Common names: cress, garden cress, peppergrass Botanical name: Lepidium sativum Origin: Asia
Few varieties are available commercially; grow the variety available in your area.
Cress is a hardy annual with finely divided tiny green leaves that have a biting flavor. You can grow cress from seed indoors or out — it will even sprout on water-soaked cotton. It takes only 15 to 20 days from planting to harvest, which means more or less instant gratification for the least patient gardener. Children love to grow it.
Cress has a peppery flavor that gives a lift to salads. There are several kinds available, but the' curled variety is the most common.
Other types of cress are upland or winter cress (Barbarea vernapraecox) and watercress (Nasturtium officinale). Upland or winter cress (Barbarea vernapraecox) is a hardy biennial from Europe. You can sow it in the garden in early spring and harvest soon after midsummer. The plants are tough and will survive a cold winter if you mulch them.
Watercress is a trailing perennial of European origin with dark green peppery leaves and is usually grown in water. It's easily grown from seed but is usually propagated in temperate climates from stem-pieces, which root easily in wet soil. If you're fortunate enough to have a stream running through your garden, you can try growing watercress on the bank. You can also grow it indoors in pots set in a tray of water. Watercress adds a kick to salads and makes a pretty garnish. It's full of vitamin C and minerals.
Where and when to grow
Cress grows anywhere in the United States. Garden cress, which is the one you're most likely to grow, is started from seeds
sown every two weeks starting early in spring.
When sown outdoors, cress likes well-worked soil with good drainage. It will flourish in shade or semishade and can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. When you're preparing the soil, dig in a complete, well-balanced fertilizer at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet or 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Sow the seeds thickly,aquarterof an inch deep in wide rows, 18 to 24 inches apart, and for a continuous crop repeat the planting every 10 to 14 days.
Fertilize before planting and again at midseason, at the same rate as the rest of the garden. Detailed information on fertilizing is given in "Spadework: The Essential Soil" in Part 1.
Cress needs even moisture. Try not to wet the leaves more than necessary since the soil that lodges there when water splashes on them is impossible to wash out without damaging the leaf. Cress grown indoors must have good drainage or it tends to rot.
Cress has no serious pest problems.
Cress has no serious disease problems.
How and when to harvest
Often the plants are eaten at their very early seed-leaf stage.
Cut off the cress with scissors and enjoy in salads or sandwiches.
Cress does not store well, but it can be kept in the refrigerator up to one week. The seeds can be sprouted. Detailed information on storing is given in Part 3.
The English nibble "small salads" of cress and mix the young sprouts with mustard for dainty cress sandwiches. Use it in salads or for a garnish. The peppery taste is a good foil to more bland salad greens.
Common name: cucumber Botanical name: Cucumis sativus Origin: Asia
There are dozens of varieties of cucumber, including "burpless" ones, which are supposed to be more digestible than regular cucumbers, and round yellow lemon cucumbers. In the United States cucumbers are divided into the slicing kind, which are large and stay green for a long time, the small stubby pickling varieties, and novelty varieties that are smaller than usual and suitable for containers or small gardens.
The following are a selection of varieties in each of these
categories. Talk to your local extension service to find out about other varieties that will do well in your area. Pickling: Spartan Dawn Hybrid (50-60 days); SMR-18 (50-60 days), both resistant to mosaic and scab. Slicing: Poinsett (65 days) resistant to anthracnose, downy and powdery mildews, and leaf spot; Burpee Hybrid (60 days) resistant to downy mildew and mosaic; Challenger Hybrid (60 days), resistant to downy mildew and mosaic. Burpless: Sweet Slice Hybrid (65 days) resistant to downy and powdery mildews, mosaic, and scab. Novelty: Patio Pik Hybrid (50-55 days) pickling type, tolerant of downy and powdery mildews; Peppi Hybrid (50 days) pickling type, tolerant of downy and powdery mildews, mosaic, and scab.
Cucumbers are weak-stemmed, tender annuals that can sprawl on the ground or be trained to climb. Both the large leaves and the stems are covered with short hairs; the flowers are yellow. Some plants have both male and female flowers on the same vine, and there may be 10 males to every female flower, but only the female flowers can produce cucumbers. The expression "cool as a cucumber" has long been used to describe a person who is always calm in a crisis, and cucumbers do seem to give off a cool feeling. They're tender plants, however, and not at all tolerant to cold themselves.
Gulliver, in the report of his voyage to Brobdingnag, told of a project for extracting sunbeams from cucumbers, sealing them in jars, and letting them out to warm the air on raw days. Long before Gulliver, the Emperor Tiberius was so fond of cucumbers that the first greenhouses — sheets of mica in window sashes — were developed to keep the plants growing on happily indoors when it was too cold to take them outside. You can grow cucumbers in a large pot or hanging basket, or train them up a fence or over an arbor.
Where and when to grow
The cucumber is a warm-weather vegetable and very sensitive to frost. It will grow anywhere in the United States,
however, because it has a very short growing season — only 55 to 65 days from planting to harvest — and most areas can provide it with at least that much sunshine. Cucumbers like night temperatures of 60° to 65°F, and day temperatures up to 90°F. Plant them when the soil has warmed up, three to four weeks after your area's average date of last frost.
Cucumbers will tolerate partial shade, and respond to a rich, well-worked, well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. When you're preparing the soil, dig in a complete, well-balanced fertilizer at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet or 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Plant cucumbers in inverted hills, which you make by removing an inch or two of soil from a circle 12 inches across and using this soil to make a rim around the circle. This protects the young plants from heavy rains that might wash away the soil and leave their shallow roots exposed. Plant six or eight seeds in each hill, and when the seedlings are growing strongly, thin them, leaving the three hardiest plants standing six to 12 inches apart. Cut the thinned seedlings off with scissors at soil level to avoid disturbing the roots of the remaining plants.
Fertilize before planting and again at midseason, at the same rate as the rest of the garden. Detailed information on fertilizing is given in "Spadework: The Essential Soil" in Parti.
Cucumbers are 95 percent water and need plenty of water to keep them growing fast. Don't let the soil dry out. In hot weather the leaves may wilt during the day, even when soil moisture is high, because the plant is using water faster than its roots can supply. This is normal; just be sure that the plant is receiving regular and sufficient water. Mulch to avoid soil compaction caused by heavy watering.
Cultivate to keep weeds down. If you are growing cucumbers inside, or in an area where there are no insects to pollinate the female flower — your 51st floor balcony, for example — you may need to help with pollination. Take a soft-bristled brush and dust the inside of a male flower (the one without an immature fruit on the stem), then carefully dust the inside of the female flowers. Harvest promptly; mature cucumbers left on the vine suppress the production of more flowers.
Aphids and cucumber beetles are the pests you're most likely to encounter. To control aphids, pinch out infested vegetation or hose them off the cucumber vines, or spray with Malathion or Diazinon. Cucumber beetles may not do much feeding damage, but they carry cucumber bacterial wilt. Hand-pick them off the vines promptly, or spray them with carbaryl. Cucumbers are so prolific that the organic gardener who doesn't want to use chemical controls can afford to lose a few to the bugs. Detailed information on pest control is given in "Keeping Your Garden Healthy" in Parti.
Cucumber plants are susceptible to scab, mosaic, and mildew. Planting disease-resistant varieties and maintaining the general cleanliness and health of your garden will help cut down the incidence of disease. If a plant does become infected, remove and destroy it before it can spread disease to healthy plants. Cucumbers are not tolerant to air pollution; a high ozone level may affect their development. Detailed information on disease prevention is given in "Keeping Your Garden Healthy" in Part 1.
Time from planting to harvest is 55 to 65 days, and a 10-foot row should give you as many cucumbers as you can use. Pick the cucumbers while they're immature — the size will depend on the variety. When the seeds start to mature the vines will stop producing.
Cucumbers can be stored in the refrigerator up to one week, but if the temperature is too low they'll freeze and turn soft. You can pickle them or use them for relish if they're the right variety. Detailed information on storing and preserving is given in Part 3.
In the Gay '90s the hallmark of an elegant tea party was cucumber sandwiches, open-faced on thin-sliced bread. In England the sandwiches are closed and cut into small squares or triangles. Slice cucumbers thinly and dress them with plain yogurt and a little dill. Don't peel them — cucumbers are mostly water anyway, and most of the vitamins they do contain are in the skin. Instead of eating them, you can make them into a refreshing face cleanser — cucumbers are an ingredient in many cosmetic products.
Common name: dandelion Botanical name: Taraxacum officinale Origin: Europe and Asia
Thick-leaved; Improved Thick-leaved.
The dandelion is a hardy perennial that's grown as an annual for its foliage and as a biennial for its roots. The jagged green leaves grow in a short rosette attached by a short stem to a long taproot. Bright yellow flowers one to two inches wide grow on smooth, hollow flower stalks. The dandelion is best known — and feared — by gardeners as a remarkably persistent lawn weed, but its leaves are actually high in vitamin A and four times higher in vitamin C than lettuce. It's also versatile: Dandelion leaves are used raw in salads or boiled like spinach, and the roots can be roasted and made into a coffeelike drink.
Dandelions grow well in any soil anywhere. They prefer full sun but will do fine in partial shade. They're very hardy and will survive both the hottest summers and the coldest winters. Plant the seeds in early spring, four to six weeks before the average date of last frost.
Dandelions grow best in a well-drained fertile soil from which you've removed all the stones and rubble. If you're growing dandelions for their foliage only, they'll tolerate soil in poorer physical condition. When you're preparing the soil, dig in a complete, well-balanced fertilizer at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet or 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Plant seeds in the garden a quarter inch deep in rows or wide rows 12 to 18 inches apart. Thin plants six to eight inches apart after the true leaves appear.
Don't bother to fertilize dandelions at midseason. Detailed information on fertilizing is given in "Spadework: The Essential Soil" in Parti.
Keep the plants supplied with water; the dandelion's foliage may become even more bitter than it is naturally if it's subjected to long periods of drought.
Pests don't bother dandelions. If you let the dandelions produce their delicate clocklike seed heads, however, they may well become pests themselves by seeding all over your and your neighbors' lawns.
Dandelions have no serious disease problems.
When and how to harvest
Harvest dandelion greens at
When and how to harvest
Harvest dandelion greens at
your pleasure throughout the growing season. Harvest the roots in the fall of the second year; pull the whole root from the ground — or lift the roots with a fork to avoid breaking them.
You can refrigerate the greens up to one week, or store the roots for 10 to 12 months in a cold, moist place, as you do with chicory. Detailed information on storing and preserving is given in Parts.
Dandelion wine is a brew much beloved of do-it-yourself vintners. Or make dandelion tea, and drink it well-chilled. Remove the stalks from the dandelions and toss the leaves in a vinaigrette dressing. Or try a hot dressing, as for a wilted spinach salad. Cook the leaves quickly and serve them with lemon and oregano, Greek-style. To use the roots, wash and dice them, then dry and roast them before grinding.
See Bean, dry
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