Linda Geist

COLUMBIA, Mo. – “Create some interest in your garden patch by adding unique vegetables this spring”, said University of Missouri Extension horticulturist David Trinklein.

“One of the joys of gardening is trying something new each year,” Trinklein said. Less common vegetables can challenge your gardening skills and tease your taste buds. They also can disappoint, so center your garden on tried-and-true favorites, he says.

Salad lovers have several robust choices to liven up the taste and eye appeal of garden greens. The deep red, veined leaves of radicchio, also known as Italian chicory, make salads pop with contrast and color. Radicchio’s slightly bitter taste intensifies when the season grows hotter. Start very early for a spring crop or grow as a fall crop so that its small heads can mature while it is still cool. Otherwise, it has the same cultural requirements as lettuce.

Some plants are the “fast food” of salad gardening because they can be picked about six weeks after seeding. Arugula, also known as roquette or garden rocket, adds a spicy, peppery taste to salads. However, arugula is more than just another pretty face in the garden. Its high fiber, antioxidants and glucosinolates offers many health benefits.

Other quick growers include Malabar spinach and an upland cress called peppergrass, or curled cress. Malabar spinach, or basella, produces greens similar in appearance to spinach. It tastes like mild Swiss chard. Unlike spinach, it tolerates heat and produces throughout the summer. This climbing vine grows up to 6 feet on a trellis. Start seeds indoors or plant outdoors after the danger of frost passes.

Raw or cooked, peppergrass leaves offer a pleasant, spicy flavor. A member of the cabbage family, it grows best in cool weather. Its small plantlets—microgreens—offer nutrients and flavor only 10 days after planting.

Romanesco’s chartreuse green buds look like something an extraterrestrial gardener may have left behind to delight earthly gardeners. The unusual appearance comes from its “self-similar” growth habit. In other words, the whole is the same shape as its smaller parts. Its smaller buds, or curds, are arranged in a logarithmic spiral. Closely related to broccoli and cauliflower, it prefers cool growing conditions. Its crunchy edible buds have a delicate, nutty flavor.

These vegetables may foil in the soil

“Some unusual vegetables may not live up to their names and, unless the gardener knows what to expect, may be disappointing,” said Trinklein.

One such example is the vine peach. This vining plant, related to melons and cucumbers, produces fruits about the size of a peach with a light orange color. “However, they are nothing like a peach in flavor,” said Trinklein. “Vine peach is not good when consumed for fresh eating but is useful for making preserves, marmalades and chutneys.” You might say it is the pits for eating fresh.

Gardeners also may sour when planting lemon cucumber. The cucumbers from this plant are about the size of a lemon and develop a yellow color. Their flavor, however, it that of a cucumber—making it a lemon for lemon lovers.

Photo available for this image:
Romanesco is related to broccoli and cauliflower. Photo by Jacopo Werther. Shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.

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