If you're looking for a different nutritious vegetable to grow and serve, consider collard greens or collards. They're similar to a looseleaf cabbage, harvested a leaf at a time.
Most folks pull off an outside leaf, tear off the tender part of the leaf discarding the midrib, then roll each half of a leaf into a tube, and slice the tubes, producing straps of greens. Then cook the strips in a small amount of water until tender and dress with olive oil or butter and minced garlic, for a nutritious and tasty side dish.
There are few varieties of collards available from seed - Green Glaze, Champion, Vates and Georgia the most popular. The flavor from fresh-picked collards is far superior to supermarket leaves, I've been told.
Like their Brassica relatives, collards are frost tolerant, fall frost improving their flavor, so they may be planted out early and harvested until late fall or winter. Even in our area they may survive until Christmas, New Year's Eve or beyond, if it's a mild winter. Some varieties are ready for harvest 55 days after seeding.
Collards are a good source of vitamins A, B, C, E and K. They're not quite as nutritious as kale, but they're close. Kale has more vitamins A and K than collards, but both greens are full of minerals, even trace minerals.
Vitamins A and K are fat soluble, so the greens should be cooked or dressed with a little oil to absorb those vitamins. If one or more of your family are taking Coumadin, they may be restricted from greens such as collards because of the amount of vitamin K.
Tronchuda or Couve tronchuda is a gourmet version of collards favored in Portugal. The seeds are available from Renee's Garden Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom seeds and other vendors.
There also is a tree collard, common in the San Francisco area, but only borderline hardy here. Tree collards are propagated by cuttings, not seeds. Bountiful Gardens sometimes has cuttings available; check www.bountifulgardens.org for availability.
CONSIDERING GROWING IN STRAW BALES? PROCEED WITH CAUTION
Some mass media are advocating planting edible crops in straw bales. Rose Marie Nichols McGee won an award for her lettuces growing in straw bales at the 2004 Northwest Garden Show in Seattle, promoting the Garden Writers Association plea to "Grow a Row for the Hungry."
She planted these bales before the use of persistently toxic herbicides became widespread, so her bales were not contaminated.
I would not advise growing in straw bales, though, because of the high risk of getting straw sprayed with Aminopyralid, Clopyralid or Picloram, any of which could render your garden sterile except for grass, grains or corn for the next several years. There are no antidotes to these herbicides.
Dow Agrosciences developed these products to kill problem weeds such as yellow starthistle and Canada thistle without harming large grazing animals. Unfortunately, the pyralids retain their herbicidal aspects through at least three years of being composted, and Picloram keeps it for over 10 years.
Moreover, animals who have grazed on grasses sprayed with these chemicals excrete solid herbicides. That further complicates composting.
Another problem with growing in straw bales is that by placing the bales in your garden, you're giving mice a warm home in which to increase the size of their families. It's home to them just long enough to find an even warmer place to spend the winter: indoors.
If you just want a cheap container, lay a plastic bag of planting mix on its side, poke holes for drainage, then turn it over and slit a large X in the top, then plant at the intersection of the cuts. Easy and inexpensive.
Send garden questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.