In the Garden:
Try cool-season Asian greens, like leaf radishes, to add flavor and nutrition to your meals.
The Flourishing Fall Garden
Sure, the summer vegetables -- the corn, tomatoes, squash, beans, and cucumbers -- are what most entice us, but the true season for fresh, local produce is oh so short. Fortunately, there are two other seasons -- spring and fall -- that offer fresh-from-the-garden flavor and lots of nutritional benefits, too. In late summer, I wrote about extending the garden season, giving ideas for various crops as well as how to protect them from chilly weather. That should have been enough devoted to the subject, but the yummy goodness pouring forth from my fall garden inspires me to tell you more.
The surprise hit of the fall garden this year is leaf radishes, that is, specific varieties of radishes that are selected and grown for their leaves, not their roots. They are a traditional Asian vegetable, just one of many Asian greens that readily grow in cooler weather. The variety I grew was 'Hybrid Four Season'. The plants are vigorous, with dark green leaves growing to 15 inches or so tall but remaining very tender and delicious. Harvesting started about 30 days after planting. By using the outer leaves, the plants continue to produce new growth. Although the leaves can be used in stir-fries or kimchee, I've mainly used them in salads.
For seeds of leaf radishes and other Asian vegetables, two of my favorite sources are Evergreen Seeds, http://www.evergreenseeds.com, and Kitazawa Seeds, http://www.kitazawaseed.com. Of all the reference books on Asian vegetables, the one that I turn to most often is Joy Larkcom's Oriental Vegetables: The Complete Guide for Gardening Cook (Kodansha America, revised edition 2008, $19.95).
Some people anxiously await the first tomato in summer, but, for me, one of the glories of the garden are the little round, white Asian turnips. Bear in mind that these 2-inch gems are a far cry from the softball-size, strongly flavored turnips most familiar to Western gardeners. (For the record, I like those, too, but they're a whole different vegetable taste-wise.) I was only able to compare several varieties this year, and didn't get them thinned, but the clear winner of this limited test was the variety 'Hakurei', from Park Seed, http://wwww.parkseed.com. The mild, sweet flavor is great both eaten raw or cooked. The greens are very good as well. 'Oasis' was a close runner-up. Although 'Tokyo Cross' and 'Tokyo Market' are the most widely available of this type of turnip and very good choices as well. Experiment!
Also known as Chinese or celery cabbage, the tender, sweet, cylindrical heads of napa cabbage originated in China, with the earliest record in Chinese literature being in the fifth century A. D. Napa cabbage is another one of my favorite foods, but I had not grown it for years, mainly because I vaguely recall having problems. Since it is difficult to find organically grown in my local grocery, I decided to take the plunge this year.
As many varieties produce fairly large heads, weighing five pounds or more, one of my goals was to choose varieties that produced a more reasonable size for a one-person household. I selected four varieties: 'Kasumi', 'One Kilo', 'Qingdao 65', and 'Tender Heart'. The seeds were started in flats in late July and transplanted to the garden in mid-August. During drought periods, the area was watered. The biggest problem was cabbage worms. These have required repeated dustings with a Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) powder, even in mid-October. All four varieties have grown well, with 'Tender Heart' being the first ready for harvest and producing compact heads about two pounds in size.
Although it's too late to plant any of these or other cool-season crops, like lettuce, spinach, kale, and peas, this fall, visit your local farmer's market to buy some and think about growing your favorites in the early garden next spring. Having three seasons of fresh, flavorful harvest from the garden will make it easier than ever to eat lots of vegetables every day.
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