Bite-Size Veggies Pack Big Flavor

img_1656.jpgBy Teresa Woodard

Giant pumpkins, watermelons and tomatoes may win blue ribbons at the county fair, but some gardeners prize smaller, bite-sized veggies for their big flavor. They’re easy to grow in smaller gardens (even containers), ideal for snacking and may not even make it to the kitchen once harvested in the garden. Here are five bite-sized veggies to try this season.

Cherry tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes are easy to grow and produce an abundance of tomatoes for snacks, salads and roasting.Sungold’ is an exceptional orange cherry tomato variety and a favorite in a recent poll among tomato growers.  Other standouts are three All-American Selections award winners. They include Midnight Snack, a black-purple variety with healthy antioxidants; ‘Candyland Red,’ a dark red, sweet flavored variety, and ‘Patio Choice Yellow,’ a new compact variety developed specifically for small spaces and container gardens.

Cucamelons: These oh-so-cute veggies were the darlings of last summer’s Instagram garden posts.  Also known as Mexican Sour Gherkin, mouse melon or “Sandita” (little watermelon in Spanish), cucamelons taste like cucumbers with a touch of lemon. They’re grown much like cucumber vines and can be planted in containers or as an edible ornamental vine along a trellis in cottage gardens.

Ground Cherries: These marble-sized, golden fruits taste like pineapple with hints of cherry tomato and vanilla. Their sweet flavor earns them nicknames like “strawberry tomato” and “Cossack pineapple.” Enjoy them in salads, jam, pie, cobbler, sauces or dried like raisins. The fruits drop from the plants when they are ripe, hence the name ground cherry. The only challenge can be getting the seeds to start. For best results, sow indoors in April, cover seed trays and keep the trays warm until the seeds germinate. The top of a refrigerator works well. Transplant the seedlings in the garden after the threat of frost has passed.

‘Cherry Belle’ Radishes: These round, smooth scarlet radishes are ¾ inches in size and have a crisp, white flesh. They grow easily from seed when planted in cool spring weather and are ready to harvest in just 23 days. They are an All-American Selections award winner and beloved for their mild flavor.

‘Sweetie Pie’ Peppers: This 2017 All-American Selections award-winning miniature bell pepper is easy to grow and produces an abundance of peppers even in hot and humid conditions. The attractive plant is well-adapted for containers and small gardens. Fruits can be harvested 60 to 70 days from transplanting either in green or red. These small peppers are 2.5 inches by 3 inches in size and are thick-walled, sweet and flavorful. These peppers can be eaten fresh, grilled, stir-fried or stuffed.

 

 

The Many Faces of April

 

By Michael Leach

When it comes to coping with a variety of weather, Midwesterners take second place to no one on the planet. Sometimes it seems we get almost everything in a few hours.

Because April in my part of the Heartland is mercurial at best, it was with tepid hopes I put the recycled-plastic Adironack chairs on the patio the day before Easter. The forsythia blossoms hadn’t even fully opened. While forsythia blooms don’t guarantee three snows of folklore, more cold weather is certain.

And Easter, no matter its placement on the calendar, rarely matches the pastel scene depicted in ads and greeting cards. While growing up, we never marched in the Easter parade, but were always in uniform if called upon to do so. Despite arctic cold, Mother refused to allow my sister and I  to wear winter coats. “They’ll hide your new Easter clothes,” she scolded. How dare we prefer drab, dark coats to a fashion statement. Our numb little fingers gathered the colored eggs hidden around the back yard.

Softball was usually as chilly a proposition as egg hunts. Even early May can bring frosts, freezes and January-like wind chills. Outfield duty meant possible frostbite.

So putting the chairs out practically guaranteed the always crazy April weather would make them mere garden decorations for awhile, not a spot for comforting rest from chores or  savoring the beauty of spring flowers on balmy days.

The variety of meteorological offerings that followed, however, was awe inspiring. Monday after Easter, several inches of snow transformed the garden into a Christmas card scene. (Sure hope the white Christmas fans have had their fill of the four-letter “s” word, I growled.) Tuesday brought a quick warm up, rounds of flooding rains, hail, violent winds, and a small tornado touching down at evening rush hour just three miles from home. Fortunately there were no injuries, though this twister damaged buildings and toppled power lines. On Wednesday morning snow flurries were blowing again. At least the snow didn’t stick to pavements. The only atmospheric condition that failed to materialize was pleasant, as in shirtsleeve weather.

There’s something especially depressing about the mixed metaphor of snow-crusted patio furniture. The surreal extends to the daffodils and other flowers, who do imitations of the yoga pose Downward Dog. (Perhaps I need counseling.

Little wonder that St. Louis native and Nobel Prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot penned, “April is the cruelest month …” Such a thought probably arose after enduring a Midwest winter that never wanted to end and an April that was anything but springlike. He eventually moved to temperate England. (But even the Mother Country had cruel snow storms and deadly chills this winter.

Another poet of our region came through the winters and uncertainties of April seeing a brighter side. Jesse Stuart, Kentucky poet laureate, lived in a lovely hollow near the small town of Greenup on the Ohio River.

His poem “Hold April” speaks of the winsome side of this split-personality month.

He tells us to hold on to April because it’s another year

 “ … before she comes again 

To bring us wind as clean as polished glass

And apple blossoms in soft, silver rain. …

When wild birds sing up flights of windy stair

And bees love alder blossoms by the stream. …

Month of eternal beauty and delight.”

 Spring’s delight will return — as always. Hold that hope.

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