Heirloom Vegetables & Things you’ve never thought of planting

A few times a year I go out on a field trip for The Art of Doing Stuff.  Last Wednesday was one such day.  I hopped in the car and headed to Linda Crago’s Heirloom vegetable farm.

It was a bit strange having to drive to work.  I liked it.

If you’re caught up on things you know that on Monday I wrote a profile piece on Linda Crago, owner of Tree & Twig farm, an heirloom vegetable farm near Wellandport, Ontario.   Linda’s farm is a CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported (or shared) Agriculture. For a per season fee, CSA farms will supply you with a season’s worth of vegetables, delivered to you or picked up once a week for an entire season.  What you get depends on what’s ripe on the farm.

Surprise groceries.  There’s nothing better really.

In addition to growing vegetables to sell, Linda also grows things just for the fun of it.  Vegetables and plants in general intrigue her.  There’s a certain excitement that comes with growing something “just for the fun of it”.  Just to see if it will grow.  I have one of those things in my garden right now, that you don’t even know about.  It’s my own version of the surprise produce which you’ll find out about at the end of the summer.

See?  You don’t know *everything* about me.

Part of what Linda does is travel around the world helping to maintain and repopulate the world of heirloom seeds.  She buys and sells seeds and trades and shares them as a member of many seed saving organizations in Canada, The United States, Britain and France.  She’s a test gardener for Organic Gardening Magazine and holds workshops and events.

So clearly … she’s into this sort of thing.

So today I’m gonna give you a little look at some of the highly unusual stuff Linda is growing.  Oftentimes just for fun.  Some of the thing are unusual because they’re weird and I’ve never heard of them, and sometimes they’re unusual because it’s such a strange thing for a gal in Ontario, Canada to grow.

 

Weird looking UFO shaped hot pepper.

Chapeau de Frade

Hot Pepper 2

Sesame Seed plants.

YES.

HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF ANYONE EVER growing their own sesame seeds?

Um. Let me answer that for you.  No.

 

Sesame Seeds

 

The sort of person to grow their own sesame seeds is exactly the sort of person to grow their own …

RICE!

Yes.  That beautiful, tall, grassy looking row in the centre is rice.  Growing it in the dirt in Ontario.  Apparently it’s a special strain of rice which she got in … Tennessee.  ‘Cause you know Tennessee is known for its rice.

 

Rice

 

Cotton

Just for fun, Linda is growing cotton.

And now I am determined to grow cotton.  For one thing I had no idea that cotton was such a beautiful plant.

If you want to stick something fun in your front yard but are afraid to do actual vegetables, plant some cotton.

The flowers of the plant are similar to Lisianthus almost.

 

Cotton

 

This scary looking thing is actually edible! It’s past its prime right now, but this is a …

Rat-tailed Radish

You don’t eat the root, but instead eat the pods that form on the stalks.  They taste just like, wait for it …

radish.

Rattail Radish

 

Spigiarello

Headless broccoli

That’s right.  Broccoli that doesn’t give head.

You just eat the leaves which tastes exactly like broccoli.

No Head Broccoli

 

This folks, is a $100 plant.

It’s the newly crowned, World’s Hottest Pepper.

The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion.

Linda bought 10 seeds for $100.

Of the 10, only 1 seed germinated.

Hence … the $100 pepper plant.

This is the kind of thing people obsessed with seeds and vegetables do for fun.

Hottest Pepper In The World

 

This little bud, in a month or so, will be The World’s Hottest Pepper,

Hot Pepper

 

Black Pokey plant with thorns.

Solanum Atropurpureum

Not edible, just an incredibly strange and beautiful ornamental.

The stems and thorns are black, black, kind of soft and definitely painful when grabbed. In case you were wondering. Like I was.

Spikey Plant

 

Painted Hills Corn

Painted Corn

Even though this corn looks like Indian corn, it’s actually edible corn.

Painted Finger Corn

 

 Linda’s specialty is tomatoes.

She gave me this Oziris tomato to take home with me.

It’s a dark skinned tomato with an even darker flesh.

I knew nothing about this tomato so I Googled it, but there’s very little information to be found.

That would lead me to believe it’s rare.

So in the tradition of Seed Savers everywhere, I’m saving the seeds of this tomato that was given to me,

so I can continue to grow it and share the seeds with someone else.

Oziris Tomato

 

So give some thought to one surprise thing you can plant in the spring.   It doesn’t have to be a vegetable, just something you can’t find at your local nursery.  Scour the Internet, search  out places that sell  unusual seeds and plants.

Visiting Linda and seeing and tasting all the different varieties of vegetables, I already have a list of new things I want to plant.  Cotton, Lime Basil, Ground Cherries, Black tomatoes … and the list goes on and on.

Sadly … the property does not.

O.K.  I’d like a commitment from you now.

What different thing would you like to grow next year?  I need to know these things.

Have a good weekend!

Your pal, (but not the kind of pal you come and visit .. stay away)

 


99 Comments

  1. Kirsten says:

    As I’ve never grown my own food (not counting herbs, which are easy peasy), my ‘surprise’ plant might be a little tamer than most – red carrots, from Cubits actually. And Brandywine tomatoes.

  2. Jenn says:

    I’m seeing if I can grow Kumato tomatoes. I buy them from Trader Joes and they are SO tasty. Right now is the beginning of one of our growing seasons (I’m in Phoenix, everything is topsy-turvy here)

    I hope they grow. So yummy.

  3. Alisha says:

    Kohlrabi. It’s not thaaaat strange but it’s a really cool and tasty veggie and I want to grow some!

    I love this post.

    I recently joined a CSA here in Vancouver http://www.barefootfarms.ca and I’m SO excited to get a rubbermaid bin full of surprise veggies every week. $34.50 a week feeds 4 adults for a week – I share my bin with my single mom friend. $17.50 for a week’s worth of organic and locally sourced veggies is a pretty damn good deal.

  4. What a prude that spigiarello is. And that is one of the best lines ever written……

  5. Kate says:

    Inspired (partly) by your post on Linda Crago and (partly) by my own adventures in the Diggers Club shop (selling heirloom and organic seeds) I promised myself that I would plant at least one thing every weekend for at least a year. Could just be spitting a watermelon seed into the garden, could be carefully sowing mangel wurzel, it just has to be something every weekend.
    I think my friends and family are going to end up with a lot of produce and/or seedlings.

  6. Katie says:

    Tomatoes. Heirlooms. I had some amazing heirlooms from a tiny farmer’s market 3 years ago that I’m still dreaming about.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Cotton is a GREAT plant to grow…incredibly beautiful…and then POOF!…cotton! Try growing peanuts!

  8. Tigersmom says:

    I’m hoping it doesn’t have to be a vegetable because I have 2 black thumbs and somehow feel worse when I kill something that actually bears fruit.

    I do intend to transplant a Meyer Lemon (a surprisingly tough plant to have not already withered in my care) from a pot on the patio to some spot in the yard. Maybe that will count?

    And I plan to have someone who knows what they are doing plant 2 more dogwood trees as I managed to kill the 2 tiny saplings that were a mother’s day gift :` (. Oh, and a camelia that didn’t make it and some more hydrangeas to replace the ones I, well…you know.

    Apparently I need professional help.

    Thanks for taking one for the team with the black prickly plant. You were the kid who touched the hot iron after being told it was hot, weren’t you?

  9. marilyn says:

    whatever happened to the loofah plant? and you know i have lotsa room if you wish to plant something here..cant promise i wont eat it but if its strange i might not want to.

  10. Judy says:

    Pretty! Indian Corn and Cotton in my little garden, too. Having had a couple of bad years with our silver queen corn I’ve grown 4 varieties of Indian Corn this year thinking they might make nice Holiday gifts. Not sure how they’ll turn out due to the 100+ days in early July down here. But a fun experiment. Was told to leave them on the stalk until Fall. (And next year will plant it in a small ditch to hold more water at the roots.)

    I planted 2 kinds of cotton just because I found out I could. They’re beautiful plants and as tall as I am (5’+), but fall over when they get big and can’t easily be straightened due to their woody main stem. Again I can’t wait to see how they turn out.

    Have had a great time with heirloom tomatoes this year as well. I think my US state (NC) must be the only one in the country not in drought. We have mushrooms everywhere!

  11. magali says:

    Something I’ve never had in my garden that I am going to plant because of you is garlic!

  12. Linda J Howes says:

    me thinks there may be a farm in your future…Strawberry Spinach! I have had these seeds for some time but never get around to planting, hope they are still viable.

  13. Beckie says:

    I grow broom corn, does that count as *unusual*?

    it’s the kind of corn that in the olden days they used to make…you guessed it…brooms from

    it grows crazy-tall (like 12′ or so) and has these neat seedy tassels that make really pretty Autumn dec but if you knock the seeds off, that’s where you get the broom “bristles” from

    I think you need about an acre of broom corn for one broom

    I grow enough to have stalks for the front porch

    so, no broom making for me

  14. Jeanne says:

    Cherokee garlic… certainly garlic is not unusual but I came across this particular garlic that supposedly stems from the Cherokee Indians back when they were on the Trail of Tears… Would be very special to be able to grow something from that time in our history.

  15. Heather says:

    I have done all different heirloom tomatoes for yrs but I bought seeds to grow quinoa this yr and didnt get to it. I wanted to try to grow a grain and it is very pretty so I thought I would put it in the front yard. I have recently found out it can be popped like popcorn so I will def do it next yr! My experimants this yr are sweet potatoes, tomatillos, brussel sprouts, mouse watermelons (a type of cuke)and an asian melon. You have now inspired me to grow ground cherries and cotton! I would also like to do peanuts. I saw something about growing them inside in wet yarn, so I may start them in January. I also have been planting edible perennials. This yr was chocolate vine and rosa rugosa. Next yr will be grapes and arctic kiwis I think. Did you know arctic kiwis dont need full sun?? Looking forward to your next post!

  16. Heather says:

    Ugh–experiments not experimants!!

  17. Erika says:

    Blush tomato. This year I am growing indigo rose, a purple black, which is very beautiful!

  18. Ann says:

    I live in Tennessee and yes, you can grow rice. But it takes up a lot of space to get anything you could consider a decent crop. And a good bit of rain which we have been in short supply of as of late.

    Cotton grows well here but it is not necessarily a pretty plant. Some varieties are better than others. The flower is usually pretty but the plants can be very leggy and bug bitten unless treated with many chemicals. Maybe Linda’s is not because she is growing it in a locale that it is not normally grown in and the bugs haven’t caught on quite yet.

    One of the unusual things I am growing is a pair of kiwi vines. They are a very hardy vine that puts off small fuzzless kiwis about the size of large grapes. It takes 5 years to start bearing fruit which makes next year the first year I might expect any. I have had 1 other person here tell me that his 25 year old vines produce tons of fruit so I am excited to see if I start to get any. Just reaching in and popping a few of the fuzzless beauties into my mouth sounds so nice.

  19. ev says:

    Black From Tula (sp) A very dark early tomato my daughter grows. They taste very good, especially for an early. Hats off for growing heirlooms. And that broccoli is a coward but I will grow it if I can find the seeds!

  20. Lyn says:

    The husband is the gardener of the family, I just have the herbs in my care. I did order a Windowfarm (www.windowfarms.org) through Kickstarter, so I’ll be growing whatever plants come with that!
    Any interesting ideas for something to add to my herb garden (which is actually my kitchen window)?

  21. Mary Kay says:

    We grew one heirloom tomato – and ate the first tomato last night – it was yummy and different. I plan on saving the seeds and growning that one again.

    Something new in the garden I think I would like to plant cotton – it is a beautiful plant and I like beautiful unusual things.

    Thanks for the great ideas!

  22. Paul says:

    I planted a Dawn Redwood (thought to be extinct until 1956) 8 years ago and someday it will be the largest tree in Wisconsin.

    My passion is native prairie grasses. I try to grow the most endangered and propagate the seeds.

    There is nothing better than an heirloom tomato. We have a few varieties we really like. In addition I always plant one every year we have not tried before.

    Watch out for some of the heirloom plants. My wife planted an ornamental a few years ago. It got these beautiful maroon leaves and stems. I didn’t pay any attention to it until one day she called me over to show me the huge trumpet flowers on it. I asked her if she knew what the plant was and she gave me a name I didn’t recognize. I said to her, “Dear what you have here is Jimson Weed or Nightshade. It is so poisonous that one leaf will kill a cow. If you just get the sap in a cut you can get hallucinations!” She promptly yanked it out of the ground and burnt it.

  23. Lisa says:

    I grew sesame plants one year, and lentils. The plants grew fine, but the HARVESTING of those seeds? What a pain in the behind!! Way worse than coriander seeds. I also hate harvesting dill seeds but I do it for the pickles.

    Maybe there is some guidance on that?

  24. Laura says:

    Do you know the variety of rice she was growing?

  25. Audrey says:

    A great ‘column’ today, Karen. There’s an heirloom tomato tasting in Kingston some time around now. Maybe it was last weekend. Endless kinds of tomatoes. This will sounds like a bit of a downer but the Monsanto factor is always worrisome. I think I read somewhere that US farmers are prohibited from using anything other than Monsanto seeds (Roundup ready corn, etc.) and are fined if they save and use heirloom seeds. Maybe you know?

  26. Great finds! Thanks for the ideas for next year’s garden, you’ve given me lots of food for thought 😉

    Think I am going to have to try out the cotton and maybe have a go a spinning with it.

  27. Karen says:

    LOL! Thanks Marlilyn. The loofah never matured. I either need a spot with sun allll day long (which I don’t have) or I need to start it earlier inside. It came close to being mature, and got the loofah on it, but never completely matured where the insides got all dried out the way they’re supposed to. So for now, I’ve given up on it. 🙁 ~ karen

  28. Tracy says:

    I am going to grow golden beets and some French breakfast radishes this fall. For spring, I have seeds for this gorgeous yellow watermelon called Golden Midget The most exciting is some heirloom tomato seeds called Royal Hillbilly. Names to conjure by:-) I moved to California about a year ago from the Midwest. You can grow things all year. Very exciting!

  29. Karen says:

    Lime basil and Korean licorice mint were the 2 great things I tried at Lindas. But for a window garden I’d grow things you often use in cooking. Basil, oregano, thyme, … that sort of thing. ~ karen

  30. Jasmine says:

    I tried romanesco broccoli and failed.

  31. Debbie says:

    I have never thought to grow some of the things listed here, didn’t think they would work in our climate. But I really would love to try cotton, and peanuts for my blue jays and chipmunks! Have to mail order some seeds.
    Neat post!
    Debbie 🙂

  32. Kim K. says:

    Someone mentioned peanuts. I’m in Alabama and my grandfather grew them. Most interesting plant and nothing is more tasty than a freshly pulled peanut! Peanuts grow on the roots under the ground…how cool is that?!!? I think I’ll try them now.

  33. Carly says:

    Karen — we get “heirloom” vegetables in our CSA all the time…. but what exactly makes a vegetable “heirloom” anyway?

    …and how do I go about saving the seeds of an heirloom tomato to grow next year anyway?

    🙂

  34. Karen says:

    Carly – An heirloom vegetable is one that’s been around forever and their seeds have been passed down. They are vegetables that have not been hybridized or screwed with. Most vegetables you find in the grocery store now have been hybridized and bred to look, perform and store a certain way. Tomatoes were bred to be perfectly red, uniform and of a certain size. As were the plants. Hybridized tomatoes for instance have been bred to only get to a certain height to make them more manageable for growers. Heirlooms on the other hand are “indeterminate” which means they will grow and grow and grow until the season ends. The can result in a 15′ high tomato plant! If you save the seeds from an heirloom you will get the exact same tomato plant from it next year and for generations after. With hybrid seeds you have no idea what you’ll be getting because it’s a cross of so many different tomatoes. (that’s sort of heirloom in a tiny, nutshell) I will be posting on how to save your tomato seeds the first week in September. ~ karen!

  35. Patti says:

    This year was our strange year of experimenting – we have lemon basil, lemon cucumbers, purple basil – all kinds of different things. Random melons, Quinoa, Chocolate peppers, some sort of Egyptian Grain.. the trouble is – we went a little TOO crazy planting so many different things, and I don`t exactly know what to do with all of it! Next year I am DEFINITELY growing sesame (because I didn`t know I could!), but other than that, I think I`ll try to stick to more items which we use super frequently in the kitchen.

    We also grow food for our bird, Pickle, so that he can eat fresh, too. He lovesssss barley.

  36. Karen Duke says:

    I have a couple of hardy kiwi vines and still waiting, after 3 or 4 years, for fruit to appear. I’m growing peanuts for the second year in a row – they’re fun to grow and harvest. This year is my first try at growing tomatillos, but no fruit has appeared yet. Next year I want to grow elephant garlic and endamame. I had perhaps 70 or 80 tomato plants this year, including the ones I bought, some varieties a neighbor gave me and some volunteers from the compost pile. The best surprise tomato was a delicious miniature plum tomato, which I’ve saved seeds from to plant next year.

  37. ruth says:

    I’m growing a grafted tomato this year – it’s monstrous but the tomatoes arent ripening yet – we’ll see what happens. Also planted an experimental artichoke, but I have to get it to survive the winter before I know how that works. The cotton really intrigues me – I saw a Christmas tree last year decorated with the dried stems – like cute little sheepies!

  38. Sarah In Illinois says:

    I received some garlic seeds from my cousin that lives across the state line so I am going to plant “indiana garlic” this year. And I would like to start a contained garden of different types of mint!

  39. Tina Marie says:

    Can I grow cotton in Wyoming? I’m going to look it up now! Put me down for Cotton.

  40. gloria says:

    Wouldn’t the fumes from burning be toxic, too.?

  41. gloria says:

    I’m growing birdhouse gourds this year. I didn’t know anything about them, just that I wanted to make the houses from them. I have so many growing now, and they are getting so huge, that I’ve had to make little slings for them so they don’t snap their vines. When I finally did some research, I discovered I was doing it all wrong. So much for what the books say.

  42. That is so awesome and good to know that Vancouver is on board!!
    http://www.dawnajonesdesign.com/

  43. kate says:

    one of the veggies i grow that i don’t see very often is a small purplish tomatillo – it is very good. tomatillos are easy to grow and make great fresh salsa

  44. Angela says:

    We went on vacation to the Eastern Sierras and brought home a Bristlecone Pine kit. They’re the oldest trees on Earth, over 5,000 years old!! We’ll soon have a tree to pass down from generation to generation, and my son and I are SO excited.

    I was successful (finally) at growing tomatoes in my front yard this year, so next year I want to add okra to the mix.

  45. Chrissy says:

    Last year, my new ventures were Lima beans and chick peas. I didn’t know Lima beans were poisonous unless cooked properly! I never harvested the chick peas, so I might try those again next year. I planted garlic last fall after reading about it here, and I’m going to go nuts with it this fall. I must get some hardneck because I didn’t get to enjoy any scapes!

  46. Trish says:

    I’m trying for a fig plant (live in Massachusetts so it will be a potted fig), but now I’m thinking lime basil and ground cherries too!

    Thanks, and if you want to share the seeds from that tomato, I’ll have a go at that one too;)

    trish

  47. sue says:

    I love doing this exact thing! I’d like to try peanut next year and some more unusual herbs like epazote.
    I’m growing heirloom melons this year-Gnadenfeld and Kazakh. I’m also growing Imperial star artichoke, which produces the first year-looks like I’ll end the season with 8 or 9 of them.
    Hmm… amaranth would be fun too, and it is pretty too, and I want to do more with fall/winter gardening and garlic, and…..
    This food gardening stuff gets kind of addicting, I think.

  48. Spokangela says:

    Ground cherries. I was looking in a catalog in Feb of this year and I was going to buy some and then… I am not sure what happened. I didn’t order a single seed from a catalog and just went to our local seed store and bought them all. I am DETERMINED to buy from catalogs this year! Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂

  49. Laura says:

    Look for Fig ‘Chicago Hardy’. We grow it successfully in Southern Ontario outdoors and it is winter hardy

  50. Call Me Patty says:

    Such an interesting post with great comments. I have been growing heirloom tomatoes for years. I was fed up with buying tomatoes in the grocery stores that had NO flavour. Because along with hybridizing them for looks, they’ve bred the taste right out of them. My favourite is Brandywine. When I had my greenhouse I was picking tomatoes until Nov. I live on the Sunshine Coast in BC.

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