|Toki Oshima drawing
By Beedy Parker
I’ve been making a list of the edible greens that come early in the vegetable garden, as weeds and bonus vegetable greens.
Here’s how it goes: Dandelion greens are the earliest, just the rosette out of the soft beds – and you might want to break off the root to roast for dandelion coffee; the new young tips of invading nettles (delicious, they lose their sting with cooking); hops shoots; young dame’s rocket and creeping bellflower leaves (I don’t want it in my garden any more; it’s taking off); lovage stalks – like tender celery for the first few weeks; first-year burdock roots; last year’s parsnips as they emerge; Jerusalem artichoke (if I could only eat them, but they disagree with my digestion) and skirret roots.
Then come the resident ostrich fern fiddleheads (Matteuccia struthiopteris), transferred in clumps to the garden edge. By then the rhubarb is up and into pies, but I have been trying it as an acid vegetable, with a little bit in stir-fries, stews and salads. (After all, tomatoes are acidic; maybe some rhubarb in chutney would work.) Multiplier onions are up, and I break off a few bulbs to cook with.
Fresh mint is trying to make its way into the garden, so I dry it or have it for tea on the spot, along with the new lemon balm tips.
Then we are into the start of the season, with early radish greens to be thinned, and excess radish roots to be cooked like tiny turnips. As the lettuce gets ahead of me, I braise it with fried onions, and bacon if I have any.
Meanwhile, overwintered kale plants have begun to put out tender leaves, and then small heads of buds as they climb into flowering and seed mode. I harvest them down, except for a couple that I let go for seed.
I can’t seem to grow spinach in this backyard, but the greens come anyway, and pretty soon the chard will take over.
Beedy Parker gardens in her backyard in Camden, Maine, and in colonized yards of non-gardening neighbors.