Author discusses wide variety in choices of crops
SOUTH BRUNSWICK — In her book, “New Jersey Fresh: Five Seasons from Farm to Table” Rachel Weston, food writer, chef and backyard vegetable grower details about 50 herbs and vegetable crops that market gardeners and farmers can grow easily in the Mid-Atlantic region.
But, she told a group of backyard gardeners and smaller farmers at a spring meeting at Middlesex County’s Earth Center, that “really just scratching the surface of all the different crops we can grow here.”
Weston grows her fruits and veggies primarily in raised beds in her backyard. Some of her plants are trained to grow against a wall, trellis or fence.
“Our connection to local food is really important to me,” she said.
She showed slides of award-winning farmer Jessica Neiderer at her Chickadee Creek Farm on Titus Mill Road in Pennington.
“She has so much thought and so much grit, and she writes these beautiful newsletters about what’s going on at the farm from week to week.”
Weston showed slides of purple carrots and said that was their original color, but they became hybridized over the years to become the more familiar orange color instead.
She praised Neiderer’s talents in growing ginger directly in her own greenhouses in the right temperature conditions and Weston said in her own cooking endeavors, she likes to infuse ginger leaves into various dishes she is making.
She said that “pink celery from China is easier to grow from seed than regular celery.”
She also displayed slides of gooseberries, yellow watermelon, Meyer lemons, canary melons and varieties of pumpkins and squash that can be easily grown in most New Jersey soils.
She cautioned that smaller squash work well in smaller gardening plots.
“Beans are the gateway drug to getting people into backyard vegetable growing and growing unusual vegetables,” Weston joked, “if you haven’t grown a vegetable before, grow beans.
Children in kindergarten grow beans and they put them in a paper cup,” she explained while displaying dragon’s fly beans, bush beans, pole beans and purple beans that turn green while being cooked.
“Beans don’t have to take a lot of space and they’ll put some more nitrogen into your garden beds,” Weston said.
“All of these unusual crops you can grow here in New Jersey are from all different parts of the world, and it’s a lot of fun and they’re definitely unusual. Of course, everything we’re showing here is delicious.”
After displaying slides of kohlrabi and noting ways it can be incorporated into home cooked meals, including sautéing the leaves, she was asked about disease resistance of many of these unusual edibles.
She acknowledged some vegetables are harder to grow from seeds without the aid of a series of greenhouses.
In that case, “you can always get some starts [seedlings] and try growing things that way.”
Displaying slides of cheddar and purple cauliflower, she said they are great to eat raw and kids get excited about purple cauliflower.
“You put some purple cauliflower out at a party and it’s something to talk about.”
Weston also covered multi-colored root crops in her slide show, displaying pictures of garlic, shallots, onions, beets and radishes of unusual color.
“Mushrooms are being grown more and more here in New Jersey and they’re getting big prices, $5 and $10 per pound. All of them are typically being grown in climate-controlled environments,” she said.
Greens she displayed included red lettuces, speckled lettuces, and purple lettuces, including the new Scarlet R red lettuce, developed at Rutgers, and noted “it’s inexpensive to grow your own greens and you can sow some more seeds every few weeks.”
Weston also pointed out the many colorful heritage varieties of corn, including blue, orange, yellow, purple and white, noting Burpee has some varieties of corn that can be grown in containers.
Weston stressed that with heirloom varieties of tomatoes, corn and other crops, “if we don’t get these seeds and keep growing them, they can be lost forever.
“One of the great things about growing heirlooms is we keep these varieties alive and continuing to evolve.”
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