Wednesday, January 13, 2010

there's a hole in my bucket

...matches the one in my head, as in "I needed that like." Winter is not my favorite season, and I chose to live in a place with vast strings of 100+ days and no rain for months on end in exchange for not having to deal with much of that horrible below-freezing stuff. Sigh. But the recent record-breaking cold does have one benefit, looked at from the right angle: empty planters.

And I haven't sent in my seed orders yet.

The garden budget hasn't recovered from last year's excesses yet, so I really did try to keep myself within reasonable bounds. Tried. Failure has not yet been declared, but the year's still young. We'll see.

The focus was on filling in spaces in my collection, plus a few new-to-me leafy things and a great many multiple-harvest crops. (Okay, maybe a few flowers and some groundcover for the apartment grounds, but I mostly grow vegetables and herbs, with the odd grapevine for the fun of it.) That last category has me feeling like there's a great big hole in my learning, and it doesn't seem like there's any convenient well of knowledge from which to draw.

Here's the question in a nutshell:

For my zone and growing conditions, what sweet potato variety will produce the most succulent, tender leaves?

I'm utterly and completely fascinated by all the things I have grown before but didn't know I could eat. Last year, I was a worse garden pest than the locusts so far as the sweet potatoes were concerned, harvesting so many leaves and vine-tips it's a wonder I dug up any tubers at all (hey, the tubers are cheap at the store, and not too bad even at the farmer's market. The greens are hard to buy! No contest, not once I'd tasted them). This year, I want to play with a bunch of things like that, and there's a wealth of possibilities. Radish greens I already eat, carrot I'm not too fond of, but squash? I knew about the blossoms, but the leaves, too, can be eaten.

Why did no one tell me?

Are all squash leaves edible, or only some? If not all, how do I tell?

How do I pick a proper variety for my region and needs, considering the fruits, flowers, and leaves?

Clone that frustrated query-set for beans (the leaves arguably have more nutritional value than the parts we harvest), peas, tomatoes (do the leaves of heirloom tomatoes have more tomatine? Do romas have drier leaves? etc.), etc. Seed catalogues are no help at all when it comes to these--though I did see a passing mention to beet greens as a "bonus" harvest. But as to which variety might have the least bitter, tenderest, most heat-resistant leaf? Not a word.

So I'm making some more or less random selections, though I have decided one thing: I am not buying the snow pea variety listed as nearly leafless. Snow pea tendrils have begun to appear on local-food menus in season, and I'm a big fan--but the leaves are sometimes the best part! Also, if the vines have few leaves, doesn't that mean they need to keep them all?

Speaking of things I need like a hole in the head. Where on earth am I going to put more climbers? Guess I should add some more round tomato cages to the list, since they can be fitted into the inevitable buckets.

Oh, how I long for spring! Green sprouts promising more varied crops to come, migrating worms, and warm enough temperatures that the curing buckets don't have to stay in the kitchen, in an ever-increasing and increasingly alarming tower structure. How much more winter is there?


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