Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lettuce and Peas...And Edamame!

Sugar snap peas, lettuce, 'Buttercrunch, and 'Cimarron' sown about 2 1/2 weeks ago in the large pot on my deck.  They had germinated before the last snow and night when temperatures reached 12 degrees (F).  Still looking good!  
Here in the United States, we must be pea snobs.  We tend to eat peas shelled and steamed (or boiled).  Regardless, when we eat peas we are usually talking about eating the immature seeds, not the fresh shots or tender pods.   We do this not only with peas, but a host of other garden vegetables.  We eat the beets, but tend to forego the beet tops, we eat the lettuce when it is mature.  We wait to eat the florets of broccoli and ignore the leaves.  Same for immature cabbage before it has formed a head, we decline to snip off a few tasty green, or red leaves to add an extra peppery crunch to our spring salads.

Once you start growing your own salad plots you begin to understand how much food we waste, even as gardeners.
Here in the states we harvest only the very best of a plant, when in fact many parts may be edible.  You should be forewarned however this discussion and practice should not extend to members of the nightshade (potato, tomato, tomatillo, eggplant) and carrot/parsnip families.With those two families of plants you can run into some serious digestive ills, and possibly even death by eating the wrong parts, or even eating the right parts at the wrong time.

When I first heard talk of eating pea shoots among gardeners in other countries and how delicious they are, I was shocked.  I hadn't realized they were even edible.  However, I have long planted sugar snap peas, so I could eat the tender immature pods.  Once the peas begin to form pods though the shoots tend to become stringy.

I truly enjoy salads, adding everything to them I can find, including using a bed of lettuce for fresh or canned salsa.  I have even added my homemade pickle relish to a bed of lettuce and found it very good.  (Relish is what I tend to do to cucumbers when they out number me, so I tend to have a lot of it around.  That may change as I have discovered the depth of flavor to be found by adding a bit as a topping to homemade pizzas!)

Those light finger-like projections in the center are the peas!
When it comes to peas, I will confess, I only grow sugar snap peas.   Peas can be planted the moment the soil can be worked, although I am sure they germinate better when soil temperatures reach 50 degrees (F).  They are also forgiving of temperatures down to even 12 degrees (F) and 4-5 inches of snow, as I recently discovered (I had brought in the pansies planted in plastic pots and sitting in my window boxes, but was unable to bring in others in wire frames by my fence.  Those which were outdoors at 12 degrees (F) admittedly with a snow cover look every bit as nice as those I "rescued"   Go pansies!).  I never grow enough to freeze more than a meal or two of tender pods.  The blanching and freezing does not seem to be as effective with these, and they always seem stringy to me.  I tend to eat them fresh.  Shelling peas is a lot of work.  If I am going to shell, blanch and freeze any sort of legume, let it be edamame.

Edamame is an edible soybean.  Unlike most garden wisdom of soaking your legumes for a few minutes before planting, soaking edamame will get you a remarkably decreased germination rate.  Edamame are handsome plants in a garden, but tend to have a narrow window of ripeness, 7-10 days, preceeding immediately to the hard seed.  When fully ripe, these seeds can be harvested and stored dry to be used much as shelled beans.  Even with care to soak and rinse several times before cooking and during, edamame quickly develop a strong gassy odor when kept in the refrigerator for use in salads of wraps.  Used as shelled legumes they also lack the beautiful, bright green color found in fresh frozen edamame.  In my mind, given the larger size of edamame, high nutritional content, and what they sensually bring to the table shelling, blanching, and freezing edamame is worth the time over peas.  Edamame should be planted when the soil has thoroughly warmed.

Next, lettuce...

Lettuce among the eaters is a topic of big discussion.  Many of us prefer spinach to any sort of lettuce.  Handsome Son, in his youthful naivete prefers iceberg-- the shame!  Spinach, in the best years has been problematic for me.  I have tried a number of different strategies, and am still stymied.  That might change as I recently came across these pelleted, primed seeds.  I am hoping this is the answer once and for all for my spinach quest.

Growing seedlings for transplant has been unsuccessful, although they were easy to germinate under light on a heated mat, they quickly bolted while being hardened off and transplanted..  Careful tending of seed direct sown in the ground has resulted in very poor germination.  Even attempts to short-cut the germination process, including soaking the seed, nicking the seed coat, and even crushing the seed coat have not met with good results.
As you can see, I like to date my seed packets.  Over time, when I am using left over seed, it gives me additional data as to the shelf life of seed and germination rates.

I have tried arugula.  Among the eaters, we have as a group found it much too bitter for our tastes (even for me, the most egalitarian of the salad green eaters).  If no one will eat it, why grow it, even if it does have a turnaround of just over three weeks for maturity.  Even as immature microgreens, arugula hit a sharp, bitter note.  It quickly grows from a microgreen to mature in less than a handful of days.

Lettuce varieties which germinate easily and have a good, mild flavor, seem to be mostly the leaf lettuce types or lettuces which form heads while still in the immature leafing stage.  Here in central Wisconsin where the temperature can fluctuate wildly, heading seems to within days result in seeding shoot.  When seeding shoots appear, the lettuces take on a bitter taste, and the milky sap of the lettuces can even cause psoriasis and skin irritations for some.

My favorite types of lettuce include 'Red Sails', 'Cimarron', "Prizehead, "Butterhead Bibb Blend'  'Buttercrunch, 'Royal Red', oak leaf types like 'Royal',  and  .  Planting a variety of these  gives a good visual appeal to your salad green mix while not including some of the more bitter, sharper flavors.  If you can dedicate yourself to a couple days of moisture patrol or time you planting to correspond to a rainy cycle, I would simply scatter my lettuce seeds in the square or rectangle in the area you prefer.  A 2' by 6' rectangle peppered with seed will supply you with enough greens for endless salads for 4 to 8 adults.

The denser you plant the less splash of soil you will have on leaves.  Keeping your lettuce coming by frequent clipping about two inches from the ground is also recommended.  One of the most important aspects of harvesting salads is your spot be kept completely free of weeds.  Also you will learn the hard way to harvest late mid-morning, after the dew and dripped from the leaves and not to harvest immediately after watering or rain.  Splash of any sort put a lot of fine particulate soil on the greens resulting in a gritty salad that no amount of washing and spinning seems to remove.  By far the best way to wash lettuce it to float the separate leaves in a large sink and pick them out and spin them dry.

Overlooked these days are mustard greens, 'Tenderhead', for example.  Mustard has a fairly mild-flavored leaf and will successively self sow quickly, so you sort of always have it once you have planted it.

I have tried some of the Mesclun mixes, and have again found some of the types included more bitter selections, regardless of the visual appeal.  Also falling in the too bitter for our taste buds, include radicchio, mizuna, and endive.  Some of this bitterness may be related to the tendency for temperatures to quickly hit the 80s and 90s here after a week of cool temperatures bumping the freezing mark.  Seasons do not progress gently from one to another here in central Wisconsin.  No where has the expression, "If you don't like the weather, wait twenty minutes," ever been more apt than in central Wisconsin during these times of climate change.

Next post: Cole crops; broccoli, cabbages, kales, and brussels, spouts

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