Weird Vegetables for Your Homestead Garden

weird vegetablesOddly enough, we never really had an issue with the kids eating their vegetables. In fact, two of them, Joey and Elizabeth, are pescatarians who won't touch a slice of meat. Talk about your veggie connoisseurs. When we started our urban grazing garden all those years ago with a selection of weird vegetables and exotic fruits, it was just natural that snacks would be eaten off the vines and from bushes while they played in the backyard. Now that we have a more serious approach to gardening to increase our self-sufficiency for the table, we want to incorporate the same openness to keep everyone engaged. What better motivation to visit and tend to a family garden than the promise of a yummy snack?

We now have a great deal more space to work with in tour growing space, with strong, direct sunlight and fantastic soil. Wendie is putting in a dedicated carrot patch, while vining plants and big, busy tomatoes will have plenty of room to thrive without smothering out other selections. This means we can expand our selection and with us being us, and the kids missing their grazing garden, we have plenty of room to incorporate a greater variety of weird vegetables for fun as well as the nutritional value.

Weird Vegetables

weird vegetables
Mixing in some weird vegetables with the standards is one way we keep the garden interesting and fun. There's something special about harvesting a plant that isn't found in the grocery store, really driving home the idea of self-sufficiency. There's always something new that catches our attention and we bring in opinions from the peanut gallery when making our gardening choices. When the kids have a vested interest in what we grow, they are more interested in doing their part along the way.

Perhaps our first experiment was with Purple Majesty potatoes. Not only are they purple inside and out when harvested, but maintain their color when cooked. Potato salad never looks so festive as when speckled with chunks of color. Wendie discovered they make great potato chips as well.

weird vegetablesAnother color explosion that comes from the garden is from Starburst radishes, a white-skinned variety that thrives as a cold-weather variety. We plant these in early spring and again in the fall, as hot weather prompts them to bolt like nobody's business.

Starburst radishes are a great addition to a rotating garden because they go from seed to harvest in just 60 days. Sweetness lies just beneath the traditional peppery radish flavor, and their pink centers can breath another aspect of flair to a summer salad the sliced thin. This year, we are putting in a few more to try pickling them. I'm not sure they will out shine our dillies, but a little pickled radish makes a groovy garnish for everything from a cheese board to martinis.

weird vegetables
One thing we haven't tried yet but are looking forward to are Japanese White Eggs, a miniature eggplant variety that grows no larger than a chicken egg. Regular eggplants are a standard in our garden, with heavy production and a plethora of ways for preparation. I tend to take over the kitchen when deep frying eggplant, though we try to experiment as much as we can with our more prosperous cultivars when we can. Wendie is a master at eggplant parmesan, by the way.

For these white Japanese varieties, we are looking to up our stir-fry game. White Eggs have a 65 day maturity, and are also cold tolerant. Instead of bolting in hot weather, they turn yellow and bitter, so a late crop after the dog days of August is our best bet for getting them to the table.

Vegetables from Around the World

vegetables from around the worldTo enhance our fanaticism with hispanic foods, we plan on putting in some Mouse Melons, native to Central America and Mexico. These hot weather favorites may look like mini-watermelons with their striped-green skins, but are more along the lines of a cucumber. Watered heavily, these little suckers will spread like wildfire and produce several pounds of fruit per vine. They are slightly sour and have been part of some of the most delicious salads we have ever tasted.

vegetables from around the world
Now, I think I've talked about this before on the blog, but one thing I'm really looking forward to planting this season is Jersey Cabbage, better known as Walking Stick Kale. It is a standard cultivar of coastal Western Europe, from the English Isles all the way down to Portugal.

Walking Stick Kale is treated and cooked the same as regular kale, but the greatest thing about them is the height they grow on woody stalks. These stalks can then be harvested, trimmed, sealed and dried to make functioning walking sticks. I can't wait to get a bundle of these in the workshop to see what magic they will inspire. From one plant we get a massive infusion of vitamins as well as an opportunity to get creative with wood working. How can that not be an awesome addition to the garden?

Weird Fruits

weird fruitsWe decided long ago that fruits were integral to any gardening plans we would ever put together. Not only is a sweet berry or apple a great treat, but the perennial nature of fruits is a great addition to attract pollinators. We kept a healthy strawberry patch on the old urban homestead, and definitely plan to do the same here. However, alongside traditional varieties, we are looking at adding in some weird fruits like Pine Berries, a white strawberry cultivar that doesn't taste like pine cones, but rather pineapple. 

The strain comes from Scandinavia and is a great temperate fruit for our 5b growing zone. Even though strawberries are a little more labor intensive thanks to the need to thin out creepers, their nature is to come back stronger and stronger for a few years before they need replacing. A good layer of mulch in the fall will ensure they can withstand any cold nights winter wants to throw our way.

Exotic Vegetables

exotic vegetables
When looking for exotic vegetables to add to our kitchen garden, perhaps the single most important thing to we consider is whether we will eat them. Some vegetables look amazing in the ground, but when prepared we might not enjoy the taste. So, after deciding if we can actually grow them in our zone, it comes down to flavor. That makes sense, right?

We also research if they are considered an invasive plant. The last thing we want to learn is that the veggie we though was so awesome is actually a voracious leech that would take over the garden, the yard and the neighborhood. We never slipped into the mint armageddon that so many have faced before us, but we did have to battle Japanese Knot Weed for years. Never again.

Speaking of mint, we do enjoy planting it in containers for a garnish or julep now and then. This year, we've discovered Chocolate Mint, a fruity little cultivar with a strong hint of chocolate and undertones of pineapple. Maybe we'll try pairing those in a smoothie with the Pine Berries?

We really enjoy sharing our life from the off grid homestead, and would love to hear from you. What weird vegetables do you plant each year? Do you try and incorporate vegetables from around the world into your garden design? We want to hear from you, so please add your voice to the conversation below.


Lisa Lombardo said…
These would be lots of fun to grow with kids! Saw you on the Simple Homestead hop!
WT said…
Hi Lisa! The kids are always on our minds when we plant- in fact, our first garden all those years ago on our urban homestead was what we called a grazing garden. Everything was planted with the idea of eating it off the vine:

Happy to connect with you- heading off to visit your blog. I'd love to see what you write about:)