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Jazz up your garden with unusual vegetables

January 6, 2019

If you’ve resolved to plant something unusual in this year’s vegetable garden, there are a host of possibilities. You need only to plan ahead to allow time to order by mail any seeds unlikely to be found on retail seed racks.

A couple of years ago I was in the mood to branch out when I decided to grow red orach. The tall, skinny plants with reddish-purple leaves are a beautiful addition to my vegetable garden as well as producing tasty leaves. I use the young leaves in salads, and cook older leaves like spinach. Orach, unlike spinach, thrives in summer weather.

That first year, the young orach plants kept disappearing from my garden. It turned out the resident bunnies had taken a liking to the tender leaves. After I protected the plants with wire cages, though, the orach thrived without coddling. Because I always allow a few plants to go to seed, I’ve had plenty of volunteer plants to grow and to share since that first planting.

To jazz up your garden, a Nova Scotia gardener presents many more possibilities to consider in “Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix: 224 New Plants to Shake Up Your Garden and Add Variety, Flavor, and Fun” (Storey Publishing, 2018).

For example, how about planting ground cherries? Also known as husk cherries, they produce marble-size, golden-yellow fruits wrapped inside husks. As easy to grow as bush varieties of cherry tomatoes, ground cherries make delicious jams, pies, and sauces. To Jabbour, the flavor resembles that of pineapples.

Like orach, ground cherries are prolific self-sowers. You’ll need to plant them only once.

Tomatillos, a close relative of ground cherries, are just as easy to grow and are a must for making classic green Mexican salsa.

If you like cucumbers, Jabbour says, you’ll love cucamelons, native to West Africa. The prolific, inch-long fruits look like tiny watermelons but taste like cucumbers with a citrus twist. The author says it’s easily her family’s favorite crop, gathered up by the handful and consumed right in the garden.

Cucamelons grow on vigorous vines you can train on a fence, trellis, or deck rail. Pick fruits young; the skin turns sour with age, Jabbour cautions.

If you like parsnips but don’t want to wait 4 months for the roots to mature, the author recommends planting hamburg parsley. The skinny white roots resemble parsnips but are ready to dig much quicker. The flavor is sweet, with a hint of parsley or celery. They’re good raw, or roasted with other root crops.

Adventuresome gardeners and cooks will find many other interesting possibilities in this illustrated guide.

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