Eight niche crops that are worth making room for
As the sunlight begins to linger for longer and there’s a welcome hint of spring in the air, most of us are buying and sowing our seeds for the upcoming season. This year why not branch out from the usual suspects and make space in your vegetable patch for some weird and wonderful crops? Here are eight fruits and veggies we grow in our Global Garden which are definitely worth a try.
As a staple originating from South America, Oxalis tuberosa are also widely grown in New Zealand and are consequently known to many as the New Zealand Yam. These tubers have been described as tasting like a mixture of new potatoes and lemon juice, and are grown in a very similar way to potatoes.
Top tip: Oca is harvested very late in the year so it’s a good idea to fleece the plants to keep them cosy and protect them from frosts.
This vegetable is also a resident of South America; it goes by the botanical name Cyclanthera pedata and is also commonly known as the slipper gourd. The seeds are propagated in a similar way to cucumbers and their plants will thrive outside in the UK. They can be eaten like a pepper and are an incredibly versatile, interesting and healthy vegetable.
Top tip: Achocha is a vigorous climber, so make sure they have enough support to help them climb until their heart’s content.
3. Phureja potatoes
With varieties such as Mayan Gold, Mayan Twilight and Inca Bella, these potatoes offer something a bit different to the humble spud. These potatoes are easy to grow and taste delicious, with a satisfying, nutty umami flavour.
Top tip: Phurejas cook in about half the time of regular potatoes, so keep an eye on them to avoid a tater catastrophe.
4. Hardy Kiwi
Much tougher and easier to grow than the standard kiwifruit, Actinidia arguta is also known as the Siberian, or cocktail, kiwi. A keen climber, the fast-growing vines can grow up to 20 feet in a season, so they need plenty of support. This variety is sweeter than a regular kiwi, with a fuzz-free skin meaning it can be eaten (and enjoyed) whole.
Top tip: Actinidi arguta is self-fertile, meaning you don’t need to have separate male and female plants.
5. Chop Suey Greens
This versatile leaf is also known as the garland Chrysanthemum, shingiku or crown daisy. Its botanical name used to be Chrysanthemum coronarium, but it’s been renamed to Glebionis coronaria. In the spring, the seed can be sown direct and it’s an easy-peasy plant to grow. Its young leaves are used in stir-fry and soup recipes, and the flowers can be added sparingly to salads for a pretty addition.
Top tip: Try to avoid letting the plant become quite big as the leaves will turn bitter. However, if does sneakily grow too much, it makes a beautiful flowering plant which bees love.
Avid viewers of TV cooking shows will be familiar with Daikon or Mooli, as it’s becoming an increasingly popular ingredient. It’s a large radish from Southeast Asia which is really easy to grow and has a mild flavour. The roots can be pickled, grated or sliced into salads or used to add a crunch to many oriental dishes.
Top tip: The Japanese name ‘Daikon’ roughly translates as ‘big root’.
7. Chinese Artichoke
As a member of the Mint family, this is a tuberous perennial with the botanical name Stachys affinis. The tubers are relatively small, so it’s more of a novelty crop than a staple food. They are, however, really interesting characters, with a pearlescent sheen to the skin and a look that isn’t dissimilar to that of a witchetty grub!
Top tip: Lift these tubers in autumn, leaving a few aside to store in sand in a cool, dark place – these can then be planted again in the spring.
This veggie is incredibly similar to the baby soya bean and has been christened as one of the latest superfoods. Edamame is becoming increasingly popular as a healthy snack or as an addition to many dishes. Propagated either in pots or direct sown in the spring, they are grown in a similar way to dwarf French beans. The pods are picked when they’re still immature and are best cooked whole, and then shelled.
Top tip: Edamame have to be cooked before they’re eaten and, unlike most beans, the pods are not edible.