by Emily Cates
Part 2 of 2
Okra. Artichokes. Celery. Squash. Melons. How do these wonderful words make you feel? Do you imagine yourself with a scrumptious bowl of gumbo, a savory dip, a crunchy snack, a versatile side dish, or an ambrosial dessert? All of these mouth-watering dishes can be made from ingredients grown in your very own garden. With a little care, these veggies can bring much delight to your dinner table. In this article, we will conclude our short series on warm-weather plants that would be happy to grow in the garden now, looking at a few helpful hints and suggested varieties mentioned at the intro.
Let’s start off by taking a peek at okra. These good-looking plants with their lovely flowers are reminiscent of hollyhocks, rose-of-Sharon, mallow, and hibiscus. Some varieties are knee-high, while others reach a few feet higher toward the sky. They are cultivated for their cowhorn-shaped green seed pods which are harvested when about thumb-sized. These pods cook up slimy, but are beloved by many folks as the ingredient that makes legendary soups, and for their high nutrient content. Okra likes hot weather, moisture, plenty of room (planted 2′ or so between plants), and a loamy, weed-free soil with well-rotted manure mixed in. Named cultivars worth trying include ‘Clemson Spineless,’ ‘Star of David,’ and ‘Red Burgundy’- which sports beautiful red-hued pods. Start indoors in peat pots and set out four to five weeks later, after all danger of frost has passed – or direct seed into warm soil.
Artichokes are actually a kind of thistle whose unopened flower buds are harvested and prepared as food. Their cultivation results in a tasty treat for the veggie connoisseur. If you’re new to them and wonder how to prepare, cook, and eat them, here’s a helpful link: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_cook_and_eat_an_artichoke/.
Since they can be tricky to germinate, I would recommend finding a preferred source of transplants. Set out into IRT black plastic into good soil, feed heavily, and keep watered but not waterlogged. Provide lots of space, about 10sq. ft. per plant. Harvest before buds begin to open, and enjoy!
Celery is a plant that rewards the patient gardener with crisp, delightfully-flavored stalks. Some forms – such as celeriac, are grown for their fleshy root that is a European favorite in stews – and cutting celery for its bold-flavored leaves. Even the seeds are used to flavor savory dishes, especially in Eastern cuisines. Celery plants are slow to mature and might need a little extra care, but are worth growing. Start indoors in March and set outside when apple blossoms fall from the tree. Grow in rich soil, and be sure not to let the plants dry out at all at any time. Light autumn frosts are tolerated, but not any colder than that. Celery grown for its stalk will benefit from being blanched- that is, having something like plain cardboard wrapped and gently secured around the plant to keep it light-colored and mild-flavored. Look for the varieties ‘Brillant’ (celeriac), ‘Diamante’ (celeriac), ‘Par-Cel’ (cutting) and ‘Giant Red’ (a beautiful red-colored celery).
Squash, along with corn and beans, is an integral part of the “Three Sisters,” an essential trio of crops that sustained indigenous peoples in the Americas for centuries. They are highly variable and extend the whole rainbow of colors, shapes, sizes, and flavors. Some squash are completely boring, bland, and tasteless, while others are absolutely exciting, flavorful, and delicious. Grow the right ones in the right spot, and you will never forget their potential. Pumpkins, which are in essence the same as squash, are primarily grown as ornamentals and for livestock fodder in many places. However, a few pumpkin varieties make some of the best pies and pickles in all the land, and others are grown for their hull-less “naked” seeds that are delicious as a snack. Squash and pumpkins are heavy feeders and will grow very happily on a manure or compost pile. Bush types can be grown in relatively small spaces, while varieties with long, rambling vines will reach from one end of the yard to the other, and even climb trees!
They love warm weather and can be started a week or two early and set out before the second set of true leaves have appeared (be careful not to disturb the roots), or direct-seeded into warm soil. There are so many varieties to choose from, a delightful dilemma indeed. They range from delectably sweet hubbard, buttercup, and butternut varieties to more mildly-flavored summer squash and zucchini. Cultivars of note are: ‘Gele Reuzen'(pickling, possibly the same as ‘Jaune Gros de Paris’), ‘Burpee’s Butterbush’ (butternut for small spaces), Sweet Mama’ (buttercup), ‘Sweet Dumpling’ (my favorite!), ‘Zeppelin Delicata’ (another favorite!), ‘Carnival’ (beautiful, delicious acorn type), ‘Blue Hubbard’ (sweet and large), ‘Styrian'(naked seeds), ‘Long Pie Pumpkin’ (the best pies), ‘Dill’s Atlantic Giant'(giant pumpkin!), ‘Spaghetti'(spaghetti squash), ‘Benning’s Green Tint Patty Pan’ (unique scalloped good-tasting summer squash), and ‘Costata Romanesca’ (heirloom delectable large zucchini).
We’ll conclude this article by focusing on melons, ambrosia on a vine. Whether we’re growing the honeydew, cantaloupe, or other types like these, or the familiar watermelon or unfamiliar citron melon, they will all cause applause if they are a success. What else can we grow that makes us sit starry-eyed in the garden in the hot part of the day, stuffing our faces with sweet, juicy, refreshing fruits, with no regard for the juice running down our chins and onto our shirts?
Personally, I believe melons are one of the yummiest fruits you can grow. Give them full sun and similar soil as you would squash, but grow them in black plastic IRT mulch under agricultural fabric row covers to enhance success. The IRT mulch will provide additional heat units, and the row cover will protect against cucumber beetles and other pests – just be sure to uncover the plants during pollination. Like squash, they can be started early in peat pots to get a jump on the season, though direct-seeding is fine if the soil is warm. Here’s a few cultivars to look for: ‘Hannah’s Choice’ (muskmelon), ‘Golden Gopher’ (open-pollinated muskmelon), ‘Blacktail Mountain’ (watermelon for short seasons), ‘Cream of Saskatchewan’ (small fruits, cream-colored incredibly delicious flesh, thin rind, my favorite watermelon!), ‘Moon and Stars’ (unique spotted watermelon), ‘Orangeglo’ (orange-fleshed watermelon), ‘Peace’ (yellow-fleshed watermelon), ‘Sorbet Swirl’ (multicolor-fleshed watermelon), ‘Sugar Baby’ (old reliable standby, icebox-type watermelon). Citron melon is a kind of watermelon that is not sweet and is used to make candied citron. It is fairly uncommon, but you can find seeds and a recipe in the Sand Hill Preservation catalog.
Actually, most of the seeds mentioned in this article can be found there, or check out FEDCO, Johnny’s, Pinetree, Baker Creek, Territorial, or other seed companies that offer seeds for our climate. Happy planting, enjoy your garden!