This is is the second column on unusual vegetables. Last week, I wrote about some I had grown. This week's selections are some more exotic ones I have either grown in the past or found in the produce aisles of grocery stores.
Leeks are not that unusual, but are not often grown in the home garden because they take a little extra attention.
The seeds should be started inside about 8 weeks before the last frost, and then can be transplanted into ground that is still cool. The seedlings need to go into a 6-inch trench to allow for banking up the soil as they grow. This is to blanch the lower parts of the leaves where they join to form a stem.
The root system of leeks is very small and shallow, so watering needs to be concentrated right around the plants.
Cultivating and weed removal should be done with care. Leeks grow well in containers where they can be left undisturbed for the one hundred twenty days they take to come to maturity, and then gently pulled.
They can be stored for winter use with soil or sand around the roots.
Shallots are a winter-hardy perennial onion variety with the small bulbs growing in clusters.
These clusters can be separated at harvest with the larger cloves ready for the kitchen and the smallest in each bunch replanted for the following season. They resemble scallions or green onions, with a mild flavor, and their outer skins are purplish brown.
I have written before about rutabaga, a relative of the turnip only larger and with yellow flesh. It is easy to grow and good mashed with butter or included in soup or stew. One of those vegetables that, if queried by fussy eaters picking through a bowl of stew, one defines as a "kind of potato."
I found a vegetable that was new to me when looking for unusual vegetables in the produce section.
Yuca root (not yucca) is the root of a tropical shrub looking like an elongated coconut. It is used to make tapioca, but for home use it must be peeled and well washed to remove a layer of cyanide toxin. I don't recommend it for your family dinners.
Broccoflower also caught my eye. It looks like a bright green cauliflower, and is a cross between broccoli and cauliflower.
I tried some steamed, and it has a very good flavor. If I can find the seeds in the spring I will attempt to grow some. It would remove the need to blanch the curds by tying up the leaves, and probably help the problem of hollow stems. Worth a try.
Ornamental kale is more often seen in the flower beds as an attractive fall plant than it is cultivated as a vegetable, but it works equally well either way.
Kale is a very healthy vegetable and seed can be planted in midsummer for a fall crop. It needs to be sown where it is to remain for the season as it does not transplant well.
Raddichio is often found in those expensive lettuce mixes that come in plastic bags. It is the shredded red leaf.
In its native Italy, it is often grilled or roasted whole as a vegetable dish. Radicchio looks like red cabbage but has a finer texture.
I could go on about witloof, Florence fennel, sorrel, Chinese greens, corn salad and so on, but that probably is enough for now.
Be brave and pick up some of these vegetables for fun in the garden and new taste in the kitchen.