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Designed by David Frary

Logo photographed by and copyright Rogan Macdonald

Unusual Vegetables.

Be daring. Try something different.

New for this year.

Every year I grow a few new crops (New to me anyway) mainly for the fun of it but also to investigate possible new crops that could be of asset to the household diet. New crops tend to be resistant to indiginous pest and disease problems, at least for a while, although the slugs still manage to have a go at most plants.

For this year there are a few oddities I am trying, some old English crops and other newer plants from accross the globe.

Additionally, the following crops will continue to be grown on or experimented with further.

During the season, this page will become a scrap book of the growing stages of these various plants prior to their inclusion in their own page if the interest warrants it.

Improving yields.

Growing something new is all well and good but part of the adventure is to find the most efficient method of producing a worthwhile crop. A quick Google will usually show how indigenous tribes grow crops on rocky mountain slopes but this is far from the heavy clay soil of a London allotment. Different soil, weather, tools, pests, temperatures and sunshine all have their effect on crop yields as does timings of sowing and harvesting, plant spacings, routine care etc.

Sowing or planting new crops can have the added pressure of expense. Often the new treasure costs a lot of hard earnt money so in the first season all possible care and protection is lavished on what is often a very hardy subject. Other times the cost may be zero but the item is rare and there may only be 2 or 3 seeds available in a swop. Each one has to germinate to count forcing a little bit of discipline on the grower.

In subsequent seasons the real testing begins as with larger amounts of stock and some knowledge of their requirements it becomes possible to experiment with different cultivation methods. Crop spacing is honed to suit the local growing conditions as once plant stocks are sufficient, yield per sq. metre is often more important than yield per plant. I do not have a mountainside at my disposal, just a couple of small plots so all of it has to produce all of the time with follow-on crops planted immediately after harvest.

The plants.

Chinese artichoke (Stachys affinis)

Tubers were ordered from D.T. Brown and charged me good money but all they sent was rubbish. Nevertheless, I planted them all in a pot and one actually managed to grow.

Dead tubers from D.T. Brown.

As there was only one plant out of all those rubbish tubers, I decided to keep the plant growing in a pot where I could keep an eye on progress. This may not be absolutely best for the plant but I am also worried about millions of small tubers spreading into heavy clay soil to become weeds.

Chinese artichoke plant growing in a pot.

The photo below shows how productive the crop could be although these tubers are smaller than desired. However, they have been produced almost from dead matter and now I have better material to start next year with.

Chinese artichoke tubers.

Maca.

I started these seedlings off late last summer to grow them through the winter for a late spring harvest. Maca is a root vegetable that is found growing at 10,000ft and higher where it is reported to be extremely hardy and pest free. no self respecting pest is going to hang about high up a mountain close to the permanent snow line when there are nice warm valleys down the hill. I nearly lost the entire batch to cabbage white butterfly caterpillars in a matter of a week or two but maca proved to be resilliant and in spite of losing nearly all their leaves the plants soon regenerated their greenery.

Maca plants growing in polytunnel.

Garden Huckleberry.

Last year I tried the Chichiquelite Huckleberries and decided this year to compare them with the garden Huckleberry. The plants proved easy enough to germinate and grow, and needed little care. Low growing much branched plants produced a good quantity of berries which remained on the plant. Apart from a bit of slug damage early on they were relatively pest free. Pigeons left them alone.

Garden Huckleberry plants showing berries.

Unlike the Chichiquelites, these berries should not be eaten raw. For comparison, the garden huckleberries were larger, easier to pick and remained firm when harvesting. Makes a jam with a distinctive taste. Tastes like Huckleberry.

Garden Huckleberry plants growing outside.

Litchi Tomato.

Litchi tomato in flower.

Germination was poor and only 3 plants made it, but they grew well enough. Plants grow tall and straggly with the whole plant including leaves and stems covered in sharp spikey bristles or thorns. this makes handling difficult. Polination proved to be difficult at first and rumour has it that plants are self infertile. Rumours eh. I kept two plants in the polytunnel and planted the other one outside. Eventually the one outside started to set fruit but they struggled to swell much due to the drought conditions. Fruit was too small to do much with except save a few seeds. The plants appeared resistant to blight and handle light frost without damage.


Ground Cherry.

Ground cherry plants growing on landscape fabric.

These germinated well and grew on without problems. I tried a few diferent locations but the success was the row planted through landscape fabric. This proved a bonus at harvest time. Plants grow with a spread of approx. 2 ft. and 1 ft. high and in time sprawl on or close to the ground. For harvesting, all that is necessary is to sweep up the berries once a week. he fruit is contained in a papery husk which keeps the berry clean inside.

Ground cherrys on landscape fabric for harvest.

Tamarillo.

Young Tamarillo plant.

Tamarillo is a small tree or shrub from the Andes and is fast growing. Supposed to fruit after 2-3 years but we shall see. Plant prefers nice warm temperatures so this poses problems for overwintering.

Tamarillo plant near end of first seasons growth.

Blueberry.

This year I bought a couple of blueberry plants to see how they would cope with the natural soil conditions. I know they are acid loving plants but sometimes it is easier to just stick a plant in the gound rather than messing about with test kits and imported soil additives. Little plants will require a year or two to get going properly so watch this space.

Salmonberry.

Small Salmonberry plant.

To accompany the blueberries I purchased a salmonberry plant. This is similar to a blackberry in both growth habit and fruit style except that the berry is a reddish colour. This will require a year to establish before fruiting but there was one nice flower this spring to give an appreciation of what might follow in future years.

Close up of Salmonberry flower.

Page to be updated as crops mature.

Top of page.



The Plants, continued.

Seakale.

Seakale plants growing in ground

Seakale is a perennial plant that takes a few years to get to maturity but I am hoping to get a modest crop this year. Although the plants are fully hardy, crowns are covered in late winter to exclude light and blanche the emerging shoots.

Seakale blanched ready for eating

In March - April the new shoots emerge from the crown and with the total exclusion of light produce pale stems free from bitterness. Stems can be lightly steamed or eaten raw. I like them raw as they have a mild spicy flavour.

Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum)

Grown for the first time two years ago, this plant warrants another go. A lesson learnt from previous years is the need for a decent support system, and is best grown as part of the flowerbed.

Mashua, tropaeolum tuberosum flowering in mid summer. Mashua tubers at harvest time.

Chuffa. (Cyperus esculentus).

Chuffa tubers ready for planting.

I tried growing chuffa for the first time last year and while the germination proved difficult, the plants that managed to germinate grew well. Where chuffa is grown commercially, the soil is hot and sandy such that the tubers can be simply raked out. I would be unlikely to find half of the tubers if I planted out so I will be focusing on growing in containers. Finding the optimum size of container will be the focus of this years experiment.

Having learnt from last year I will not be starting these so early this year as these have proved to like a lot of heat. I experimented with growing the chuffa in different sized pots this year but results were inconclusive partly due to the prolonged dry conditions.

Chuffa nuts or tiger nuts.

Chichiquelite Huckleberry.

Chichiquelite huckleberries growing on the plot.

These were first grown last year for a taster and this year more space was allocated in order to trial these against the garden huckleberry variety. Plants do not take up too much space and grow without any problems.

Chichequelite huckleberries ready for harvest.

While the chichiquelite berries can be eaten raw they are small, soft and messy and do not have much of a taste so are best used in cooking either in jams or baking.


Chia (Salvia columbariae).

Chia plants.

Chia is one of those psudo wonder herbs making the rounds at the moment. Having now grown it I know it is a wonder herb because I wonder why anybody would waste their time growing it. Plant is small, flower pretty enough but small, and the seed even smaller.

Chia plants.