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94 vegetables to grow in Houston - and counting
By RAY SHER

I sometimes see news reports of eating contests. It is usually how many hot dogs, pizzas or hamburgers a person can eat in a certain amount of time. I wonder what is happening to the bodies of those who are stuffing themselves, and is their inner-self screaming for relief. I'm thinking that if I were to ever be in an eating contest, I would want to be eating tomatoes, broccoli, green beans and carrots. Wouldn't that be something to see on the news!

How many different vegetables have you eaten in your lifetime? I bet it's not 94. Yes, we can grow 94 vegetables in metro Houston, and probably more. The next time you are at the grocer, count the number of fresh vegetables that are being offered.

You are sure to see lettuce, kale, collards, mustards, beets, squashes, onion, potatoes, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, celery, carrots, leeks, parsnip, green beans and a few more. But have you ever seen or eaten bitter melon, yard long beans, celtuce, sweet potato spinach, kohlrabi, luffa, mache, sunchokes, mizuna, tatsoi, pea shoots, yucca, taro, roselle, winter melon, dandelion or sorrel?

Most of the rare vegetables can be found at high prices in upscale markets, and some can be found seasonally at local farmers markets such as the Urban Harvest farmers market every Saturday morning at 3000 Richmond Avenue in the back parking lot. All of the vegetables can be grown in your home garden or in one of the community gardens affiliated with Urban Harvest. Check the Urban Harvest website www.urbanharvest.org for the location of community gardens near you.

Now, I have to admit that I have not grown or eaten all of the vegetables that we are so fortunate to be able to grow, but I have at one time or another grown and eaten at least 90 of them. I choose not to grow some again, either because of limited productivity or because I don't especially like the taste or texture. However, the luxury to grow and include in my diet the diversity that is available is not only a gourmet cook's dream, but a reality for all of us who have a small sunny spot in our yards or a little effort to join a community garden.

I love fall gardening, for it is the season of greatest diversity and it includes all the green leafy vegetables. I can't wait to have freshly picked kale, collards, beet greens, Swiss Chard, mustard greens or dandelion cut up and tossed at the last moment into a stir fry, giving me a different taste and texture with each stir fry; or roasted beets and fennel; or shredded turnips, beets and carrots in my lettuce, endive, escarole and arugula salad. Having a ready supply of vegetables growing in my garden gives me what seems like an opportunity for infinite recipes, and I take full creative advantage. Now that I have my taste buds drooling, I think I need to step into the garden and plant a few seeds.

Ray Sher is a gardening and permaculture instructor, vegetable and fruit garden consultant, and works his large intensive home vegetable, fruit and herb garden using organic methods. Contact him at RayInTheGarden@sbcglobal.net. To find out more about community gardens, school gardens, farmers markets and gardening classes, visit www.urbanharvest.org.