There are more and more old heirloom seeds available today, and the selection is nothing short of incredible. Growing your own food affords you many more options than you will ever find at the grocery store. In the garden or on the plate, the diversity allows for so much creativity and choice.
The value in growing your own food is incredible on your wallet as well! Fresh is best and it doesn’t get any fresher than growing your own. The following are a collection of some old favourites and some new varieties we are looking forward to trying.
Greens: One of Our Favourites
Arugula, also known as rocket, is always part of our garden as we love the spicy greens in salads and pastas. Wild arugula, a perennial, offers a more peppery flavour and crunch. This year we will try the wild arugula called Dragon’s Tongue. It has beautiful red veins running through the green leaf.
Kale is very tasty and is easy to grow. Kale is both ornamental and edible, and is very nutritious. Dinosaur, or Lacinato kale, is an Italian heirloom and is a customer favourite.
Fizz is a new variety for us this year. The plant is a more open, lower growing plant with flat, cut grey leaves. It is a very good salad variety when picked young.
Lettuce is expensive in the stores, and you can grow your own gourmet greens for much less. Lettuce that you’ve cut just before eating is one of the best things you can sink your teeth into. In only three to four weeks after planting, you can begin eating baby leaves. Each seeding will provide about five cuttings and then it will be time to re-seed.
Mesclun salad mixes offer an instant cutting salad. An heirloom mix has varieties with mouth-watering names like Troutback, Blush Butter, and Red Ruffled Oak. Use lettuces as ground covers and underplantings in both the garden and containers. They offer great colour and texture, and are beautiful and edible!
Spinach is often grown in the veggie patch. Classic varieties perform well in the early spring or late fall. The tropical climber Malabar spinach is an heirloom from Central America. This variety does very well in the heat of summer. Harvest from the plant right through summer into fall. Because it climbs, it does need support for four to five feet.
Now for a Little Crunch
The Cucumber: A delicious and unusual cuke that produces apple-sized, yellow gems is the Lemon Cucumber, a pretty vining plant that needs four to five feet of support. It’s the perfect size for a salad for two. And so is the Cucamelon (Mexican Mouse Melon), a tiny cucumber the size of the end of your thumb that looks like a miniature watermelon. This climbing vine is fun for anyone, perfect for salads, pickling and snacking!
Radishes: If you have not tried the Watermelon Radish, you must, for colour alone. It is also refreshing, mild and unique. Its deceiving white skin hides the pretty pink flesh that really pops on the plate! Another rare radish is the Rat’s Tail Radish. Unlike its cousins, this radish doesn’t grow below the ground. It is the ripened seed head on the plant.
Brussels Sprouts are little wonders that add great flavour to foods. Green ones are wonderful, but this year we look forward to trying Red Ball, not only for the red colour, but because this variety is known for setting the sprouts more easily.
What Else Is “New”?
The Goji berry, native to the Himalayas, has been tested successfully in our climate. It becomes a prolific fruiting shrub, approximately 3.5 feet in diameter. The Goji is known for its health and nutritional properties. It can be eaten fresh off the plant or dried for storage.
Edible Flowers: Beautiful and incredible edibles must include edible flowers. Introduce edible flowers as pollinators that benefit the whole garden. Nasturtiums, calendula and borage are great varieties to grow for adding to salads or to use as edible decoration.
There any so many incredible edibles! Make your summer experience more incredible and grow some food and enjoy the diversity that is now upon us.
Rick Weingarden and Allan Watts own Anything Grows SEED Co. (www.anythinggrows.com). They can be found at the Western Fair Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market on Saturdays, and at various gardening events around the region.