by Susan Gateley
Next summer try a two-for-one pricing strategy in your vegetable garden. To get more food out of less land, cultivate plants and varieties that fulfill multiple functions. Take beets as an example. You can thin and eat the tops early in the summer as mild flavored cooked greens, and later in the fall, dig up the roots as a main crop. Another cold hardy plant called kale produces leaves from late spring through December in upstate New York. It's high in vitamin C, calcium and potassium and can be used as a cooked green or in salad. (It tastes better in salad after frost).
Climbing pole bean variety Kentucky Wonder produces a lot of edibles per square foot of garden, but you must keep them well picked. However, if they do get too old and tough, you can let them go and shell them out as dry beans. Another variation on the two-for-one idea is to grow full size climbing edible pod peas such as sugar snap. They need pea netting or something to support them as they grow about six feet tall, but they will produce a large number of edible pod peas that can be used in salads or cooked.
Also don't over look the possibilities of flowers at the dinner table to eat as well as to admire. I inherited a flourishing bed of orange day lilies when I bought my old country house in 1991. Day lilies are an oriental vegetable (buds are sold dried in Chinese food stores for soup thickening). You can eat the new shoots like asparagus or cut them close to the ground and use the blanched white part as a crunchy tender salad item. Later in the summer, the buds can be steamed or chopped and added to salads. They have a hint of pepper taste when raw and are very mild (and a bit mushy) when cooked. There are a number of other edible flowers such as violets and nasturtiums you can also experiment with.
And don't over look the culinary potential of weeds in your garden. Oddly enough, some of the peskiest weeds that thrive in American gardens are cultivated as perfectly respectable vegetables elsewhere in the world. Low growing viney purslane that sprawls unwanted in many a North American garden is a widely consumed vegetable in India. This dual-purpose green can be cooked or used in salads. Pick the crisp succulent stem tips and small leaves for salads. Purslane is a good source of vitamin C and is also rich in omega 3 fatty acids.
Another multi-purpose garden "weed" well worth inviting to dinner is the much-maligned dandelion. Young early season plants are good salad greens. Older leaves can be cooked but can become bitter. If so, bring them to a boil, pour off the water and add fresh cold water for cooking. Once the dandelion shows its pretty yellow flower, it's time to move on to other greens. Or start using the dandelion flowers to make wine or as a cooked vegetable.One of the nice things about perennial plants and weeds as part of your garden fare is that you don't have to buy seeds each year. The flowers come back and the weeds seed themselves. You save time as well as money. If someone comments on your unkempt garden, tell them you are efficient not lazy. Of course, you may have to impose a little discipline on the weeds in order to find you lettuce and tomatoes.
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