Growing Weird - and Wonderful - Vegetables
Each year I try to grow some new things in my vegetable
garden, varieties that I’ve never tried before. Sometimes my efforts are a
bust, and I never grow them again. Then sometimes something new becomes an
instant favorite, as happened this year.
This year I grew Romanesco cauliflower, a plant that I absolutely love! This is something like a pointy cauliflower, but with a different taste: it has overtones of broccoli. In fact, some call it a Romanesco broccoli or just plain Romanesco. Some say it has a nutty flavor.
This Romanesco is still too small to eat.
The tiny florets spiral around in something described by a
mathematical relationship called a Fibonacci sequence. That sequence is 0, 1,
2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 42…. Do you see the relationship between the numbers? Each
number is the sum of the two previous numbers. It is a gorgeous, spiraling
pointy vegetable. When I picked my first one it was 5 inches across and weighed
9 ounces. Perhaps I could have let it get bigger, but I was afraid it might
spoil if I waited too long.
I cooked my Romanesco by slicing it in half and steaming it for 6 minutes. At that point I could poke a fork into it without difficulty. I served it with butter, though a little Parmigiana cheese might be good on it, too.
Steam for 6 minutes.
Unlike broccoli, most cauliflowers don’t usually produce any
more food after the first head is picked – though some purple ones will produce
small florets as an afterthought. Will my Romanesco produce anything else? I
don’t know. If you know, please e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org). If it
shows no side shoots in 2 weeks, I shall pull the plants.
Rutabagas were once an experiment for me, but now I grow them almost every year. They are mild-flavored and store for months in the fridge or a cool basement. I’ve never had trouble with diseases or pests – and they are a good substitute for potatoes, which are sometimes plagued by beetles and fungal diseases. Flea beetles can bother them, I’m told, but I’ve never had the problem.
Rutabagas as are good substitutes for potatoes in stews. They never get mushy.
Kohlrabi is another lesser known vegetable that I grow. It looks like a root crop, but grows above the soil line as a big, fat round ball. The leaves come off the top of the ball, and some people say it looks like a space alien.
This year I grew purple kohlrabi only. These are best eaten soon after being picked, though there are some green ones, most notably Kossak, an F-1 hybrid that will store for 4 months or more with no loss of flavor or texture. And they get to be 8 inches in diameter!
Of the leafy greens, I tried a new variety of kale that I love. I got seeds from Fruition Seeds in Naples, NY for a kale called Bear Necessities Kale. That’s right, bear, not bare. It is a frilly kale and very tender. What it has to do with bears is a mystery to me, but Petra Page-Mann, the founder of the company, is a young woman with a good sense of humor, so I guess it’s just a pun. I use the leaves in my breakfast green smoothies, and they’re delicious. Fruition Seeds offers many unusual and organic seeds including heirlooms.
Bear Necessities Kale
Magenta spreen is another unusual leafy vegetable that I tried some years ago, and it shows up like a weed every year. I let some grow, and pull some out. It is in the scientific genus Chenopodium which includes quinoa and a weed known as lamb’s quarters. What I love about it is that it has top leaves that are, indeed, magenta – one of my favorite colors. It can be steamed as a green, added to a salad or added to a smoothie. Seeds are available from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
This year I had some extra space, having reduced my potato plantings, so I planted watermelons, cantaloupe and luffa (or loofa). All spread like crazy, and like hot weather. They were slow getting going, but now, with the current heat wave, they are growing so fast I have to step back to avoid being run over when I visit them.
Unlike tomatoes or beans, it’s not obvious when your watermelons or cantaloupe are ready to pick. Melons require one to use all senses, including hearing. Yes, I thump on watermelons and listen for a hollow sound to see if they are ready to pick. Watermelons that are white where they sit on the ground are probably not ready – they should be yellowish. Size counts, too. Bigger is riper.
This watermelon still needs weeks of growing.
Cantaloupes are sometimes a little soft at the attachment point when fully ripe, and should smell slightly sweet at the flower end (opposite the attachment point) when dead ripe.
I have never grown luffa before, but it’s not an edible, so I imagine I’ll just let it grow until it stops growing. I’ve read that when it gets lighter in weight and color, it’s ready to pick. Peel off the skin, which should be loose by the time you pick it, and knock the seeds out. Dry until it’s ready to use as a scrubby. Some people smash the gourds against the ground, and then peel off the skin.
Let me know if you have grown something weird and wonderful. I’m always looking for new garden adventures.
Three Tomatoes Trattoria in Lebanon, NH has its own garden to grow greens - and it's all in the family! Check it out by clicking here.
At age 4 and a half, Luscian Meyers is already a gardener, one of three generations working together.