Planning your garden


by Jackie Alfonso | April 2, 2009 • Do it yourself! Now is the time to think about what will be in your larder next winter.

It has always amazed me when I coach gardeners that I am asked what one should plant. The only answer is: ”What do you eat?”

I feel so sad for all the little children who must suffer through a row of radishes that are most likely planted because their parents think they need instant gratification. Very few four-year olds enjoy radishes unless they are the first, sweet, frequently watered French Breakfast type, served on a slice of well-buttered baguette. Far better for kiddos are tiny little sweet tomatoes, yellow pear or Sweet 100 – sweet, not sharp, bright, easy to pick, fruiting all summer. I generally have so many that I pickle or can them, or make yellow sauce to which herbs can be added for pizza topping.

In our climate, winter squash are almost mandatory – and great if you are digging a new location. The large vines swamp weeds once they get going, the harvest is patient, and you have them all through the cold, resting under the bed. I like planting several types of kale, each with a slightly different taste and texture. The Tuscan Dinosaur Kale is especially tender and flavorful. Danish cooks blanch kale lightly in boiling water, drain and chop, and shape tennis-ball sized portions to freeze in a bag. Then one ball can be thawed to add to soup with great convenience.

To my mind, raspberries are worth every bit of trouble. Nothing tastes as good as fresh berries, and raspberry vinegar is a requisite of decent cooking. The care required can be done in spring or in fall, and raking fall leaves in among the canes saves bagging and becomes compost by spring. The worst problem is never having enough!

This year I will try Goji berries, mostly because they are so expensive to buy. They may not do well here, but I figure they originated in Tibet, and may feel right at home.

It is a good idea to try a new thing each year. Last summer I planted some lovely little Japanese traditional peppers, Shishi Togarashi. They are about 4” long, flatten toward the end a bit, and are at the happy median between sweet and hot. They will be planted every year from now on.

Ground cherries are a favorite from childhood, and now self-sow, as do tomatillos in my warm sandy soil. I plant lots of Italian parsley and basil, and skip the lettuces that fade by the end of June and have no substance. I am ready with both yellow and green summer squash, mostly because I yearn to make a pastry tart I saw, with a custard base, a lattice of the two colors of squash, and feta and Kalamata olives sprinkled on.

In my memory, all the space to the east between the old Cedar Avenue bridge and the last hill leading to what is now Apple Valley was truck farms – acres of cabbages, turnips, cucumbers, squash, spreading on to the horizon. Today Gardens of Eagan may be the only such farm still in operation. They grow lovely organic veg, and sell at their own stand and at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market.

Let me know if you need some rooted cuttings of red currant.