By Kristen Plank
University of Georgia
UGA Cooperative Extension horticulturist George Boyhan suggests planting the following 10 interesting crops you may never have heard of, much less tried.
Colored cauliflower- As if it came straight out of the Wizard of Oz, this old-time vegetable now comes in bright orange, green and purple.
“This is not something you will find in your local garden center,” Boyhan said. “You’ll have to look in seed catalogs.”
Cauliflower requires rich soil, lots of water and a long, cool growing season. Space plants a foot apart. They are sensitive to stress.
Tomatillos- Typically found in grocery stores, tomatillos look almost ornamental, Boyhan said.
“They are considered a warm-season crop, like tomatoes, but they don’t like very hot weather,” he said.
Like tomatoes, tomatillo plants should be started indoors and then transplanted. They are typically used in salsas and add tartness to recipes.
Winter melons- Boyhan suggests adding variety to your culinary palette by planting Casaba melons and Crenshaw melons.
“The sugars in these melons are much higher than your standard cantaloupe or watermelon,” he said. “And, they’ll be a good hit with the kids.”
The Crenshaw melon has a salmon-pink flesh while the Casaba melon has green flesh. Both can be directly seeded into raised beds.
Gourds- “The sky is the limit in terms of shapes, colors and sizes of gourds,” Boyhan said. While gourds are typically not eaten due to their bitter flesh, they are diverse in their uses, from birdhouses to ornaments.
“They were really easy to grow,” said Karen Clark of Ball Ground, Ga. “We self-pollinated them ourselves which made it interesting and fun.”
Gourds need enough room to grow so Boyhan suggests growing them up trellises.
Kohlrabi– A winter crop that does well in Georgia, kohlrabi sounds more foreign than it tastes, Boyhan said. Similar to cabbage hearts but with a milder, sweeter flavor, this vegetable can be eaten raw or cooked.
“Make sure to take precautions with this plant as it suffers from caterpillars,” Boyhan said.
Peppers- From bell to jalapeño to habanero, this popular vegetable comes in varying shades of orange, red, chocolate and purple. It ranges in varying levels of taste, too, from sweetly mild to volcanically hot.
“Peppers do very well here, as they are in the same family as tomatoes,” Boyhan said. Keep soil on the dry side, and do not over water.
Brussel sprouts- You may have difficulty getting your kids to try them , but it’s well worth the wait if you are partial to this small, cabbage-like vegetable.
“Brussel sprouts can be directly seeded into the garden, but are more forgiving as transplants,” he said. Be wary of aphids, however, which can be easily removed with nontoxic insecticidal soap.
Globe artichoke- Having grown this himself from seed, Boyhan gives tips on keeping this unique and tasty plant alive.
“Start it in the fall, fertilize it well and keep it watered through the first year,” he said. It does not prefer organic matter, but likes a mineral-rich soil.
Elephant garlic- As the name implies, this garlic comes in elephantine proportions, respectively. With a milder flavor than regular garlic, this crop will add new dimensions to any dinner table.
“Elephant garlic is a winter crop that grows well here in Georgia,” said Boyhan. Make sure to evenly space bulbs three inches apart in the garden.
Basil- It may not seem to fit in with the rest of these unique plants, but do not let this common herb fool you. The list of basil varieties, from cinnamon to lemon sweet, is extensive.
“It grows like crazy, almost turning into a weed,” Boyhan said. “And you can harvest it multiple times.”
(Kristen Plank is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)