Mid-summer gardening has its challenges: Weeds double in height when your back is turned. Baby crows have fledged so mom and dad dive-bomb in a protective, parenting sort of way, and armies of baby slugs have invaded the hoophouse.
Did I mention that my cucumber seedlings have gone on strike?
“Too cold,” they insist. “We’re waiting for warmer weather.”
When I visited Strawberry Fields last week, it was to pick up some cucumber seedlings to replace the ones that are on strike, I confided to Judy, who was on duty that day.
“They’ve hardly grown a foot since spring,” I groaned.
“Well, if it will make you feel any better,” she replied with a smile, “You’re about the 40th person to say that in the past few days.”
Back to my main challenge: baby slugs. They are too small for bait such as Sluggo so I turn to another trick: I feed them candy. Not a Hershey bar, but something extra tender and sweet to a slug — bok choy. I allow them to eat on it until their hearts (do slugs have hearts?) are content. It’s a sacrificial plant, and eventually it succumbs to holes and slime. It’s a mess, but it works.
I found another mess the other day. After donning my garden sweatshirt, I reached into the pouch — Kleenex, a cough drop, and… what are these tiny things at the bottom? I took a pinch. Seeds.
They must have spilled out of a long-lost seed packet. They were smaller than rice, and I recognized the tan seeds as one of my favorite greens — wrinkled crinkled crumpled cress.
It’s a tongue-twister, but this cress is worth every bit of effort: It’s hardy, easy to grow, resists bolting and it is terrifically multi-purpose: You can use it fresh or cooked.
Another green, as healthy or better than cress, is chickweed. I featured this spindly, fast-growing seed a few weeks ago. The food world has rediscovered cress. My grandmother served butter and cress sandwiches — minus the crusts, of course. Since those days, cress’ popularity sank to the status of garnish, as did parsley.
Cress is now considered a superfood, topping the list of 41 “powerhouse fruits and vegetables.” In a study published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s journal, “Preventing Chronic Disease,” the superfoods are scored by the amounts of 17 critical nutrients they contain, such as fiber, potassium, protein, calcium, folate, Vitamin B12, Vitamin A, Vitamin D and other nutrients — all important to our health.
You might know cress as watercress. Yes, it grows wild along stream banks, and is often ignored by walkers, drivers and bicyclists. It might not be ignored if they realized that cress packs large amounts of a wide variety of these important substances described above. In fact, it hits the ceiling with a score of 100.
The next five in the best-of category were Chinese cabbage, chard, beet greens, spinach and chicory. While we can’t grow chicory in Kodiak, we can grow the remaining four list-toppers. And, in case you’re wondering, leaf lettuce, parsley, romaine lettuce, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, endive, chive and kale (all of which happily grow in Kodiak) follow close behind.
I find it amusing, in a sad sort of way, that watercress tops the nutritional charts because it’s mostly sidelined as a weed. At least in the United States. Across the Atlantic, watercress holds a kingly status, recognized for its value to a healthy diet and grown in large-scale commercial operations. It’s one of the few plants that also thrive hydroponically, by the way.
Ever been to a cress festival? In the United Kingdom, a watercress festival brings 15,000 visitors annually. Back in the 1940s, Huntsville, Ala., was once known locally as the watercress capital of the world. Today, Oviedo, Fla., carries the title. Know anyone who lives there? Please let me know.
Along with basic nutrition, cress has many health benefits. Because it is relatively rich in Vitamin C, watercress was suggested (among other plants) by English military surgeon John Woodall around 1600 as a remedy for scurvy. Other benefits from eating cress include anti-cancer properties — especially lung cancer.
While there are many kinds of cress, I prefer wrinkled crinkled crumpled cress. I love its upright growth habit (easy for cutting) and its unique curly leaves that gives a bounce and not-too-peppery flavor to salads, sandwiches, pesto and wraps.
Like I said, cress is easy to grow in containers or raised beds, hoophouse or outside. You can sow it directly in the soil or start a batch indoors. Germination happens in a matter of days. In fact, the seedlings are so fast growing, you can sprout them like radish and alfalfa seeds and get multiple crops.
Even when it starts to bolt (send up tiny, white flowers), I use the whole plant for making pesto. That would be cress-to, right? Simply replace some of your basil, spinach, or whatever else with cress.
Here’s a little watercress ditty from Fedco Seeds (fedcoseeds.com):
Salad green that will impress.
Mix some lettuce, add some dress.
Stir it up, sit down and fress.
Banish cares and summer stress.
Cress, Pear and Feta Salad
You can change up this recipe a bazillion ways.
4 cups slightly chopped cress
1 pear, cut into small bits.
1/2 banana, diced (optional).
Lime juice or seasoned rice vinegar.
1/2 cup feta cheese.
Toss the first three ingredients in a bowl. Serve topped with feta cheese. Sprinkle with almonds or sesame seeds.
While cucumber seedlings have been flying out the door at Strawberry Fields, cress has been flying around inside my Cuisinart on its way to pesto.
By the way, now is a good time to sow a few lines of cress. It will be ready to eat just about the time the silver salmon are running.
Share your harvest with friends and neighbors.
When pulling up broccoli, cabbage and other brassica crops, check the roots: If
the root mass is brown and twisted into a knot, your plants may have succumbed to club root.
Make compost, take pictures, pull weeds, be grateful