These plants may be a little harder to come by, but they can be fun and educational for the small family to try in their garden. Don’t go overboard and try everything at once! Save most of your garden space for the standard fare that your family loves, but give some new crops a whirl. You might discover some new favorites.
Romanesco Broccoli/Cauliflower: Most seed companies list this under broccoli, but a few have it under cauliflower. As you can see from the picture, this stunning, lime-green brassica features a fractal pattern in its florets. People from other areas of the country might have more luck, but a couple of friends and I have never found this at local gardening centers in central/southern Indiana. In fact, I’ve never even seen seed packets locally! You’ll most likely need to start it from seed. Start seeds and plant out at the same time as you would cauliflower.
Agretti (Salsola Soda): Also called Barba di Frate, Roscana, Liscari sativa, and Saltwort, it is popular in Italy. It is used steamed, sauteed in olive oil, or fresh in salads. Plants resemble chives in appearance, but tastes somewhat spinach-like. It is crunchy and somewhat salty. The seeds are notoriously poor germinators and do not store well. It is a cool weather plant and should be started early in the spring or in early fall for autumn harvests.
Pak Choi: Also known as Bok Choi. Good for stir-fries. Look for Toy Choi for a good family-sized choice. The Violetta hybrid, with its purple leaves makes it a good edible ornamental.
Chinese Cabbage: Grow fresh for stir-fries.
Other Asian vegetables: Experiment with the flavors of the East!
Claytonia: Also known as “Miner’s Lettuce”. These look like tiny little rosettes and can be planted in wet areas and then used like lettuce or spinach.
Asparagus: A perennial plant that requires a lot of space, so it should be planted in a dedicated bed with its long-term life and spread in mind. While it is a space hog, the small family may find the ease of a perennial and fairly early spring vegetable to be worth it. While you can start it from seed, it will be three years before you can harvest any. It’s better to grow from 2-year-old roots, so you get a harvest in your second year. The grand dame of asparagus varieties in the U.S. is Martha Washington, but the newer hybrid varieties may have higher yields or earlier harvests. The new Purple Passion presents an interesting color contrast to the usual green.
Mache: Also known as Corn Salad, this is an excellent salad green for early spring and late fall.
Peanuts: Let your child see where peanut butter comes from!
Tomatillos and Ground Cherries: A necessary ingredient in authentic salsas, tomatillos look a bit like small tomatoes inside a paper husk. Ground cherries are their sweeter cousins.
Mushrooms: Available in simple kits to add to coffee grounds and other compost to more elaborate spore plugs for growing in logs and tree stumps.
Gourds: Seeds for decorative gourds shaped like eggs, apples, and even penguins, useful ones like dipper and bushel gourds and luffa, to a few edible varieties are all available to the home gardener.
Rutabagas and turnips: Good for winter storage. These both have mild, sweet flavors reminiscent of cabbage.
Parsnips: If you’ve ever seen these in the store, they appear to be giant white carrots. Good for winter storage, they get sweeter with a little frost.
Cardoon and Artichokes: Perennial plants in zones 7 and above. Otherwise, treat as annuals.
Burdock: The roots are used in hearty soups and stews. Can be overwintered and dug in the spring.
Amaranth: Some varieties are grown as a green while others are grown for the grain. The tall grain plants can make striking edible landscaping plants in place of ornamental grasses.
Ornamental corn, popcorn, and dent corn: Grow your Thanksgiving decorations or popcorn or corn for cornmeal!
Sunflowers: Either harvest them or leave them for the birds.
Cotton: Several seed catalogs offer colored varieties. Educational.
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