Does the thought of growing the same vegetable varieties you grew last year leave you a bit bored and complacent about your vegetable garden? Are you ready to try some new varieties of veggies this spring? If so, you need to start planning now so when spring arrives, you’ll be ready to try something in your garden.
My suggestions for some uncommon veggies include:
For something different, try a round summer squash such as ‘Cue Ball’.
Squash ‘Cue Ball’
Everyone knows what summer or zucchini squash looks like. Those club-shaped squashes with dark green, yellow or even light green skin are recognizable to everyone. But if you hand someone a round summer squash, you are likely to be asked what it is. The most common round, summer squash is ‘Cue Ball’ (Cucurbita pepo ‘Cue Ball’), which has light green skin. Other varieties of round squash include ‘Eight Ball’, which is dark green skinned, and ‘One Ball’, which is yellow skinned. Grow these squash varieties as you would other summer squash by planting a few seeds in a small hill of soil in a sunny location in the garden. Like other types of squashes, they will start producing squash in about a month and continue to produce for a long period of time. Pick the round squash when it is slightly larger than a billiard ball and use it as you would other summer squash.
Edamame is packed with vitamins and nutrients.
Though surrounded by fields of soybeans in Indiana, few gardeners think about growing soybeans in their vegetable gardens. But you should think about doing so because the immature soybeans, which are usually called by the Japanese word “edamame,” are packed full of vitamins and nutrients. Choose a variety such as ‘Envy’ (Glycine max ‘Envy’), which produces in about 75 days, versus 95 days for many other edamame varieties. Grow edamame like you grow green beans by planting in rows in a sunny location. Edamame is ready to pick when the pods are still green and you can see the shape of the bean inside the pod. An easy way to prepare edamame is to blanch the pods in boiling water for five minutes, then immerse them in ice water. Remove the blanched soybeans from the pods by hand. Edamame can be used in salads and stir-fry dishes.
Tiny currant tomatoes can be used in salads or as a healthy snack.
Tomato ‘Red Currant’
Smaller than a cherry tomato, currant-type tomatoes such as ‘Red Currant’ (Lycopersicon pimpinellifolium ‘Red Currant’) are another fun vegetable to grow in the garden. You will need to do some extra planning to grow currant tomatoes because most garden centers do not have plants for sale in the spring. You can start your own plants from seeds inside in the early spring, about six weeks before your frost-free date. Grow them as you would other tomatoes, especially cherry tomatoes. Consider using strong tomatoes cages rather than staking them for support, because you will get more tomatoes when some of the side shoots are encouraged to grow. You will only need one or two currant tomato plants to have enough tiny tomatoes to garnish salads from midsummer until frost.
Okra has beautiful flowers in addition to its edible pods.
If you have never grown okra, but have tasted it fresh, consider adding it to your garden. Even if you decide you don’t like okra after tasting fresh okra, you can still enjoy the large, yellow hibiscus-like flowers and let the pods dry to use in fall flower arrangements. Okra prefers hot weather, so in far north Indiana you may want to start plants indoors to give them a head start. A good variety is ‘Emerald’ (Abelmoschus esculentus ‘Emerald’). Pick the pods when they are about the size of your thumb. Overripe pods tend to be stringy and gummy. Okra is a treat when sliced, coated with cornmeal and fried.
To grow these and other unusual or different varieties of vegetables, you don’t need any advanced gardening skills. You just need to plan ahead a bit and do some research to find the seeds. Look online or in seed catalogs. Or stop by your local garden center in the quiet winter days to find out what they are going to have on hand in the spring and let them know what you are looking for.
Spending time now finding sources for something different to grow in the garden will open up a whole new world of vegetable varieties. Some of them may even become your new “tried and true” vegetables to grow every year.
From Indiana Gardening Volume III Issue I. Photos by Carol Michel.