Newcomers in the Garden in 2016:
A Boom or a Bust?
By Anne-Marie Miller
Every year I try to add some newcomers (things I have never grown before) to the garden. In 2016, some were a boom and some were a bust. Find out which ones you might like to add to your garden this spring.
I always like to disclose my location up front when I write an article like this because I have often been so excited about something after reading an article, just to find out that the author gardens in Oregon or California. So, here’s your heads up: I garden in Dallas, Texas where I am blessed with 2 short growing seasons separated by a hotter-than-Hell period where we take a gardening rest because we would spend more on water than we gain in veggies. However, this first veggie I will recommend didn’t rest during the hotter than hell time. It just kept on producing!
This drought-tolerant rock star was Egyptian Spinach, code name: MULUKHIYAH. Forget that canned spinach stuff, yuck! If Popeye could get a hold of some of this stuff he would have defeated Brutus once and for all! He would have won the girl, indecisive prize that she was. If I get comments asking who Popeye is, I will finally have to admit that I am old and that is sooo not going to happen today! So, if you don’t know who Popeye is, then google it and leave my image of youth intact!
Seriously, I tried a new seed this year from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. and boy, did it pay off. My friend from Africa, who gardens alongside me at the community garden asked me if she could have some! I realize you have no idea how significant this is, so let me explain. For literal years I have watched this family grow summer greens. YEARS! They have had the corner market on summer greens for, well, as long as I have gardened there. For her to lean over and say, “My, I like the look of that green!” Well now, I know I am on to something! For you health conscious, science types—take a look at a breakdown of nutrients in this abundant green. The leaves are rich in beta carotene, iron, calcium, Vitamin C and more than 32 vitamins, minerals and trace elements. The plant has a potent antioxidant activity with a significant α-tocopherol equivalent to Vitamin E . My friend told me that she grew this in her home country, but has not seen it in the States until now. She recommended drying the abundant harvest and crushing into a powder to use in soups and smoothies during the winter months.
I planted a tiny seed in spring and It grew like crazy and had a very mild, spinachy taste. I sautéed it in eggs, added it to soup or just cooked it plain with a bit of balsamic vinegar. It tastes great in smoothies, too! It is not so much a plant as a bush, which could easily have grown to be as tall as I am, but I kept trimming it to EAT it! Woo hoo!
For you newbies to gardening: Greens like spinach do not grow in the heat of the summer down here in the South. Rather, they prefer the coolness of fall or spring. So, when you find something that you can toss in a salad that laughs at drought, you have found something special indeed.
The best part of all is that it’s…wait for it…kid tested and approved! My husband loves it, too, and that is saying something! It also produces LOTS of seed pods for planting the next year and plenty left over to share with friends. Order your seeds and plant Egyptian Spinach this spring!
Gardening tip: Your kids can harvest this while watching their favorite show on TV. Trust me when I say that you are going to need some harvesting helpers.
Editor’s note: Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. no longer sells Egyptian Spinach, but you can find it on Jake Mace’s website here.
The next plant that was new to me this year was spaghetti squash. I buy these lovely yellow orbs at the store all the time. We love them baked in the oven, the strands scraped out with a little bit of butter or pasta sauce on it. Delish! However, my dream of this dish was not to be, due to the work of my garden nemesis, the dreaded squash vine borer. If you don’t have trouble with this pest where you are, then consider yourself lucky. Before you leave all kinds of suggestions in the comments, know that I have tried everything. There are just so many of them and only one of me! I do have a slight hope on the horizon. There is a substance that my friends used at the community garden with some success called Captain Jack’s. The main ingredient is Spinosad (spin-OH-sid), a naturally occurring soil-dwelling bacterium that was collected on a Caribbean island from an abandoned rum distillery in 1982. Sounds suspicious to me. My first question: Is it organic? In answer: It is considered organic, however, it can harm beneficial insects and bees that come in contact with it. Since I will just be applying it at the base of the plant where the squash vine borer lays its eggs then I think all should be fine. Anyway, jury is out on this product as I have not used it yet, although my friends at the community garden ate a lot more squash than I did last Summer. Since I loath to dwell on the total butt-kicking I got from my nemesis, I will gladly move onto something more positive.
The next newcomer is… drum roll please…… yellow Chinese melon! This was an all-time favorite with the kids. It is a medium-sized melon that starts out green, but turns a beautiful shade of golden yellow when ripe. The white flesh inside has a sweet taste, however, you might be surprised by its crunchy texture. Once you get used to the cool crisp texture it is really refreshing. I kept leaving it on the vine to soften, but quickly learned that this melon is not meant to turn soft. Once we embraced its wonderful crunch we loved it! We ate it plain and made it into popsicles. We layered the popsicles with blackberry juice, frozen from spring, so that the popsicles were striped. No sweetener needed! The big secret is that I didn’t buy this from a seed catalog, but got it from a local Asian grocery. I just scooped out and dried the seeds. I am sure you could find it in your favorite seed catalog. Just remember that if you eat a melon that you like from the grocer, you can save the seed and experiment with it. That way you are just out the cost of the melon! Again, I just planted the seeds in Spring in an 8’x4’ bed and had plenty for our family and more to share with friends.
I had a fun surprise with this melon. Apparently, the bees worked to create a mix between this yellow Chinese melon and the cantaloupe in the bed next door. The result was divine! I must say I have never tasted a melon so juicy and good. It had a soft but slightly crispy texture with the taste of honeysuckle! The interior was white with a blush of peach. I saved all the seeds from these melons and plan on planting them in Spring. I asked my best garden expert, Henry, age 82, if these seeds would produce this new amazing melon and he didn’t know for sure. I then asked my other expert gardener, age 80, and she was unsure as well. All agreed that it was sure going to be fun finding out! I shared my seed with them in order to spread the fun! I am dreaming of this spring with its new beginnings and surprises.
I know most of us are looking through our seed catalogs thinking about new things to try in spring. We would love to know what new plant you tried last year. Or maybe you are on the other side of the world in your prime gardening season. Either way, please let us know—what was a boom or a bust? Also, include where you are gardening from so we have some idea whether that plant will work for us. Happy gardening (or dreaming about gardening)!
Anne-Marie or Dash (for the hyphen in her name) is an urban farmer in Dallas, Texas. She raises chickens and rabbits on less than ¼ of an acre. Plus, she has turned her front yard into a large stand-out-in-the neighborhood vegetable garden. In addition to the farming she does on her homestead, she helped create a community garden literally from grassy field to thriving garden. What stands out about her little urban homestead is her determined out of the box approach to overcoming obstacles. You can follow her adventures on her little urban homestead by visiting her blog, BloomWhereYourPlanted.com.