Tip toe away from the tomatoes and dig into other delicious digestibles.
We love tomatoes. They grow so easily and abundantly, we end up having plenty to share. But their convenience can also root us in our gardening ruts. Stirring up the soil with some new veggies can add some life to your summer and fall garden-to-table meals. Here are 3 crops that are easy to grow and look good doing it.
Whether grown in the ground or in containers, brussels sprouts (yes, there is an “s” at the end of “brussels”) conveniently grow up on strong, self-supporting stalks. These little baby-cabbage veggies made a big comeback. Long-gone are the overboiled, mushy morsels from years ago. Roasted in olive oil and salt, sometimes with a hint or garlic or onion, they are nutty in flavor and denser in texture. Plant in early spring for a summer crop, or if in a mild summer heat zone, plant in early summer for a fall crop. These plants like cool weather.
In containers, the soil may become dry quickly, especially since brussels sprouts grow best in full sun. Check the moisture at least once daily. If the top inch or more feels dry, water the pot. If planted in the garden, water well in any dry or extra hot zones. Soil fertilizer is a help. Find a formula meant for edible greens and follow package directions. Once every two weeks is a good general schedule for fertilizer applications. This may seem frequent, but the daily watering can wash away the nutrients before full absorption.
Once your brussels sprouts are about 1 to 2 inches in diameter, they are ready to harvest. Look to the base of the plant for the most mature sprouts. Harvest as they mature, from the bottom up.
Asparagus is a workhorse. Sure, it may take 3 years between planting and the first harvest, but the plants will just hum along, producing spears yearly for a good 18 years or so after that. Outside containers in full sun and light soil will make your asparagus happy little stalks. The key to healthy asparagus in containers is excellent drainage. Because asparagus can get diseases from too much moisture, making sure all extra water can escape the soil is the main concern for the gardener. Plastic pots are easier to make drainage holes in, but (really holey!) terra cotta pots can be used. Make sure to use pots that are 20 inches deep by 20 inches wide or larger.
Asparagus care can be a bit nuanced, but once you get the hang of it, the routine becomes as easy as or easier than growing tomatoes. First planting an asparagus “crown” with its dangling roots can be a delicate process but know those roots are heartier than you think. Drape the roots over a ball of compost in an 8-inch hole of soil in the middle of your pot. Cover the crown with 2 inches of soil and water. Don’t fill in the indent in the soil with more soil. Let the crown grow up through it. When you see the shoots come up, lightly cover them with soil. Keep covering them until they reach the upper soil level. Find some good compost for organic veggies and feed those little shoots once a month. If you see red berries, snip them off and keep them out of the soil.
When fall comes around, use a sharp blade to cut the asparagus back down to the soil level. Your little guys will winter happily like that, to come back the next year to provide new stalks for super side dishes.
Is there anything more satisfying than growing a spate of spuds? Harvesting a crop of container-grown potatoes is one of the best parts of the growing year. Potatoes aren’t picky which makes this crop a great jumping off point for new gardeners. Plus, they shoot this lush, leafy bush out the top of their soil that can quickly green up a dull space.
Potatoes are plentiful but only if they have enough room to grow. Each plant will need at least 2.5 gallons of soil-filled space to grow down into. You’ll get tiny little potatoes if you don’t give them enough space. Garden centers have potato sacks available which typically hold 3 plants. And like Brussels sprouts, the potatoes will need lots of water and excellent drainage. Two or three applications of fertilizer throughout the growing season should be sufficient.
Knowing when to pluck those spuds out of the soil is a bit of a guessing game. You’ll have to root around the roots to do a size check. The species of potato and personal preference will be the key factors in determining the harvest size.
New Veggies, New Spot
We love the idea of trying some new veggies in containers on the patio. Brussels sprouts and asparagus are both tall and interesting. Guests will be delighted and keeping an eye on unwanted critters is that much easier.