I’ve started my “cool weather” garden, and have some lovely broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts (lots of those, I love them!), peas, and radishes growing. I’m so excited! Because I live in zone 9, I have a pretty long growing season, and this is the first year that I’m making a real effort at fall/winter gardening. Last year, I did a slap-dash mini-effort that failed abysmally; as I’ve said before, vegetable gardening has a steep learning curve.
I did successfully manage last year to plant and grow a couple of asparagus seeds (heirloom, of course, no GMO monsters for me, thank you very much), and they are both doing great. Asparagus is weird, though, and supposedly hard to grow (oddly, I grow that just fine, but can’t get any kind of leafy green to grow past the seedling stage–they get a few true leaves, go all long and lanky, and then die. Supposedly, any moron can grow leafy greens. Alas, not I. Yet.). Asparagus is an enormous plant, and so beautiful . . . lots of ferny green fronds that sweep down the side of the pot. Yes, I’m breaking all the rules and, for now, growing asparagus in pots (10-gallon ones, but still pots). They’re only a year old (or will be next month), and while they’re rather large, they’re not ginormous. Yet.
Anyway, asparagus (which I love) takes three years to be ready to harvest properly. You’re not supposed to touch the teensy spears that grow the first year–though I must say that my more vigorous asparagus did produce some almost-normal sized spears this year! If you don’t harvest them and just let them grow, the plant will put energy into developing deep, strong roots. The spears that do grow will eventually become more of those ferny fronds and, some time after that, flowers and/or berry-like seed pods (depending on whether your plant is male or female). According to what I’ve read online and in some gardening books, you can harvest a few spears in year two, so I can’t wait for spring to do that.
Despite taking three years to “mature,” asparagus will continue to produce spears, they say, for up to twenty (20) years. That’s one great investment in both time and money, I say. Asparagus is expensive anywhere you buy it (and will only become more so), and if you don’t buy locally, say at a farmer’s market, it’s old, stringy, hard as a rock, tasteless, and nasty. I think that’s why a lot of people don’t like it, actually. Who wants old, gross asparagus? But if that’s what you think it’s supposed to be like, of course you’d not like it.
I remember the first things that I noticed buying at the supermarket that no longer tasted or “felt” right: peaches, strawberries, and tomatoes. The peaches really got me because I used to love peaches as a child, but suddenly, they didn’t taste at all peachy and had a cardboard kind of texture that was definitely not peachy (or normal). Strawberries just didn’t taste like strawberries anymore; they looked amazing, though. Huge, bright bright red, and perfectly shaped. Every. Single. One. But they tasted like . . . the ghost of a strawberry.
And tomatoes? You know I actually forgot what tomatoes were supposed to taste like until this summer. I’m not kidding (or exaggerating, as we all know I am wont to do). Tomatoes are supposed to be not only “tomato-y” but, depending on the variety, almost sweet, certainly strongly-flavored (in a good way), and I had just . . . forgotten. For years I’d eaten supermarket tomatoes (all gorgeous, huge, perfectly shaped), and I started knowing that’s how they should be: gorgeous, huge, perfectly shaped, and utterly devoid of any flavor at all. Tomatoes aren’t like that at all. They aren’t uniform, cookie-cutter, tasteless things; they grow in all sizes (and on the same plant). Some are smaller, some not as perfectly-shaped (a couple of my cherry tomatoes, for instance, were a bit oval in shape, while others were perfectly round), and they all have a delightful, full, rich flavor. It’s really quite the revelation. If you’re not growing anything at all, try just one tomato plant next summer and see what I mean.
So I’m quite the green thumb (knock wood . . . I can use those woody, nasty things that the supermarket labels “asparagus” for that) when it comes to asparagus. The other thing that I had great success with was jalapeño peppers. Who knew? Again, these are supposed to be “temperamental” and tough to grow, but I got some seeds in an heirloom seed kit, and thought, what the heck?! Apparently, they love all the heat and humidity here. It rained and rained and rained some more all summer, to the point that I had standing water in parts of my yard. I moved an old, sturdy plastic shelf–one of those with plastic legs you stick in the bottom–from my garden storage area to that area, and put my jalapeño plant right over that standing water. They loved it! It’s a small plant in a small pot, but the thing just went nuts with kicking out the peppers.
On the not great side, I don’t really like jalapeños. Or I didn’t. I found out (online) that you can blanch some of that “hot” out of them; well, how great is that? I like some hot foods, but these are just too hot for me, so I had to find a way that I could eat them and like them. Blanching helps, then I make them into “poppers.” The simple version of which is:
Cut in half (long ways) and de-seed them (the hot is also in the seeds), blanch for about 2 mins, pile on cream cheese, put the other half on top (if you want, not necessary), and bake them at 350 for about 10 mins. The toaster oven works great for this, and you don’t have to heat up your whole oven (and kitchen) that way. There are a zillion recipes online for jalapeño poppers, but this one is easy, fast, and delicious.
So next month, I’ll be planting a few more asparagus plants and next spring/early summer, more than a few more jalapeño plants. If nothing else, at least these small successes keep my spirits up as I try to navigate the not-as-easy-as-you’d-think waters of home vegetable gardening.