir-fries, grilling, bi bim bap, and of course, morning glory muffins, zucchini bread, and chocolate cake.

So what about you?  What are your favorite crops to grow in your garden?

16 comments:

Allison at Novice Life said...

I love to grow garlic too!

Potatos and 'maters of course and I like to have a bean (this year it is yellow wax beans and KY Pole Beans) and Cuc's. Gotta have the cucumbers for pickels!

Bryant Cutler said...

My family likes to grow the "staple" crops like: Corn, Green beans, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Lettuce, Squash (several varieties), Melons (several varieties, and potatoes...

But we also like to raise, or try to raise, berries, grapes, and fruit trees. We have also planted some asparagus that is doing fairly good this year! We are originally from Iowa, and up there, you can drive around in the countryside and pick asparagus to your hearts content out of the ditches! It's wild! :)

My family loves sauteed asparagus.

My sister has also grown a herb garden the last several years,and enjoys drying them and we use them all the time in our cooking. She is actually drying some new herbs from this year in the dehydrator (that's a first time deal).

WOW this post is gettin long :/

Guess i'll have to quit!

Bryant - Foristell, Missouri

Alexis E. said...

I'm glad to see I have four of the items on your list. We haven't found a spot to grow asparagus yet, but we hope to this year!

teekaroo said...

In my cold climate, my favorites are things that actually produce. Potatoes have done well and turnips. I have to say that i did not get my fill of zucchini last year and I fell in love with a summer squash named one ball.
I do want to try garlic someday.

Chris said...

Although we're a family of two, I put in at least half a dozen zucchini plants -- more if possible. Zucchini blossoms are wonderful in pastas and frittatas, on tostadas, and even better stuffed with a little mozzarella, breaded, and fried in olive oil. But the only way you'll have enough blossoms is to have way too many zucchini plants. Just pick them daily or you'll be tossing those famous baseball bat squashes into open car windows.

Melinda said...

Right - potatoes - I forgot to add that to my list!

You know, I have in the past had zucchini right up there, but in the northwest we've had such mediocre summers the last 2 years, that they haven't produced much. I have higher hopes this year!

Daisy said...

My number one has to be sweet corn, hands down. I think if I had just a tiny little plot, I would probably fill it with sweet corn. For me there's nothing like really fresh corn picked, shucked and thrown right in the pot. We've made entire meals of it. Even the stuff I have in my freezer from last year is still awesome.
My number two would have to be spinach. Love the stuff in almost anything, especially eggs, pasta and on sandwiches.
Number three is cabbage. We make our own kraut and there never seems to be enough. Last year I think we ended up with something like 77 lbs of it and it still wasn't enough, so I've got an entire flat of cabbage seedlings wating to go in the garden. Plus there is a very informal kraut competition around these parts and I want the crown! :)

Marie said...

1. Culinary herbs. 2. Garlic. 3. Tomatoes. Mostly heirlooms, in a variety of different colors and sizes. 4. Lettuce – all shapes and colors. I love using all sorts in a salad. 5. Varies from year to year: Japanese cucumbers, sweet peppers, green beans, zucchini, beets. Last year a grew 6 stalks of strawberry popcorn, so that may be the new favorite.

Cher said...

Our Fav's would have to be 1. Onions I love that I can plant some in the fall and they are there for me first thing in the spring. We go through at least 500 if not more home grown onions a year. 2. Tomatoes 25 plants at least. 3. Bell Pepper's about the same amount as the Tomatoes
4. Cucumbers, 5. Pop Corn, 6. Herbs for cooking with.

We use a lot of salsa/Tomatoe sauce throughout the year and my kids love pickles and pop corn for snacks.

I didn't realize Potato's are a source of protien. Thanks so much for the info! I always learn something new when I come here :)

Hazel said...

Ooo, tricky! My top 5 changes all the time, but would probably include:

Tomatoes- we eat masses of tomatoes, fresh, dried, canned, chutney- d. I'm not sure I could ever grow too many!

Beans- a few Runner beans because I'm English and that's what English people grow in their vegetable gardens, some Broad (? Fava) beans, and French Beans. I'm experimenting this year with borlotti and Jacob's cattle beans. (Tried borlotti beans last year, but had poor germination, as did a friend who bought the same brand. Different brand this year!)

Potatoes- I get carried away with tomato, squash and potato varieties! Red, white and blue varieties this year...

Squash- I don't think I have the genetic predisposition to appreciate squash, but I'm teaching the family to love (and eat) it more. I do like it, it's just not the first thing I think to cook with. It grows and stores so well though, we need to eat more! Can I cheat and include courgette/zucchini in this section?! Courgette soup is a (delicious)late summer staple and uses up masses of fruits (Grate as many courgettes as you want and stew gently in butter. When soft and pan full of liquid season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and puree. That's it; no liquid and I tried it once with garlic and- amazingly- it's better without), plus the flower fritters etc etc...

Lastly, probably salad leaves, because I love just going outside to pick some for tea... Or maybe asparagus because it's a perennial. Or sweetcorn, because it does taste so much better just-picked. But then so do peas. Carrots are so versatile. Then kale is so good in the hungry gap... No, definitely it's got to be salad. Because it just keeps going, will start early in the year under a cloche, can be cooked as well as eaten raw and is a perfect sandwich filler when there are no cucumbers or tomatoes yet and we're sick of grated carrot and whatever sandwiches!

Hazel said...

I wrote a comment yesterday, and I thought I'd got Blogger to accept it, but obviously not.

I did start by saying that my top 5 would change from day to day, and I think they probably are different today. It depends on what I should grow because it's the sensible choice (potatoes, squash) and what are fun to grow, and just delicious, though perhaps not so heavy cropping (asparagus, peas). So:

Tomatoes- definitely. I love the varieties and my family could eat tomatoes every day; fresh, canned, dried. I haven't bought tomatoes for sandwiches over the winter this year (lots of grated carrot instead!), and I'm sooo looking forward to tomato season!

Squash- if I cheat slightly and include winter and summer squash, this makes up a big chunk of my garden. We don't have the genetic predisposition (or historical inclination, whichever you prefer) to eat winter squash, but I am increasing the amount my family eat. It grows well, and stores well without processing, so it ought to become a larger part of our diet. Courgettes I love and use them in all sorts of things, often grated so that DH (who uses 'courgette' as a synonym for 'pointless') doesn't get too fed up of them. He does, however, like my courgette soup, which also happens to be a way of using up large quantities of fruit. It does work with bigger ones, but if they're so large you have to peel them, the soup won't have as much flavour.
Grate courgettes (zucchini) and stew gently in butter with a little salt. When softened and liquid-y, puree and season to taste with pepper and nutmeg. That's it- no liquid added at all. It tastes as though cream has been added. I've tried 'improving' it with garlic, etc, and it's better without.

Lettuce/salad- I grow a lot of cut and come again salad leaves, and a few hearting lettuces. The CCA can be squeezed into all sorts of corners, come up early under a cloche when you're desperate for something fresh and green, can be grown well into the autumn and can be cooked as well as eaten raw. Love it.

Beans- I grow French and a few Runner beans, because that's what English people grow on their allotments, and I'm also adding more Borlotti type beans to the plot, for storing dry. We're not huge Broad (Fava) bean fans, but grow a few for eating fresh when they're very small and some for drying. I actually prefer the tops (Green Velvet Soup) I think.

Finally- I should put potatoes, but despite the fact I appreciate the yield, and that along with squash and tomatoes these are the varieties that I get excited about (purple potatoes this year!) I'm going for rhubarb. Bit of manure in the autumn and it just shows up early every spring. I force one plant on rotation to get early bright pink stems. It gives us crumbles, compotes, jam and probably most importantly, leathers for DD2 to take to school! A bit like asparagus, it's there when you need it- just as the apples are getting too withered to eat the shoots appear. And the leaves add much needed greens to my allotment compost heap. Wonderful!

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I'll go with:
Mint, because it grows itself.
Tomatoes, because they're better than any we buy.
Winter squash, because it grows up the trees and keeps for a year.
Collards, because they're our favorite to eat.
Kale, because it keeps on giving all winter.

Dmarie said...

*totally agree on asparagus...so welcome after winter
*zucchini--versatile, prolific
*now love kale...producing both spring and fall. who'd have thought kale chips would be delish?!
*sweet potatoes, yummy vitamins
*rounding out the top five: spinach!
When I was younger, excepting sweet potatoes, I never, EVER thought I'd be listing these veggies!!

Regina said...

my favorite in my little garden are zucchini,lettuce,runner beans,salad cucumbers,cabbage and broccoli.
your blog is wonderful!!
greetings from germany,
regina

Kate said...

Sorry that the glitch with blogger ate up so many of your comments. It wasn't me editing anyone, really! I'm reproducing them here from my email notifications. And Hazel, bless you, you reproduced your own very credibly!

Melinda said...Right - potatoes - I forgot to add that to my list!

You know, I have in the past had zucchini right up there, but in the northwest we've had such mediocre summers the last 2 years, that they haven't produced much. I have higher hopes this year!

Daisy said...My number one has to be sweet corn, hands down. I think if I had just a tiny little plot, I would probably fill it with sweet corn. For me there's nothing like really fresh corn picked, shucked and thrown right in the pot. We've made entire meals of it. Even the stuff I have in my freezer from last year is still awesome.
My number two would have to be spinach. Love the stuff in almost anything, especially eggs, pasta and on sandwiches.
Number three is cabbage. We make our own kraut and there never seems to be enough. Last year I think we ended up with something like 77 lbs of it and it still wasn't enough, so I've got an entire flat of cabbage seedlings wating to go in the garden. Plus there is a very informal kraut competition around these parts and I want the crown! :)

Marie said...1. Culinary herbs. 2. Garlic. 3. Tomatoes. Mostly heirlooms, in a variety of different colors and sizes. 4. Lettuce – all shapes and colors. I love using all sorts in a salad. 5. Varies from year to year: Japanese cucumbers, sweet peppers, green beans, zucchini, beets. Last year a grew 6 stalks of strawberry popcorn, so that may be the new favorite.

Cher said...Our Fav's would have to be 1. Onions I love that I can plant some in the fall and they are there for me first thing in the spring. We go through at least 500 if not more home grown onions a year. 2. Tomatoes 25 plants at least. 3. Bell Pepper's about the same amount as the Tomatoes
4. Cucumbers, 5. Pop Corn, 6. Herbs for cooking with.

We use a lot of salsa/Tomatoe sauce throughout the year and my kids love pickles and pop corn for snacks.

I didn't realize Potato's are a source of protien. Thanks so much for the info! I always learn something new when I come here :)



Me again: thanks to all of you who chimed in with you favorites. It's always good to hear what goes on and what works well in someone else's garden

sissyjane said...

I made garlic scape pesto this year! It is so good. I have a whole bag of frozen cubes in store for the year, but I may need more to make it!