It’s still too early for getting much from the garden. Does that mean that you are still doomed to eat frozen or canned veggies for another two months? Perish the thought!
Early spring vegetables
The best part of this season is asparagus. Asparagus is so coveted in our family that once it starts growing, we have to count out how many spears each person gets. Growing asparagus isn’t for everyone. It takes a good three year investment in time and garden space before you ever get your first crop. So don’t plant it if you are in the military. Or a student. Or will otherwise move around a lot. Sorry. You movers are just going to have to find some very good friends if you want to enjoy the wonderful taste of fresh asparagus. (Trust me, there’s no comparison between freshly grown asparagus and what’s sold in the stores.)
Then there’s peas and lettuce. Peas tolerate frost well, so you can plant peas as soon as the ground is workable. You will have some tasty pods by mid-May.
This year I had a whole bed of volunteer lettuce, plants that self-seeded from last year’s garden. What a pleasant surprise! Maybe it was just a fluke of our mild winter and early spring. But I think this fall I will sow a bed of lettuce in the garden and see if they come up again next spring. Won’t that be nice, to be eating salad before I’ve even planted the garden? We’ve been eating tasty fresh salads—with chopped chives and tarragon from the herb garden thrown in—for about a month now.
Jerusalem artichoke are in the sunflower family. The flowers grow on stalks 6-10′ tall. But it’s the roots (or tubers) that are the edible part.
April 2016, here are the vegetables I brought in for a salad: lettuce, bunching onion and Jerusalem artichoke.
There is this great article in Mother Earth News on perennial vegetables. (You all know, don’t you, that MEN and Backwoods Home Magazine are my two favorite magazines?) They list 10 perennial vegetables. Great news! Nine of these ten vegetables will grow even in our frigid ND climate.
Jerusalem Artichoke is one on that list that I planted last year. I will wait a couple more years before I start harvesting. But I can’t wait. If you’ve never had Jerusalem Artichoke, you are in for a pleasant treat.
I think I’ll add ground nut (because spring gives us enough greens, I like the idea of more tubers) and Good King Henry (just because I like the name)–both mentioned in this MEN article–to my list of perennial vegetables.
Bunching onions are a good perennial vegetable. Dakota Tears is an heirloom variety bred and cultivated right here in North Dakota and available from my new favorite seed source: Prairie Road Organic Seed. (Remember? I wrote about them here.) I bought some a couple months ago and have started them in the green house. I’ll be transplanting them soon into their permanent home. I’ll let you know how they turn out. (Update.)
I also want to add horseradish. OK, OK, it’s not a true vegetable. That is, not something you’d cook a whole dish of. But it grows well in this climate, it’s perennial and I like a good horseradish now and then. So that’s on my list of things to plant this year.
Is that all?
Now, let’s suppose that you haven’t planted any perennial vegetables. Are you still doomed to canned and frozen veggies? Not at all—you probably have a yard full of spring weeds just waiting to be picked.
You all know dandelion leaves are good in salads and cooked like spinach. You want to get the leaves when they are first growing and tender. After they put out flowers they aren’t so good.
And then there’s nettles. Wear gloves when you pick them so you don’t get “stung”. Once you rinse them in cold water they won’t sting you. Again, they are best when they are tender fresh shoots. They are good cooked like a spinach, seasoned with salt and lemon juice.
Be sure to try lambs quarters (also known as pig weed.) We have a whole crop of them this spring. So do you—most of us do. Try them—you may like them!
Last of all, you should try eating burdock root (also known as cockle burrs.) If you don’t have any growing in your yard, you’re welcome to come out to my place and harvest all you want. When we first moved here, I can’t tell you how many hours I spent weeding out burdock and nettles, muttering to myself “If these were cash crops, we’d be millionaires!” Well, they aren’t exactly cash crops, but they are worthwhile as food, especially because they take no effort to grow and are a welcome addition to our spring diet.
Want more information?
If you want more information on all the weeds and wild foods you can eat, you might like to visit one of these two websites: Eat the Weeds is a blog on foraging, relying on nature for food and other good things. The similarly named Eat Weeds is written by someone from Britain. It has some great recipes for burdock and other “weeds.” Locally, there’s Nature of the North. They hold workshops on foraging for food in the wild.
Last week we ate our last “fresh” winter squash. I say “fresh” because while it had never been processed (canned, frozen or dried) it has been 7½ months since I brought it in from the garden and put it in the basement. You might want to consider long-storing winter squash as another way to have fresh vegetables all winter long. I just learned that the Blue Hubbard Squash will store for as long as one year. It’s on my list of plants for next year’s garden.
Not crazy about squash? Neither was I. But it’s such a long-storing and productive garden vegetable, I decided I better learn to like it. The secret? Good recipes. So I’ve compiled a whole booklet of recipes using squash. It turns out, it’s pretty yummy and deserves a place in your garden.