The vegetables we grow in our yards tend to fall into family-like categories: tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers and squash, cabbage and kale, lettuce and greens, and the root crops. Extensive as these categories are there are a few vegetables left over that may well deserve your attention.
Celery is a swamp plant that demands lots of water but even if we treat celery right it will not look like the celery we buy from the store. But that is all right; in many ways it is better. Forget about celery sticks to use with a dip, forget about diced stems in chicken salad. Think about sinewy dark green stalks that give excellent flavour to soups, stews and souses. Think about finely minced leaves that are far stronger in taste than store bought – and you get them untrimmed. In other words, primarily think of celery as a herb. Another pleasing aspect of home-grown celery is that once the head is cut (at about the 2-inch from the ground mark) the plant will renew its growth on a cut and come again basis.
Celery plants can be grown 8 inches apart in rows or blocks. You can also grow a single celery plant in a 3-gallon pot with moisture-retentive potting mix as the medium. The other day I discovered that one of my 3-gallon black pots did not have any drainage holes in the bottom; they were two inches from the bottom. As soon as I noticed this feature I thought to myself: “Celery!” That two inches of water at the bottom of the pot will help keep my celery happy.
While on the subject of swamp plants I should mention watercress. Although true watercress requires running water such as a stream the version available in seed form would grow very well in my special pot – and any other pot that is watered religiously every day.
If you have enjoyed minestrone soup in Switzerland you almost certainly have eaten chard. Chard is a horrible name for a very useful vegetable. It grows very like celery with stalks that are sometimes red, with spinach-like leaves. It is a great favourite in restaurants along the Mediterranean coast in France and Italy, where the stems are often served cooked and drizzled with a fine French sauce. Chard does not have a strong flavour and the greens made from the leaves will satisfy those who do not like the taste of spinach. Chard is the vegetable I recommend to fellow gardeners who want to grow something different and useful – and tasty. Grow chard as for celery but without the great need for water.
Garden peas – or English peas – were once the dominant side vegetable. Peas were served with everything. They were the first canned vegetable and also the first frozen vegetable. Like many other veggies, the peas you grow yourself taste superior to canned or frozen.
Peas love cool weather and I would recommend planting packets in late December and January. With most vegetables we plant some seeds now and some more later on. Not with peas. Plant every seed in the package (or packages) because the pea season is short.
The seeds (dried peas) can be planted a mere two inches apart in rows on both sides of suspended netting or dead branches two to three feet tall and pressed into the ground. Peas are fast growing and once they start to produce full pods they should be picked on a daily basis.
There are three types of peas: the classic, the mangetout with an edible pod, and snow peas that are eaten before peas develop. If you want the best of all worlds, see if you can find peas with the word ‘Oregon’ in the name. These go through several stages and can be used as snow peas, mangetout, and shelled for English peas. Oregon peas are easy to grow and last longer than most others.