I have my standard list of fruits, vegetables, and herbs that I plant in my gardens every year: heirloom tomatoes, lettuces, peas, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, etc. However one thing I would recommend, that I enjoy doing each year, is to leave space for a couple of new-to-you edibles. They don’t necessarily have to be new to market, just something that you yourself haven’t tried growing before.
I started this habit a few years ago, when I was placing a seed order. I added a packet of tomatillo seeds to my cart on a whim. I’d never eaten a tomatillo in my life, but by the end of the season I quickly discovered that I love salsa verde on everything from tacos to fish. Besides tomatillos, a few new-to-me edibles have been added to my permanent roster this way: cucamelons, lemon cucumbers, lemongrass and gooseberries, to name a few.
As you figure out your edible garden plan, here are a few reasons to plant new-to-you edibles:
1. Introduce yourself and your family to new flavours: This could go well or it could go badly (if you don’t enjoy the taste of what you planted), but it doesn’t hurt to try, right? I was pleasantly surprised to discover wasabi arugula last year. This salad green really does live up to its name. Both the flowers and leaves are edible, taste like real wasabi, and give you that back-of-the-nose jolt. I found it fun to use as a horseradish alternative on roast beef. Similarly, I started using lemongrass as a dracaena in my ornamental urn, and now I find I head out the front door throughout the summer to grab a stalk or two to flavour iced tea and to toss in my favourite chicken curry recipe.
2. Plant conversation starters: A few years ago when I grew lemon cucumbers in my front yard, I had a couple of neighbours ask what they were. They look a little threatening with their spiky exterior, but those spikes easily brush off and the cucumbers are crisp and delicious.
And cucamelons, which resemble mini watermelons, also seem to get a lot of attention because of the cute factor. They are very prolific with a great flavour and apparently make yummy pickles (see #3). I grew my first plants from seed, but last year I saw that local a garden centre was selling plants.
3. Choose new edibles to preserve: Last year, I made habanero-mint jelly with my dad for the first time. I’m not really a hot pepper fan (on account of my being a wuss with the heat), but my dad had so many habaneros on his one plant, we were inspired to preserve them and I absolutely loved the delicious results.
Furthermore, I was recently inspired by a “backyard fruit” talk given by my colleague Steven Biggs to widen my collection. I have a fig tree, and last year I planted a goji berry (though it hasn’t produced fruit yet)… I’m trying to figure out what to add next.
4. Discover new varieties of trusted favourites: If beefsteak is your tomato garden mainstay, try planting a few heirloom varieties, as well. There are dozens and dozens of options out there and the more you taste, the more you’ll discover a diverse range of flavour profiles. Different colours of standard veggies can be fun to try, too. Look for purple carrots and peas, orange and golden beets, blue potatoes, and a rainbow of tomatoes, from pink and blue to purple and brown.