Let’s get weird

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Garden, Local Harvest

Let’s get weird

Try something new and unusual in your garden this year!

It’s a great time to be a human on planet Earth. Never before have we had so much access to so many new potential experiences. Each year in the garden, I love experimenting with new plants; novel fruits, sinister-looking flowers, or perhaps discovering a new resource that can be cultivated. When I discovered that I could grow my own luffa sponges, an item I thought came from the ocean, a whole new world of possibility unfolded before me.

Here are some novel selections that I’m excited to grow for the first time this year. Others are selections you may not have heard of, that are a staple of my garden every year since I discovered them. Most of these plants are quite hardy and easy to grow.

 

Ground Cherry (Physalis pruinosa). 65-70 days to maturity

There is perhaps no better plant to grow in the garden for those with toddlers and small children than the ground cherry. These plants closely resemble a tomatillo, and produce fruit the same way—hidden inside a papery package reminiscent of a Chinese floating lantern.  The small fruits inside are sweet with hints of cherry. When my daughter was two, she would waddle out to the garden every day, plop down in front of the ground cherries and feast.  Peeling the package engaged her tactile sensibilities, and the reward inside kept her motivated for more. This, of course, kept her quite busy, which was a blessing that provided her mother and me brief moments of peace while we attended to other gardening.

Start indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost.

Plants available at Wasatch Community Gardens Spring Plant Sale (May 9)

Seeds available at SnakeRiverSeeds.com

 

Holy Basil, tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum, aka Ocimum sanctum). 60 days to maturity

Regarded as the most sacred plant in all of Hinduism, this herb is said to balance the three life forces named in Ayurvedic medicine; Vata, Pitta and Kapha. This plant is a highly prized medicinal herb whose uses could fill this entire magazine. (If you’re willing to go down the rabbit hole, check out “Tulsi—A Herb for All Reasons” [Journal of Ayurveda and Integrated Medicine], complete with 133 footnotes!).

Fresh, the leaves provide a tasty and calming boost to your water bottle. They make a delicious sun tea. You can harvest and dry them for later use. This plant is easy to grow, and if allowed to set seed will become a staple in your garden without any further fuss. The bees absolutely love the small purple towers of flowers, and the aroma of the entire plant is what the celestial kingdom must smell like.

Start indoors 6 weeks before last frost.

Seeds available at SnakeRiverSeeds.com

 

Dwarf Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum). 75 days to maturity

I was first introduced to this adorable variation on the standard tomato plants by Mary-Beth Janerich, whose considerable task it is each year to choose the plants for the Wasatch Community Gardens Spring Plant Sale.

This one performs like a standard tomato, but as the name suggests, the plant stays a diminutive size although certain varieties still produce good-sized slicing tomatoes. Growing a stocky 2’-4.5’ tall, these plants are so much easier to support than their unruly full-sized indeterminate counterparts.

As an added bonus, they do quite well in pots as well. I bring several indoors every fall to extend my tomato harvest well into the winter.

Start indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost.

Plants available at Wasatch Community Gardens Spring Plant Sale (May 9)

Seeds available at tomatofest.com

 

Japanese Haskap (var. Aurora and Borealis).  Perennial

I have CATALYST’s own Greta Belanger deJong to thank for introducing me to this plant.  It’s the answer to our misplaced desire to grow blueberries in our region! Blueberries, an acid-loving plant, are just not happy with our alkaline soils and water. Enter the Haskap, or honeyberry, or Yezberry, a hardy bush that produces small blue berries that taste somewhere between a blueberry and a raspberry.

Some varieties bloom quite early—so early, in fact, that often the pollinators aren’t out yet.  The two varieties mentioned here, Aurora and Borealis, bloom mid-season and produce berries that are larger than average for haskaps.  You’ll need to grow more than one variety to allow for cross pollination.

Source for plants: honeyberryusa.com

 

Moringa (Moringa oleifera). Perennial, although grown as an annual in our climate

Moringa is a shrub / tree native to parts of Africa and Asia. Except for the roots, every part of the plant is edible. A complete protein which contains 46 antioxidants and 18 amino acids, it earns its reputation as a superfood. For my vegan and plant-based friends, this is a must grow!

I harvest the young leaves and shoots and use them in my salads. Harvest, dry and powder all of the remaining leaves, which can be added to soups, smoothies and other dishes as a nutritional boost.

Alternatively, dwarf varieties can be grown in large pots, then brought inside before frost and overwintered.

Start indoors 8-12 weeks before last frost, earlier if you have good lights

Seeds available at RareSeeds.com

 

Luffa (Luffa aegyptiaca). 110+ days to maturity

Grow your own sponges for the bath and kitchen! These gourd-like plants have a vining habit and require trellising to support them.  They take a long time to mature, so make sure to get them started early and provide them early protection with a low tunnel, cloche or coldframe. The fruits resemble a chubby english cucumber, and are edible when small.

When fruits are allowed to fully mature, the skin will turn brown and dry out—your sign that it’s ready to harvest. You’ll find the entire interior filled with a ready-to-use sponge, which resembles a banana skeleton. Time it right and you’ll have banana skeletons in time for Halloween.

Start indoors 8-10 weeks before last frost

Seeds available at SnakeRiverSeeds.com

 

James Loomis is a full-time urban farmer, educator and permaculture hooligan.

 
 
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