Thanks to the biodiversity of our wonderful planet and the food that it offers, we can grow new vegetables each year which are not available at the stores.
There are a few favourites that I grow each year but, even after a decade of growing food, I always grow some new varieties – mostly to amaze myself and to experience the flavours of heirloom vegetables from around the world.
The new vegetables may have a striking appearance, a rare flavour, a unique fragrance or simply something that I want to challenge myself with. However, for readers, I have selected a list of vegetables that look familiar in appearance but there is something unique about them. Most of the seed stores now stalk these varieties – so finding seeds will also be no problem.
1. Heirloom Tomato: Red Pear
From a grape sized tomato to a 400 gram giant tomato, I have grown many types of heirloom tomatoes that not only produce abundantly but also look stunning in any garden. But I can never forget the first tomatoes that I planted in containers. Red pear tomatoes are uniquely shaped cherry tomatoes that look like 1-inch pears. They come in clusters on tomato vines that grow up to 8 feet tall and need to be supported. You can also grow yellow pear tomatoes along with the red ones to add some contrast and interest.
Homegrown spinach is probably the most rewarding vegetable of them all
2. California Wonder Pepper
If you love bell peppers, this heirloom variety will not let you down. Plants produce giant sweet green bell peppers that turn red if left on the vine to mature. Inter-planting with tomatoes in spring protects these plants from the sun and prolong the growing season. The best part is that you can save seeds and keep growing them for the rest of your life.
3. Broccoli Calabrese
This Italian variety was introduced to the US in 1880 and is still famous all around the world for its super tasty green heads. Plants start producing in two months. Each plant produces one large head of broccoli. While harvesting, mark a cut on the stalk to encourage the plant to grow smaller heads. This variety freezes really well. Blanch and freeze your produce so you can enjoy it for a longer time. The stalks make delicious soup!
4. Sweet snap Peas – Sugar Ann
One of the most magical things that can grow in any garden is a pea vine. People grow it for the divine aroma of its flowers too. These small, delicate vines need support to grow. Sugar Ann is a sweet pea variety that grows fast and produces pods that are each swollen with five or more delicious peas inside. The white flowers have a soothing fragrance which makes the whole thing more special!
The easiest way to pick a variety is to go to a vegetable vendor and pick the ones that you would like to grow. Select the ones that are at least three months old: new potatoes do not grow. This year I am growing both red and golden potatoes. Sweet potatoes can be grown very easily by planting a sprouted root.
Potatoes grow well in pots too. Begin by planting sprouted eyes at a 12-inch distance in a half-filled pot and build up soil as the plant grows. Harvest once the leaves and stalk are dead.
6. Beet – Bull’s Blood
Ready in just 50 days, this beet is as red as the same suggests. The beautiful, dark purplish red beet has pink rings inside it. This heirloom variety is ideal for juicing, cooking and eating raw. You can pair it with other root vegetables or grow it around other slow-growing vegetables. Beets like rich soil and good irrigation.
7. Carrot – Atomic Red
The 8-inch long roots are sweet and red. I love this one especially because it looks and tastes like our desi red carrots. They grow very well in containers. Atomic Red carrots take 75 days to be ready for harvest. Of course this may vary depending on the temperatures.
8. Radish – French Breakfast
French Breakfast Radishes are 2 inches long with shades of pink and white. This super-fast vegetable takes just 20 days to mature. The attractive little roots are mildly spicy and can fit in your smallest pots. I plant these around all or some of my other potted plants, such as limes. Usually the radish is eaten raw but I like to cook it in to our very desi ‘mooli ki bhujiya’.
10. Arugula Pronto
These spicy herb leaves grow very fast and keep producing for a long time. They self-seed and re-grow effortlessly if protected in the summers. The leaves are serrated and add a unique taste in salads. Grow them in a hanging basket or pair them with other greens or flowers in a container.
Grow any type of spinach that you can source. Luckily we do get some native seeds from stores. In parts of Sindh you will find Sindhi palak and Bengali palak along with the other regular palak. I love homegrown spinach and this is probably the most rewarding vegetable of them all. The flavours of homegrown spinach are unforgettable. Children from our Learning Garden program eat their school-grown spinach raw!
Spinach also multiplies on its own and you can reserve a patch or big planter for this delicious green that will keep producing for a long time. I am growing spinach in my wooden vertical planters this time.
This colourful combination of vegetables is especially good for a nutritious diet. Adding them to your daily meals will improve your diet greatly. Some of these might be new for your taste buds but don’t hesitate to try them.
Just picture walking through your garden, that is loaded with tomato clusters, stunning bell peppers and the beautiful green foliage of broccoli, spinach and arugula. Ask children to take charge of growing these. They will love to unearth potatoes and pull out those juicy carrots and beets too!
Zahra Ali is a sustainability educator, writer and environmentalist. She blogs at cropsinpots.pk. Send in questions about gardening to Zahra@cropsinpots.pk