Raspberry Shortcake Dwarf Thornless Red Raspberry2
It’s not too early to start thinking about plants you might want to grow next season. If you look out over this year’s garden area, consider what did well and what you might like to do differently. Most seed catalogs have already gone to print and you’ll start receiving the first ones right after Christmas. Here are a few unusual or so-called “new” plants you might want to try. I’ve had experience growing all of them in Missouri, and I can recommend each one as worthy of including in the garden.
Raspberry Shortcake Dwarf Thornless Red Raspberry (Rubus idaeus ‘NR7’)
Plant breeders have developed a dwarf, thornless red raspberry you can grow right on your deck. It produces a good crop of berries the second year and is carefree and easy. Look for it in local garden centers and nurseries under the tradename Raspberry Shortcake from the BrazelBerries collection. Already fruiting-sized plants in 2-or 3-gallon pots will cost around $20. The plants are hardy and will give you years of berry production right on your patio or deck.
Scorzonera or Black Salsify (Scorzonera hispanica)
Black salsify is similar to the white salsify I grew up eating from my parents’ garden in Central Missouri. Also known as oyster plant or vegetable oyster, this slender parsnip-like root crop can be planted from seed in early spring for a summer or fall harvest. It prefers deep, sandy soil but it even grows well in my rocky Ozarks garden and easily produces an abundance of tasty roots for any dish where you would use oysters or parsnips. White salsify requires a longer growing season, but the black Spanish scorzonera can be harvested in about four months from planting and will remain good in the ground all winter.
Wasabi Arugula (Eruca sativa ssp. vesicaria ‘Wasabi’)
Wasabi arugula is a great seasoning herb that is excellent freshly chopped and sprinkled over any dish where you want a wasabi kick. I’m not fond of arugula as a salad green, but the wasabi version is outstanding. Plant it from seed at the same time you plant lettuce in the spring and continue to harvest through the summer for a continuous supply.
Bulbing Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum)
There are two main kinds of fennel: bulbing fennel, which is also referred to as finocchio or Florence fennel, and leaf fennel. Bulbing fennel plants are somewhat shorter and smaller than their leafy cousins. The swollen base of the plant, known as the “bulb” is eaten as a vegetable (steamed or roasted). To grow good fennel bulbs, start the plants from seed indoors in early spring about six weeks before your last frost date. Transplant the seedlings into average garden soil and keep their area weed free. In about two months, when the bulbs are as large across as your hand, they are ready to harvest. Select a variety such as ‘Di Firenze’, ‘Zefa Fino’ or ‘Orion’. The bulbs should be harvested before the plants begin to flower; after flowering they will become tough and lose their flavor. You can also harvest the bulbs and keep them refrigerated for several weeks.
Green Malabar Vining Spinach (Basella alba)
There is a red Malabar spinach (Basella rubra) with red stems that’s easy to grow, but I’ve never enjoyed the flavor. Green Malabar, sometimes called Ceylon spinach, has better flavor and produces an abundance of leaves and young vine tips for cooking. The flavor is best if you don’t overcook the plant. If you cook it too long, it gets gummy. The seed is slow to germinate, taking up to three weeks, so start it indoors in March for transplanting into the garden when you plant tomatoes. You can also easily start this from cuttings if you know someone who has the plant. While this is a heat-hardy tropical vine, the best flavor is achieved by growing it in the ground and keeping the young growing tips and leaves clipped for use. If you don’t have room to do that, it vines easily and withstands difficult summer heat and drought.
Green Malabar vining spinach1
Yellow Radishes (Raphanus sativus cultivars)
I often have difficulty growing radishes in my garden in spring. It’s a bit embarrassing since radishes are about the easiest crops anyone can grow. Even children are successful with this vegetable! But either climate issues or micronutrients cause my radishes to get blazingly hot before they’re big enough to pull. No matter which variety I’ve tried – and I have tried everything on the market – my radishes fail every year. That was until I found the old heirloom variety, ‘Yellow Radish’. Large or small, planted in March or May, these give me a reliable crop of sweet, tasty radishes every year. A yellow radish called ‘Helios’ is sold by Baker Creek Seeds in Mansfield.
1. Photo by Jim Long
2. Photo courtesy of Monrovia
From Missouri Gardener Volume IV Issue I.