Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
December, 2009
Regional Report

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The loose leaves of radiccio are excellent in Asian cooking.

Greens for Good Health

I have been thoroughly enjoying my greens this fall. We had a very early first freeze, followed by an unusually long, cool fall which is the perfect weather for growing greens. Most of the heartier greens such as kale and Swiss chard are actually sweetened by frost. I've had kale on my table for six weeks, and I still have it standing strong in the garden even though we just had a 20-degree night.

Greens of all sorts are so good for you nutritionally, and they are the best plants to bracket the growing season with since they are so cold-tolerant. They also make great cold frame crops. Most are easy to grow, and only need moderately fertile, well-drained soil and full to partial sun. Here are some of my favorites.

Bok Choy
This tender Asian green is also called pak choi or spoon cabbage. It is a delicately cabbage-flavored green with edible leaves and succulent, tasty stems. Both parts of the plant are delicious in stir fries and raw in salads. Baby bok choy is also quite popular -- you simply cut the entire plant for dinner.

Redbor with maroon crinkled leaves and 'Laciniato' (dragon kale) are my favorites. Both of these plants take off in spring, when you can harvest the young leaves. They start getting large and spectacular as the weather warms, and then when the frost nips them, they get sweet and delicious again. They make a dramatic statement in the ornamental garden with the added bonus of being able to saute them for noodle dishes or chop to go into soups and stews.

I've never had great luck growing the heading type of radiccio, but this year I grew the loose leaf type inadvertently in a mesclun mix. These beautiful deep red leaves are still going strong, and add a wonderful bitter bite to salads. Surprisingly, the leaves are also delicious sauteed with garlic.

This large, leafy green is related to turnips, and is also called spinach mustard. The shiny leaves taste like spinach when harvested young and can be used fresh in salads or steamed for a side dish. As the leaves mature, they become more bitter, and make a great addition to garlicky stir-fries. I love growing this green because it has a long season and if allowed to bloom, it will reseed itself in the fall.

One of my favorite Asian greens is mizuna. This dark green feathery vegetable has tender juicy stems and peppery-tasting leaves. I grow this in my early spring salad mixes, and then let it mature for additions to noodle dishes. It just wants to be sauteed with garlic and oil for a delicious dish.

I always grow mustard, if for no reason than it seeds itself in my garden and seems to always be there. I love this in a plant. Red mustard is beautiful for ornament, and the frilly green mustards are absolutely delicious when steamed as a side dish.

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