Lauterbach: The tale of three new plants

Special to The Idaho StatesmanOctober 31, 2013 

Spanish radishes

Each year I grow something new to me, mainly to see how it grows. It’s usually just one new vegetable or fruit, but this year it was three.

One was black Spanish radish, that grows to the size of turnips. Its pungency is fairly moderate, but I doubt one person would eat a whole one. A sliced and/or diced Spanish radish would probably serve four if served as a garnish to add crunchy texture and pungence to a soup such as posole. It was not invaded by root maggots, as turnips usually are in my garden. Perhaps the black rind repelled egg layers.

These radishes are rich in potassium, calcium and vitamin C as well as fiber, of course. Black Spanish radishes also bore seed pods that would be useful in stir fried food. Seeds are available from most mail order companies if not on racks in local garden supply stores. I certainly will grow this again.

Another new item was Agretti, also called Roscano, Saltwort, Barba di Frate or Liscari sativa. Botanically it’s Salsola soda, related to Russian thistle. Of course it’s edible long before it grows to tumbleweed size. It’s rich in vitamin A, and one cup of this only contains 5 calories.

Seeds are only viable for a short time, 75 days according to some sources, and germination rates low. Friends who bought the seeds and shared them with me prepared Agretti by chopping stems into two-inch pieces, boiling for two minutes then plunging them into ice water. They loved this vegetable, topped with balsamic vinegar and their best olive oil.

I’m letting my patch go to seed, hoping they mature before frost kills them. It’s known to some as “land seaweed,” perhaps because of its salt tolerance. It has been grown and incinerated, the resulting ash used to make fine glass. Gourmets around the world prize it, while the wild Saltwort, growing on saltflats or marshes is overlooked.

This product usually appears briefly in spring in markets, especially in Italy and Spain, where it’s snapped up by people appreciative of its flavor and culinary usefulness. If you grow it, however, it’s a cut-and-come-again crop, and still delicious long after your first meal before it turns woody. Seeds are available from Underwood Gardens, Seeds from Italy and Nichols Garden Nursery.

The third new vegetable was burdock. I had bought seeds, but Lindarose Curtis-Bruce supplied root cuttings. I haven’t had garden helper dig those roots yet. Leaves are at least as large as rhubarb leaves.

DDD

I’ve heard there are parts of Boise where lady beetles are swarming and getting into homes. They look a lot like regular lady bugs or beetles, but the Asian species (Harmonia axyridis) usually dwells in trees and their spots may be irregular or even missing. They were imported into some parts of the U.S. as beneficial insects (which they are) by the USDA. They have spread to many other parts, apparently including Boise.

Those that we treasure in our gardens are scientifically known as Hippodamia convergens, slightly smaller than the Asian ladybugs. Our lady bugs overwinter in gathering places in the foothills, and emerge in spring to mate, lay eggs, and to feed on aphids and other plant pests.

The Asian ladybugs are sometimes a nuisance in autumn when they wiggle their way into our homes, leave feces on walls and window covers, bite people and when smashed, emit a foul odor and stain whatever they were on when they were swatted. Bites are harmless but irksome. In spring they’ll emerge from their winter quarters to mate, lay eggs and feed on destructive insects, just like their relatives.

The best control is to vacuum them into a clean vacuum and empty it next to a garage or tool shed where the insects can huddle through coldest winter, and to make sure your caulking around doors and windows and weather stripping is secure.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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