I was so glad to hear from several of you that Part 1 of this list of veggies has inspired you to try something new! There are so many reasons why I love to grow our food, but THIS – trying new foods and varieties is really up there at the top of the list. You simply can’t find this level of diversity and beauty on the grocery shelves, or even at the farmers market. Today I was trying to pick out some lettuce seeds. I already have two types of lettuce from previous years, so I set out to choose just one more variety… Gah, it’s too hard to choose! So I guess I’m growing five varieties of lettuce this year. AND I’m going to love every single one of them for different reasons! (This is, in fact, how I have wound up growing 15 varieties of tomatoes, and counting.)
This list isn’t so much about varieties, though, there are entire VEGETABLES that plenty of us have not even tasted, let alone considered planting in our gardens. I’m eager to toot the horns of these under-adored garden characters, though, and hopefully get them a little more attention. Without further adieu…
So, I’ll admit that this root vegetable is at times used for animal fodder. Yeah, that’s right, people feed them to the pigs. Well, lucky pigs because that’s some good food – mmmmMMM garlicky mashed rutabagas. That’s reason enough to include a patch of this root veggie in your garden! This sweet and nutty, nutrient-packed veggie couldn’t be easier – throw some tiny brassica seeds on the ground in the Springtime, rake them in, and let them do their thing until Fall harvest. The roots can grow rather large, so use a sharp knife to clean them up, peeling off the fibrous outer edge (see below). They make a great storage veggie and, yep, the leaves are edible.
Here’s an Asian green that ought to be in every garden, regardless of your knowledge of Asian cooking. Pac Choi comes in different sizes (as well as different spellings!). I’m fond of growing the large version so we can quickly make a large stir-frys or summer slaw by thin-slicing the whole plant. This cold-hardy veggie grows to a great size rather quickly, roughly 50 days to maturity. While it is technically not a perennial, it often self-seeds if a couple plants are left to seed-out in summer. The leaves are deep green and nutritious. The stems are juicy and my favorite part of the stir-fry or slaw!
Patty Pan Squash
My tendency to take this squash for granted is evidenced by the fact that I apparently don’t have a single picture of it! I find that so hard to believe since it’s been a corner-stone of my veggie patch from the very first year I planted a garden. In fact, it was only recently that I realized not every gardener knows about this fun summer squash! I love zucchinis and their yellow counterpart, but I always grow at least a couple patty-pan plants as well. Their disk-shape is adorable, their flesh is a little sturdier than the elongated summer squashes, and when left to grow to a bigger size, they make an impressive main course dish when filled with a stuffing of some sort, as in this recipe. The plants are prolific, so you can use them like any other summer squash, too. We personally find the yellow variety to be more appetizing than those that are white in color.
Ok, so maybe dill isn’t that uncommon, BUT most Americans only think of pickles when they think of dill. There is so much more to this plant! Dill brings a fresh zip to many, many dishes, veggies, dips and soups – oh, and the flowers!! Thanks to the Ukrainian family that lived here before us, dill sprouts up all around my yard (another self-seeder). I love it so much that I let it grow like wildfire, just ask my neighbors. I freeze much of this for winter use (a much more taste-preserving method of storage). I really can’t get enough of those randomly-placed sun-catching blooms. The stalks are tall, the fronds feathery and the flowers are a magnet for the butterflies. This is an herb worthy of the best flower patch, or any outdoor space that could use a little whimsy.
I really don’t know what to call this plant – a fruit? a vegetable? Inside a papery husk, much like the tomatillo, you will find a ground cherry fruit the size of a snacking tomato. However, it is much, much sweeter than a tomato when left to ripen. You will know it’s ripe when the fruit drops to the ground. This is a plant definitely worth growing just for the kids. They love to hunt for the fallen fruits and pop the sweet fruits in their mouth. As for eating it, this is sure to be a surprise for your mouth! I was introduced to these by some friends a few years ago and had been ambivalent. They were good, but I wasn’t in love. UNTIL my sister-in-law made an awesome ground-cherry chutney that we all devoured alongside meat, or anything, really. We came up with excuses to serve this condiment! So if you don’t grow this for the kids in your life, grow this for your preserves shelf.
Don’t forget to lean on my seed-starting series (located on my homepage) to get you started this Spring! There’s all sort of good links and info including how to determine when to start your seeds and my recipe for a seed starting medium. Happy gardening, friends!
>> What new things will you be adding to your garden this year?
DON’T FORGET to check out PART 1 of the list of UNSUNG VEGGIES YOU SHOULD GROW!