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I seem to have a penchant for – and have experienced frequent success with – some of the odder types of edibles: purple carrots, black tomatoes, round cucumbers. But this year, my weakness for the weird has seemingly gotten out of control. Nearly every seed packet I've ordered for the coming growing season has something unique to offer, to say the least.
Tomatoes There are, of course, thousands of different hybrids of tomatoes in various colors, shapes, and sizes. But some are just a tad more interesting than others, in my opinion. I'm sick of the standard 'Celebrity' and '444' tomatoes recommended for Texas gardens. Snore. I mainly use my tomatoes for stewing and sauces anyway, so a good raw flavor isn't always essential to me. (I do tend to stay away from acid-y tomatoes no matter what). Here are a few of the odder tomato seeds I'll be pushing into peat pots later this month:
‘Black Sea Man' Gorgeous and unusual. I'm really looking forward to growing this Russian heirloom. It's a potato-leafed type, so when I inevitably mix up the tags of my transplants, this one should be easy to spot. Due to the smaller plant size, this variety supposedly does well in containers, and its Russian background makes it more cold-tolerant.
‘Green Sausage' Another smaller-sized tom suitable for container growth, ‘Green Sausage' (also sometimes known as ‘Green Sleeves') bears beautiful elongated 3- to 4-inch green fruits with yellow stripes and a pointy tip. This is a sweet tomato, great for making sauces or eating fresh.
‘Speckled Roman' Appearance-wise, Speckled Roman looks like a red version of Green Sausage, except it's actually a cross between ‘Antique Roman' and ‘Banana Legs'. Few seeds and a great, meaty taste make for a fabulous sauce tomato.
‘Merlot Hybrid' Dark purple, almost black, blocky fruits on thickly-leafed plants. Matures quickly, even in varying weather conditions (yay!). Very resistant to Tobacco Mosaic Virus and Bacterial Leaf Spot. (double yay!)
‘Cayenne Blend Pepper' Talk about a WOW factor – these multi-colored cayennes are almost too pretty to eat. Seed catalog descriptions say they keep their gorgeous colors even when dried, so they would make a stunning ristra too.
‘Purple Jalapeno' No confusion between name and appearance here. These tasty treats start out green, but turn to purple then red on highly productive plants. Also, their bigger size means easier stuffing for cheddar or cream cheese snacks. Yum!
‘Tigger' The first time I saw a picture of this melon, I knew I had to try it. Tigger is a highly-productive Armenian heirloom, and most seed companies describe it as ‘powerfully fragrant'. Each fruit weighs about one pound and the white flesh is semi-sweet with a cantaloupe-like flavor. I suspect that our long, dry summer growing season here in Texas will accommodate 'Tigger' nicely.
‘Yellow Mini Tiger Hybrid' Guess I'll need to keep my two tiger melons separated so they don't fight! This seedless, yellow-flesh watermelon yields tons of 3 to 4 pound fruits on compact vines – purrrfect for small gardens.
Okay, that covers the new, weird varieties I'll be trying in the Spring 2010. Now let's take a look at a few vegetables I've tried in the recent past that worked well for me and rank as being a bit unusual.
‘Lemon' A beloved heirloom by those who dare grow it. These vines are highly prolific and will probably succumb to either squash bugs, cucumber beetles or some sort of disease due to their lack of protective breeding, but you'll still get tons of delicious, tennis ball-like cucumbers. (Despite the name, they do not taste lemony.)
'Yellow Submarine' I grew this new-ish hybrid last summer and at first got lots of lush, disease-free vines, but not much in the fruiting department. Then we had a wet July - a truly freakish event for Dallas. Sometime during the first week of August, I pulled back the vine and, to my astonishment, found two absolutely huge pale yellow-green cukes, probably 10 inches long and about as fat as my forearm. They weighed a ton, were extremely tasty and nearly seedless. I will be trying these again, but will provide more water and check them more frequently.
‘Purple Sprouting' Gardeners in the United Kingdom will probably chuckle at my reference to this as an unusual vegetable – Brits grow it quite regularly. Even if you don't like the taste of broccoli, try 'Purple Sprouting' just for visual appeal; the sight of this plant definitely turns heads for its stunning purple color. Its growing habit is more “open” than regular broccoli and features a smaller central head with lots of individual sprouts poking out from the sides of the main stem. The plant will usually continue to produce side sprouts after you remove the central head. This is more of an early spring crop than fall, so start seeds in late winter.
'Nero Tondo' One of several types of Spanish black radishes becoming more popular for its nutritional value, these beasts are not for the faint of heart. You'd better be a big-time radish fan to partake in a bite, but they are an easy, excellent over-wintering root crop and stunning to behold once harvested. (Check out my Black Radish article that originally published on Dave's Garden in September 2008.)
‘Rainbow' Not a mix in the variety, just a mix in color, Rainbow carrots aren't just pretty, they're the best carrots I've ever tasted. Developing into hues ranging from white to dark orange, they are easy to grow, sweet and tender. (Some retailers do mix Rainbow seeds with other unusual hybrids like 'Purple Haze' and 'Atomic Red' carrots for even more variety, calling it ‘Rainbow Blend'.)
‘Fish' Gorgeous, variegated foliage AND fruits. If nothing else, these should be an ornamental in your garden, even though the fruits are edible and deliciously hot. I grew mine in a medium-sized container last summer and had consistently great pepper production all the way until frost. At one time, the seeds were quite difficult to locate but are becoming more common.
Here is a fascinating story from Mother Earth News about Fish peppers and their unique history.
The moral of the story is, don't be afraid to get adventurous with your veggies. You may be surprised at how wonderful these look in your garden...and how good they taste!
Some seeds of the edibles featured above are widely available, some are not. You can check with the following companies whose catalog photos I used, or try the Dave's Garden Plant Scout.
I am an avid organic gardener and certified Master Gardener for Collin County, Texas (that's North Dallas). However, I don't take being an MG too seriously, as I still manage to kill plants on a regular basis.
I enjoy growing nearly everything: vegetables, herbs, tropicals, roses...the only plants I'm really bad with are orchids and houseplants. I am also a fierce defender of spiders.
When not gardening I can be found cooking, birdwatching or hugging on either my sweet English hubby or my two wonderful doggies, Ray and Bailey.