Ugly is such a subjective term, meaning that what’s considered beautiful in one person’s eyes can be absolutely abhorrent in another’s, depending on their tastes.
Personally, I see no beauty in a 1973 AMC Gremlin (the ‘half’ car) or garden gnomes, yet both of these unsightly icons have their dedicated enthusiasts.
Then there’s the parsnip, which was a gift from an experienced but bemused gardener who wondered what went wrong, as he has never grown one quite so ghastly.
Even I have to admit that it looks a little like the animated screaming Mandrakes of Harry Potter fame, and yet it tasted just fine in the lamb stew it eventually became a part of.
Like any activity where variables such as soil, weather, temperature and pests come into play – we have to learn to expect mixed results.
After eliminating the possibilities of pests, fresh manure added too close to seeding or the soil not being worked deep enough, we came to the conclusion that the extreme heat and the fact that the watering did not penetrate very deeply kept this parsnip growing close to the surface and produced multiple roots to take advantage of the shallow moisture level.
So next year, the plan is to water less often, but for longer periods of time, so the moisture can penetrate deeper and hopefully promote the more conventional elongated single roots.
I am glad to report that mishaps like these rarely deter most gardeners from growing their own food, and judging by this year’s early seed sales, more of you are giving it a try.
It comes as no surprise given the price of imported fruits and vegetables, I mean, when a head of cauliflower starts costing $8, who doesn’t think they could grow their own for less.
Truth be told, there are a lot of easy to grow vegetables that can be sown directly and are harvested in a matter of a few months, including green beans, beets, radishes, carrots, lettuce and spinach.
And there’s no end to new vegetable introductions such as ‘Patio Star’ zucchini, ‘Mini Purple’ Daikon radish, ‘Peppermint Stick’ celery and ‘Grazia’ arugula, all of which can be grown in the smallest of gardens.
Getting back to eating less than perfect veggies, this trend is gaining ground fast in the UK, where most of the large food chains, such as Asda, are offering a ‘Wonky Veg Box’ of winter vegetables that are all slightly blemished or over and under-sized for 30 per cent off the regular price. There is nothing wrong with them except their appearance, and by offering these for sale they make sure that a lot of potatoes (15 per cent), parsnips (15 per cent), onions (10 per cent) and carrots (8 per cent) don’t go to waste.
Although I often see seconds of fruits and vegetables being offered at our local green grocers, it seems that our larger grocery chains are behind the times and still sticking to wasteful standards.
For those of you determined to try to grow your own, spring is the best season to start and since winter doesn’t seem to want to make an appearance, that means now.
In a few short weeks, garden centres will be filling up with berry bushes, fruit trees, vegetable seeds (which are already here), onion sets and herbs.
As with any learned skill, some of you will grow tomatoes with cracked skins (from inconsistent watering), carrots with fanged tips (adding manure too close to seeding) or deformed strawberries (pollination problem), but just remember that the ugly taste as good as those models of vegetable perfection.
– Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (firstname.lastname@example.org).