Rare Exotic Plants For The Backyard Garden – Part 7 – A Bevy Of Bizarre Veggies

Otherwise Known As A Pack Of Peculiar Plants

I’ve got some uncanny, off-the-wall plants here – some are root vegetables – and some are strictly “above ground” – if you know what I mean.  And, all of them can be grown by the average, everyday home gardener right here in the good ole U.S.A.

From a richly colored beet – to a granny apple-looking eggplant – a vegan citrus caviar lime – a vividly multi-hued radish – and ending with a richly chromatic yam – I guarantee that you will be honored to grow any and all of them!

Come along with me as I show you these colorful, out-of-the-ordinary gems that will add some class to any backyard plot – and are joyfully easy to grow in just about any hardiness zone!

 

Beets

This is not just any beet.  This is a Chioggia beet.  It is just about the quirkiest beet there is – with its tree-like rings of pink and white.  Slice a cross section and it looks like a target with a pink bull’s eye.  They kinda remind me of something out of Dr. Seuss’ story, “The Lorax.”

Chioggia beet

Conceived in Chioggia, Italy, a stone’s throw from Venice, it took a while for the Chioggia beet to become popular.  It was so different from the typical solid, deep red beet that everyone was so used to – but, this candy striped root veggie, with its tender, mild, mellow, and sweet flesh, eventually became a popular magnet for attracting tourists to the genuine family-style cooking of this little town – also known as “Little Venice.”

Now, top chefs everywhere have developed a penchant for adding these beets to tasty dishes.

It takes about 2 months from planting to harvest.  They’ll get about 8 inches tall – and, they’ll need to be spaced at least 3 inches apart – in rows a foot apart.  Basically, you can grow them just like any other ordinary beet.  Chioggia beets do well in any hardiness zone – from 1 to 12.

Pick them when they’re about 2 inches wide and slice them up to eat raw in a salad – or, boil them, add some spices, and use them as a side dish – or you can drop them into your favorite soups.

Pointers

Use a little TLC – and try not to break their skin while washing them.  Every crack in the skin will allow some valuable nutrients to escape.

If you boil Chioggia beets, add a touch of lemon juice or white vinegar and their colors will stay bright and vibrant.

Don’t forget to eat the leaves, too.  They taste a lot like spinach – and, they can be prepared the same way – raw for salads – or sautéed in a stir fry!

I actually like Chioggia beets much more than traditional, solid red beets – not only due to their milder flavor – but, they also don’t bleed near as much – so, no worries about staining your hands or clothes.

My picks for great heirloom Chioggia beet seeds are:

Isla’s Garden Seeds have Chioggia Beet SeedsBurpee Chioggia Beet Seeds

Isla’s Garden Seeds have Chioggia Beet Seeds – Isla’s Garden Seeds are known for having over 90% germination rate so, these packs of 100+ Chioggia Beet seeds should be taken very seriously.

Burpee Chioggia Beet Seeds – They come in packs of 200 top quality heirloom seeds.


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Eggplant

Specifically, this is an apple eggplant – that, when harvested, will grow to be somewhere between 2 and 4 inches in diameter.

Eggplant was one of the many species of edible plants brought to America from Europe by Thomas Jefferson – one of America’s founding fathers.  He thoroughly enjoyed its unusual flavor.  And, it quickly became popular in many dishes – the tastiest of which – to me – was Eggplant Parmesan!  Double yum!

In particular, the apple eggplant was bred a little over 50 years ago – in a plant experiment station at the University of New Hampshire – in Durham, NH.

Frozen Seed Capsules Green Apple Eggplant Seeds

It rather looks like a Granny Apple – with its pale green – or yellow – smooth skin – and its cream colored innards.  When you slice them in half, the cavity – with its seeds – also looks like the inside of a normal apple.

Apple eggplant is mild flavored with a buttery texture – when it is cooked – and, it is a bit sweet.  This veggie will load our bodies up with a host of nutrients – manganese, copper, fiber, and B6 – for a start.

Paired with garlic, onions, a host of cheeses and meats, and splattered with your favorite herbs – like basil, oregano, cilantro, parsley, to name a few – apple eggplant is successfully grilled, stewed, stuffed, pickled, deep fried, baked – or added to just about any meat, pasta, or pastry dishes.

You have to go to out-of-the-way small town farmers’ markets or specialty grocers – mostly in the U.S.A. or Canada – to find them – but, the demand for the apple eggplant is growing year after year.

Grow ‘em as you would any normal eggplant.

The supplier, Frozen Seed Capsules is my main contact for Green Apple Eggplant Seeds.  They are the most trusted provider of rare and exotic seeds that I can think of!  Their germination rates are top-of-the-line!

Surprisingly, most of those pesky little critters that dive into normal eggplant and turn the leaves into screen doors will stay away from apple eggplant – so, we got that going for us!  No need to go around soaking the plants with tons of pesticide.


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Lime

Australian finger lime

The Australian finger lime – also called the “caviar lime” due to its caviar-like little green micro-citrus pearl-like nodules – was originally grown as a shrub or small tree on the coasts of Queensland and New South Wales, Australia.

The finger lime plant can reach anywhere from 6 foot to over 23 foot in height.  It has small leaves – less than 2.5 inches long and an inch wide.  The flowers are white – and, the fruit is shaped like a cylindrical tube – coming in green, red, and pink colors.

Chew on the flesh for an explosion of tangy lime flavor.

Finger limes are most often used as a garnish – or as an addition to a number of different recipes – most famous of which is lime marmalade.

Commercial applications for finger limes started less than 30 years ago – and, they didn’t show up in restaurants until around the year 2000.

These delicacies are grown just like any other lime varieties would be.  The best results are achieved when growing in hardiness zones 10 or higher – but, many folks across the United States grow them in pots that they set outside during the summer and bring indoors during cold weather.

Top Garden Seeds LLC - pink finger lime seedsKasuki - finger lime seeds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Garden Seeds LLC is a very reputable supplier of pink finger lime seeds.  So, if you like the taste of lime, you’ll definitely get a kick out of these elite additions to a top culinary lifestyle.

Kasuki is another reliable source for finger lime seeds.  Kasuki – it is interesting to note – is also famous for selling baby Bonsai trees.

I personally like to use finger limes whenever I make up a fresh pitcher of Margaritas!  Talk about a burst of flavor when tequila is in the mix, too!


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Radish

watermelon radish

Here, we’re going to look at the watermelon radish.  It’s not a watermelon.  It just looks like one with its bright red flesh – but, it doesn’t have all those big black telltale watermelon seeds.  This radish is grown like a standard radish – as a root vegetable.

The watermelon radish is an offshoot from the Chinese Daikon radish.  Also known as the “Red Meat” radish, it has edible spherical roots with thin stems and curly green leaves.  The skin is creamy white with some spots of pale green – and, the flesh starts out as light pink – closest to the skin – and then it darkens to a deep reddish color – almost maroon – closer to the center – just like a typical watermelon squash looks on the inside.

The size of a watermelon radish varies between a golf ball and a soft ball – with a flesh that is mild – and, it has a bit of a pepper taste – with sweet overtones.

These radishes go great with all types of red meat, chicken, and fish dishes – or, as ingredients for garnishes – and, they complement many other food additives like apples, cheeses, butter, and salad dressings.

The watermelon radish tastes like any normal radish – but, the flavor is a little milder than standard varieties.

This is a cool season crop – that prefers soil to be below 70o F (21o C).  If they grow in a soil that is too warm, the peppery-ness is much, much more pronounced.

Follow my how to grow radishes page – to learn the basics for growing these spectacular and unmatched watermelon radishes.

TIP:  Don’t forget to eat the flowers, too!  They are edible and highly nutritious additions to any salad!

The plants are short – around 4 inches tall – and they don’t take up much space in the garden

Burpee – watermelon radish seedsIsla’s Garden Seeds - watermelon radish seeds

I go to Burpee – as my main source for watermelon radish seeds.  The packs contain about 300 seeds with high percentage germination rates.

Sometimes, I pick up a few packs of watermelon radish seeds from Isla’s Garden Seeds – because they also have a quality, high percentage germination rate.


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Yam

oca – or, cubio – or, New Zealand yam

A type of yam called oca – or, cubio – or, New Zealand yam – is a root vegetable as well.  It has a waxy, underground tuber, actually, and it brings up the tail end of fascinating veggies outlined here in this treatise.

Available in a number of colors – yellow, orange, pink, and red to name a few – the oca has graced the dinner tables in the rural farms throughout the Andes in South America for hundreds of years.

You can eat them raw – but, add a little salt, lemon, and hot pepper – like they do in Mexico.  Raw oca flavor is tangy and crunchy – like a carrot.  Oca actually taste a lot like a carrot!  But, they get very starchy when cooked all the way through – like any potato would.

Pointer

Exposing the plants to a little extra sunlight will decrease the acid content and increase the sweetness.

Other than eating them raw, oca are tasty when they are boiled, baked, or fried – as well as used in stews and soups – just like potatoes – and, they are a great source of carbs, minerals, and protein.

Oca likes cool weather – and I mean COOL – 50o to 55o F (10o to 12o C).  They also like limited sunshine – not too much – just the right amount.

HATCHMATIC - Oca Tuber Seeds - flower

I go to HATCHMATIC for my Oca Tuber Seeds – These seeds are so difficult to find and HATCHMATIC always seems to have them when I am ready to order some more oca seeds.

 

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Neighbor Jed – The Retired Farmer Does It Again!

Good ole neighbor Jed, a retired farmer came over to look at my watermelon radishes the other day.  Normally, the only reason he visits me – in my garden – is to recount one of his infamous farmer stories.  And, this was no exception.

Jed goes on…

“I was watchin’ the TV over the weekend and I saw how these new fangled modern day colleges are offering so many useless degrees – philosophy, humanities, gender studies and the like.

Back in my day college kids got degrees in useful stuff – like engineering, business, agricultural – things like that.

But, then I ‘membered the time that a young whippersnapper agricultural student from Bumpkin University – down the road – came by my farm for a visit.

I thought he came to learn a thing or two.  But, he actually came to criticize the way I grow my crops.

This high falutin’ college boy took a look at one of the trees in my orchard and said, ‘Jed, did you know that your growing methods are way too old fashioned?  I wouldn’t be surprised if this tree – right here – will give you any apples at all!’

I took a long, hard look at that tree – then I shook my head at this wet-behind-the-ears young fella and said, “You know, I won’t be surprised either.  ‘Cause this is a pear tree!”

Agricultural student surprised that apples don't grow on pear trees.

 

 

Well that’s all for now.  Hope you enjoyed this exposé on these various rare and exotic plants.

Let me know in the comments below – or by email – if you’ve tried any of these delicacies – or, if you know of other notable, rare veggies to grow!  I’m anxious to hear from you!

 

Jim, the Lifelong Gardener

jim@perfect-vegetable-garden.com

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