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2016 Garden Plans: Bed 4 – Oriental Garden

In 2010, we did an Asian garden and in 2013 we did an Indian (Asia) garden. This year we wanted to reprise the theme while focusing on specifically southeast Asian / Chinese / Japanese vegetables.

24878251276_fde2893c4dAs you can see, we have yet another garden with lots of different varieties and lots of complexity going on. Many oriental vegetables are cool season, which means they are either planted in the spring or fall (or both), which allows us to try many more varieties in one growing season.

1-5. We have a selection of herbs common in Asian cooking. FYI – Flowering Chinese Leek is just another name for Garlic Chives!

6. ‘Ladyfinger’ Okra is supposed to be smooth and tender even at larger sizes.

7. ‘Round Purple’ Eggplant is just that – a round, purple variety.

8. ‘Choryoku’ Eggplant is a long, narrow green variety.

9. ‘Fushimi’ pepper is a thin-skinned sweet Japanese pepper.

10. Winged bean is a variety that produces pea-like pods but with winged edges. It’s hard to describe, so you’ll just have to wait and see it!

11. ‘Tokita Scarlet’ Carrot is a red carrot variety.

12. ‘Hybrid Fuji’ kohrabi is a large, green variety.

13. ‘Hakurei’ Turnip is a white, salad-type turnip that is good for eating raw.

14. ‘Summer Top’ Cucumber is a burpless, oriental variety that produced 9-10″ long cucumbers and has good disease resistance.

15. ‘Purple Red Mart’ Long Bean is a long bean that will grow on a trellis and produce 15-18″ beans that are purple in color. We were especially interested in this variety because they are supposed to turn black when cooked. Yum!

16-18. Mizuna and Mustards – the mizuna is purple-veined to purple leaved (not pure seed lot) and the mustards are very finely frilled varieties that are a bit spicy and good for salads.

19. ‘Dok Hybrid’ Luffa is a luffa gourd that can also be eaten like a zucchini at the immature stage.

20. ‘Hybrid Golden Honey’ Melon is a yellow-skinned melon with floral white flesh.

21. ‘Green Lance’ Chinese Broccoli is not a head forming type of broccoli, but rather one that has lots of smaller shoots.

While it may seem like there are some strange things in this garden, many of them are similar to other plants we have grown in the past, so I’m pretty confident in their productivity. I will be honest that I’m already plotting what recipes I can try with all these vegetables though!


2014 Garden Plans: Bed 4 – A Taste of India

I told you it got crazier, didn’t I? That said, I’m really excited about this garden! I love trying new things, and although they could totally flop, it is what keeps the garden exciting.

Bed 4 (2)One of the best things about planning for this garden is that I really wanted us to use Indian varieties, not just vegetables that are used in Indian cooking. It’s one thing to say, “They eat cucumbers in India, so let’s just plant any old cucumber variety.” It’s something different to plant a variety from India. So, when I started researching before our committee meeting, I was ecstatic to find a seed company selling Indian varieties in the U.S. – Seeds of India! The vast majority of our plants and seeds will come from them.

Before we discuss the specific things we decided to plant, I thought it might be helpful for you to see a list of the vegetables, herbs, and spices that were under consideration:

Indian Vegetables (2)You can see how it might be possible to have an “Indian” garden that didn’t seem very Indian at all, if we weren’t careful. This is by no means a comprehensive list – there are a number of other things that I didn’t include on the list, in some cases because I wasn’t sure what they were or where to find the seeds. Here’s a good guide to Indian vegetables.

So, the things we did choose to plant:

Curry Leaf – this is a tropical plant (can’t handle temps below 55!). It is almost like the bay leaf of Indian cuisine. A lot of traditional curry recipes call for curry leaf, so I’m excited to try growing it as an annual.

Cumin – This plant grows a lot like dill, with the umbels of flowers (pink!) that then produce seeds.

‘Kesar’ Carrot – This carrot is red, high in lycopene, and the Days to Maturity was listed at 120 days. We decided to plant some of the ‘Samurai Red’ carrots (60 days) as well, just in case the ‘Kesar’ variety doesn’t make it through the hot summer. We may plant a second crop of carrots in the fall.

‘Dulhan’ pepper is shaped like a tomato and is supposed to taste like a sweet pepper but with a hint of heat.

‘Jwala’ is a hot pepper that is reputed to be the most popular hot pepper in India. It looks a lot like a cayenne pepper to me, but it’s hard to tell until you can compare side by side.

On the first trellis we will have edible gourds – one snake gourd and one bitter gourd (aka bitter melon).

‘King Cobra’ snake gourd is supposed to have long, white speckled fruit that look like snakes. The gourd is low in calories and can be cooked in a variety of ways.

‘Tagore’ bitter gourd (or bitter melon) is an Indian-type  gourd with a mild bitter flavor and more rounded tubercles, compared to some of the more pointed types.

For the cucumbers, we chose ‘Poona Kheera’ (aka Puneri) and ‘Sambar.’ Poona Kheera is a salad cucumber that is white when young and turns russetty brown as it gets bigger. It is supposed to thrive in hot, arid climates. (Watch us be cool and wet this year!) ‘Sambar’ is listed as a cooking type cucumber for use in curries and stews. It is yellow with brown blotches on the skin.

Underneath the two trellises, we will plant the ‘Sagar’ spinach and ‘Basanti’ mustard greens. I have no idea if they will be different in any way from other spinach and mustard greens, but we’ll find out!

Legumes are a staple of Indian food, and so we wanted to try growing some, even though we don’t have enough space to get a great yield. The ‘Black Kabouli’ chickpeas have black/dark purple seed coats, rather than the typical brown. Black hummus, anyone? Chickpeas typically like slightly cooler summers, so I don’t know how well they will do here. Cowpeas are a traditional Southern vegetable, although the Green cowpeas are an Indian variety. Cowpeas typically do fine here.

All told, this garden could be spectacular and exciting or a source of a lot of stress this summer!


Baby Long Beans!

Remember that I told you last Friday that our beautiful Chinese long bean flowers would be turning into baby long beans this week? They are even bigger than I expected by today! (Okay, so they probably were there already on Friday, just tiny enough that I didn’t notice them.)

The “baby” long beans certainly don’t look very baby when you think about the size of a regular green bean! These are two Chinese Red Noodle Long Beans, and they are going to be that beautiful, dusky red-purple color, even as they get bigger. They will turn green with cooking, but they are fun to look at until that point. These beans are already about 6 to 8″ long, and they will probably be at least double that size when we harvest them.

I’ll have to add that to my list of things to do – finding a good recipe or two for using Chinese Long Beans!

Speaking of recipes, I did actually post the handout from last Friday’s Lunch in the Garden on Beets & Carrots. There’s a recipe featuring carrots, a recipe featuring beets, and the main recipe featured both carrots and beets! It was really tasty, so you definitely missed out on a tasty treat last Friday.

First Try with the Hon Tsai Tai

We gave our first shot to cooking and eating the Hon Tsai Tai tonight. Honestly…not so impressed. However, I think I know how to rectify the problem for next time.

I cut the bottom 3-4 inches off the stems, because I’d read on a couple other sites that the stems can be extremely woody. Then I just chopped the entire thing…leaves, stems. and flowers into 1-1 1/2 inch pieces.

Let me pause for a minute and say that even if I never figure out how to cook this stuff the right way, the purple stems, green leaves, and yellow flowers make it pretty enough to just throw in a vase and forget about the edible part.

Next I mixed up the sauce for the dish. Most of the recipes I had found recommended stir-frying in oil with some combination of Asian seasonings. Since we like Asian food, we have hoisin sauce, dark soy sauce, and sesame oil on hand. I mixed up a little hoisin, a little dark soy, a little sesame oil, some ginger, and some garlic powder (I was too lazy to chop fresh ginger and garlic for this).

After heating the pan with a little oil, I tossed in the chopped Hon Tsai Tai and gave it a dash of salt and pepper. After it was partially cooked, I added the sauce to finish the cooking. It definitely looked and smelled very tasty, even if that was just the tasty sauce talking. I will admit, I probably over-did it with the sauce. It pretty much overpowered the flavor of the veggies. But you know, I’m not much different from anyone else trying something new. I’m afraid that it’s going to be distasteful, so I slather it in something I know I do like!

So…unfortunately, the consensus was that we harvested it too late. The larger stalks were like chewing on logs, and the smaller stems were like crunchy, fibrous twigs. Occasionally we would find a stalk that was tender, and the flower parts were fairly tasty – what we could taste underneath the sauce.

The matter of harvesting past the ideal stage is really my fault. In the back of my head I knew that they should be harvested younger, but my desire to get a decent yield convinced me to let the stalks get bigger. The plants just aren’t as big as I thought they would be, and they aren’t producing many good sized stalks. I’ll try harvesting some more tender shoots and cook them again (maybe with less sauce!). My conclusion may be that if you want to grow Broccoli Raab, you should grow an Italian variety. It might also be the case that the plants would be bigger and more productive grown in the fall rather than the spring.

Speaking of spring…We’ve recorded another 1.3 inches of rain in the last 36 hours. I’m going to go console myself with strawberries.