Every year I try a few vegetables that I haven’t tried before, and for 2009 one of the clear winners was Tronchuda, a giant non-heading cabbage from Portugal. I grew only one plant, and it ultimately reached over four feet across, with leaves almost 2 feet from side to side. The leaves were pleasant to eat cooked at any point, but especially good after a few frosts. I used it in the same ways as collards or kale, and also made a soup with sauteed onions and garlic, Spanish chorizo (not the Mexican soft chorizo,) good chicken broth, salt to taste, and chopped tronchuda, all simmered together until the tronchuda tasted good. By the way, this is an overlooked method for determining when green leafies are sufficiently cooked: keep tasting them, and when they start to taste good, they’re done.
I will definitely be growing it again this year, and that’s the real test of any vegetable: is it worth the garden space? Tronchuda delivers. I’ve read that the wide white leaf ribs can be cooked as a vegetable in their own right, but I didn’t care for them and composted them instead, keeping the green parts and the narrow ribs to cook. I recommend it highly for any garden. You can get seeds at Nichols Garden Nursery, a wonderful source for all sorts of odd delights.
Our own New Mexico seed company, Gourmet Seed International, offered seeds for two of my new experiments, rampion (the famous “rapunzel” of the fairy tale) and bladder campion. I’ll keep you posted.
This is the time of year to plan your homestead garden and order what you need. I’m dealing with a brand new property with no planting in place, so I’ll be starting a new mini-orchard, and I would highly recommend dwarf fruit trees for eager would-be urban homesteaders. They produce relatively quickly, look charming, and allow harvesting with feet planted firmly on the ground.
Every yard-farm should reflect what the owner and family like to eat and drink, and with this in mind I’ve decided to plant wine grapes. It will be a few years before I’m making my own wine, but the thought of my very own mini-winery has already given me a lot of pleasure and the vines aren’t even planted yet. In anticipatory value, it’s the best garden bargain I’ve had, and this may be the most overlooked benefit of urban homesteading; you spend so many happy expectant hours. The same applies to my backyard chickens, which are not yet purchased but are already clucking quietly in the back of my mind.
By the way, if you have any interest in adding livestock to your homestead, it’s worth reading Farm City . Author Novella Carpenter created a little squatter farm in Oakland, and it isn’t what most of us would want, but her descriptions of raising and killing animals for meat are accurate and unromantic (but reverent.) If you have never harvested meat animals, this is a test. If you can’t stand to read her descriptions, you probably don’t want to go into livestock. If you do go on to raise a little of your own meat, I can guarantee that you will no longer allow meat to be wasted. Once you really understand where it comes from, waste is not an option. On the other hand, you will understand the fascinated reverence with which good farmers and hunters view meat animals.