Many of the most useful vegetables are neglected in the majority of home gardens. Okra, Swiss Chard, Leeks, Brussels Sprouts, Scotch Kale, and Kohlrabi tend to be overlooked, yet they are all appetizing, healthy additions to the table, and require no special conditions to grow.
Okra, or gumbo, as it is invariably called in the South, figures very largely in Creole cooking. Soups, stews, gravies and innumerable other dishes are all improved by a little okra, and it is the basis of many special dishes. Cut into slices and spread with rice and tomatoes in a casserole, add butter, curry-powder and salt, and bake for three hours, it is a deliciously savory luncheon dish.
The ground for okra should be thoroughly enriched and well cultivated. Make a furrow about an inch deep, and if only a home supply is wanted, about thirty feet long. Sow the seeds two inches apart in rows and cover. Thin to eighteen inches apart when the seedlings are about two inches high. If more than one row is to be grown, make them two and a half feet apart.
Okra is a semi-tropical plant, so is best not to sow until the second week in May. Once started, it grows very rapidly, yields and continues a supply of pods throughout the season. The flowers are large and rather pretty, but only last a few hours; after they fall it takes about twelve hours for a pod to develop sufficiently for gathering. To be in perfect condition for cooking they should not be much more than an inch long. Any surplus can be dried or canned for winter use. Sliced, they are a splendid addition to mixed pickles.
Swiss chard is a true cut-and-come-again and is invaluable for home or market. A poultry- keeper can find no better or cheaper green food for your chickens. The leaves and stalks are the edible part, and can be boiled like spinach or use the stalks alone. They are white and run the full length of the leaf. Cut them but and tie loosely; cook and serve just as you would asparagus. Make the ground very rich; sow in rows three feet apart, about the end of April or the first week in May. Thin the plants when they are about two inches high to stand eighteen inches apart. When used like spinach, cut the leaves when they are ten inches high. If the stalks are to simulate asparagus, then gathering should be delayed until they are about fourteen inches high. Then cut off the green part of the leaf, which can still be used as greens. No matter how the leaves are to be used or at what height the crop is cut, be very careful never to injure the heart of the plant. If you do, successive crops will be spoiled.
Brussels sprouts should certainly be in every garden. They possess all the healthful qualities of cabbage, and the flavor is much more delicate.
When small, the plants look exactly like cabbage, but instead of firm, solid heads, the stalks run up to twelve or fourteen inches in height, and baby cabbages spring out all around the stalk for the entire length. One plant often yields thirty-five or forty of these diminutive cabbages.
One great advantage of Brussels sprouts is that the seed does not need to be sown until June and the plants are not ready for transplanting until July, so it can succeed early peas in the same ground. Brussels sprouts are gluttons and positively must have heavy and rich ground. Sow seed in shallow drills; transplant when seedlings are about three inches high, two feet apart in rows three feet apart. For early spring harvest, sow seeds in hotbed during February or March. Mature plants are quite hardy.
Leeks and Winter Onions
Leeks and winter onions are members of the onion family which are usually overlooked. Leeks should be sown on very fine, rich soil. A heavy dressing of poultry manure, applied the fall before planting, is an ideal fertilizer. Scatter the seed thick in rows two feet apart and thin out the plants so that they stand nine inches apart. Cultivate the ground constantly and hill up as the plants grow. This encourages growth and bleaches the stalks. A slight frost won’t hurt them, but they should be banked up and covered with mulch if they are to stay out in the ground until spring.
The winter supply of these vegetables should be dug in December and stored in the house for convenience. Pack them, standing up as they grow, in boxes; scatter earth between them, and keep them in a dark cellar. For soups they are superior to ordinary onions. Boiled and served with white sauce, they are an enjoyable vegetable.
Winter bunch onions are really the earliest of all spring onions. Sow the seed in shallow drills, a foot apart, in May or June. Cultivate until fall, and then cover with mulch. Early in the following spring rake off and cultivate lightly between the rows, and you will have delicious green onions for table or market when other people are thinking about sowing seed.
Kale should be considered indispensable in every garden. It comes in season late fall, when frost has demolished all other greens. Even in the vicinity of New York it can be relied upon to furnish early spring greens almost before the snow is off the ground. Seeds should be sown about the middle of June, and the seedlings transplanted into rows two feet and a half apart. The leaves are curly and of a dark green, and should not be used until there has been some frost, for until frozen. They are as tough until Jack Frost has visited them.
As soon as the weather becomes colder, mulch each side of the rows up to the top of the kale for winter harvest.
Kohlrabi is a vegetable which comes in when other things have faded. It really belongs to the cabbage family, but it is more like the turnip. The edible part is the bulb which develops above ground. When cooked it looks and tastes like a delicately flavored turnip. Since they must be cooked while young and tender, it is best to make several sowings; one in a hotbed in February, and two others in the open ground; the first in May, the second in August. They can stand quite a heavy frost and are usable until December or January, according to the season.
Sow in rows placed about two feet apart, and after the young plants have attained sufficient strength to withstand attacks from beetles and such insects, thin them to two feet apart.
Here are a few hints about the general cultivation of these vegetables and are actually useful for all gardening. Cultivation should be constant and thorough, especially when the soil is light and sandy. Of course, no good gardener will permit weeds to get a foothold in his territory, but the constant use of the rake is much more important. It keeps up the supply of moisture in the soil around the roots of the plants, and so insures their being well fed and making rapid growth.
After a rain, rake a mulch of dry dust to cover the base of the ground. This prevents the moisture from escaping because it checks the capillary process by which moisture travels to the surface and is carried into the air. The soil may be rich in the mineral and animal components which constitute plant-food, but unless sufficient quantities of moisture are present these are not available to the plants.