It’s time to plan for pickles
As gardening season is here, I urge you to grow a variety of vegetables for pickling. Going beyond cucumbers can lead to delicious, crisp pickles from root vegetables, asparagus and green beans.
The best, locally-grown asparagus isn’t around for long in the spring, and pickling is a great way to continue enjoying it throughout the year. I keep my asparagus and green bean pickles simple with garlic cloves and fresh dill as my main flavorings, and I love to snack on them, dice them into potato or egg salad, or use them as a fun Bloody Mary garnish.
Growing asparagus at home is a practice in patience. You plant asparagus crowns in the spring and then wait to harvest any spears for two years. The third year, you can harvest lightly, but it’s truly in year four that your patience pays off with a bountiful harvest. That harvest can continue for 15 years. Research has shown that waiting to harvest asparagus significantly increases your total yield after five years. I planted my asparagus last year, and it’s a challenge to resist harvesting any spears this spring.
Another important component in growing your own asparagus is being intentional in its location in your garden. Like many vegetable crops, it likes a sunny spot with well-drained soil. After the harvest window that lasts eight to 10 weeks, you let the spears grow tall with fern-like foliage. I love how it looks, but these tall plants will shade your other crops and limit their growth. You can plant asparagus on the northern edge of your garden to avoid this.
Green beans are an easy crop by comparison. You can sow seeds directly into the ground then watch them forcefully burst through the soil as they germinate and grow. I primarily grow bush beans that don’t require a trellis, but pole beans may yield more if you have the space and structure to support them. Both kinds make for great, dilly bean pickles. By seeding a row of green beans every two weeks, you set yourself up to harvest each row in succession and extend your harvest period into the fall. Start sowing after the threat of frost is gone (May 15), and continue until August.
It’s already a little late in the spring to sow root vegetables, but you can start planning now to sow your carrot, beet, turnip and radish seeds in August for fall harvests and pickling. Asparagus pickles and dilly beans maintain a great snap after water bathing your jars of pickles, but root vegetables are the crunchiest pickles I’ve made. Root vegetable pickles also make for beautiful gifts as the orange, purple, red and pink colors pop in the jars.
There’s also no limit to the flavors you can add to these pickles, including ginger, turmeric, star anise, chilis and more. While all these vegetables are wonderful to eat and cook fresh, pickling them adds another level of satisfaction that you can enjoy from your home garden.
KATHARINE WILSON is the director Virginia Food Works. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.