Unusual and fun veg for the garden

Have fun in your kitchen garden with vegetables that have exciting colours, textures and tastes.

Growing your own vegetables has many advantages. It is economical, you can ensure they are organically grown, veggies harvested just before cooking taste better, and, of course, a ‘green’ halo comes attached. And now that Michelle Obama is down on her hands and knees planting lettuces in the back garden of the White House, it’s the ‘in’ thing to do. Perhaps most importantly, gardeners are realising that having a veg garden is a fun family activity. Everybody is involved in a healthy outdoor hobby and children learn a great deal about how things grow. Youngsters are also more likely to eat the healthy and vitamin-rich food they have grown themselves, instead of wanting unhealthy and fattening take-away meals.

A wide variety of colourful and texturally interesting veggies – both original old ‘heirloom’ varieties and new cultivars – is now available. These make a food garden visually attractive and more exciting for young gardeners. Heirloom seeds are available from suppliers by mail-order, but some veggies are available as seedlings at garden centres. Consider including some of these striking and tasty plants in your veggie patch – or even in your flower beds.

unusual_and_fun_veg_for_the_garden1Baby red cabbage ‘Primero’

This hybrid has a compact, upright growth habit making it an excellent choice for close spacing in small gardens.
When to sow seeds: From summer to autumn at regular intervals to ensure a constant crop.
Where to sow seeds: In trays or in situ.
Germination period: 7-14 days
Transplant: When seedlings are 7cm tall.
Spacing: 25cm apart.
Harvest: 55-65 days.
Suggestions: Serve as a steamed vegetable, shredded in stir-fries, or chopped up in salads.

unusual_and_fun_veg_for_the_garden2Sicilian violet cauliflower

The violet colour of the heirloom cauliflower from Sicily predates the white colour of later cauliflowers
When to sow seeds: In late summer/early autumn.
Where to sow seeds: In a seedling tray.
Germination period: 5-7 days.
Transplant: When the seedlings are 5cm tall.
Spacing: 50cm apart.
Harvest: 14 -18 weeks.
Suggestions: To preserve the colour, lightly steam rather than boiling. Alternatively, break up the head and use uncooked as a finger snack with a dip.

unusual_and_fun_veg_for_the_garden3Cauliflower ‘Romanesco Precoce

This heirloom member of the brassica familyhas an unusual pinecone-shaped head, and has a delicious buttery taste. Grow in sun or partial shade.
When to sow seeds: In late summer/early autumn.
Where to sow seeds: In a seedling tray.
Germination period: 10-15 days.
Transplant: When seedlings are 5cm tall.
Spacing: Thin out to 50cm apart.
Harvest: 14-18 weeks.
Suggestions: Steam lightly, or break into pieces and eat raw with a dip.

unusual_and_fun_veg_for_the_garden4Red leaf lettuce

The frilly bronze-red leaves of this lettuce are highly ornamental.
When to sow seeds: Allround at regular intervals to ensure a continuous crop.
Where to sow seeds: In situ in rows 30cm apart.
Germination period: 7-10 days.
Transplant: When seedlings are large enough to handle.
Spacing: 30cm apart.
Harvest: 60-70 days.
Suggestions: Add to salads.


This 1m-tall heirloom root veg is also known as the oyster plant as the roots have an oyster-like flavour, especially if harvested in its first year of growth. Then, in its second and last year of growth, the flower stems have a refreshing asparagus flavour.
When to sow seeds: From spring through to late summer at regular intervals to ensure a continuous crop.
Where to sow seeds: In situ at a depth of 1cm.
Spacing: Thin out to 5-10cm apart.
Harvest: At least six months, but up to 1½ years. Use a garden fork to lift up the roots. Harvest before they flower, otherwise the roots become woody.
Suggestions: Use roots in soups and stews, or roasted. Lightly steam the young flower stems, use in a stir-fry or eat raw.

unusual_and_fun_veg_for_the_garden6Purple Vienna kohlrabi

The heirloom purple Vienna kohlrabi is grown for the round, fleshy, purple stem that is picked when it is 10cm in diameter. It tolerates partial shade.
When to sow seeds: In late summer or early autumn.
Where to sow seeds: In a seedling tray or a prepared garden bed.
Germination period: 10 days.
Transplant: When the seedlings are 10cm tall.
Spacing: 15cm apart.
Harvest: 70-100 days.
Suggestions: Serve mashed or slice into a stir fry. The leaves can also be cooked.

unusual_and_fun_veg_for_the_garden7Black kale or cavolo nero

This heirloom brassica from Tuscany has a palm-like growth habit and greenish-black leaves that grow 1m long. It is regarded as a ‘super food’ because it contains an abundance of vitamins.
When to sow seeds: In autumn.
Where to sow seeds: In situ, 60cm apart.
Germination period : 5-7 days. 
Harvest: 14-16 weeks. Harvest the leaves as soon as they mature, as regular picking ensures a long cropping period.
Suggestions: Use as a veg or in soups.

unusual_and_fun_veg_for_the_garden8Savoy cabbage

With its crinkly blue-green leaves, the heirloom Savoy cabbage is most attractive. It has the finest flavour of all the cabbages and, when cooked, does not have an odour.
When to sow seeds: Early autumn.
Where to sow seeds: In situ 1cm deep and 50cm apart.
Germination period: 5-9 days.
Harvest: 10-16 weeks. Once the heads have been cut, remove the stalks as well. 
Suggestions: Keep well mulched to retain moisture. Savoy only keeps for about four days in the refrigerator.

unusual_and_fun_veg_for_the_garden9Mixed coloured carrots and ‘Pariser Markt’ carrots

The oldest varieties of carrots have purple and white roots; the yellow is a somewhat later variety and is the sweetest. The rounded bulb-like ‘Pariser Markt’ carrot is an heirloom variety from the area around Paris.
When to sow seeds: All year round. For a continuous supply, sow a new row every 4 weeks.
Where to sow seeds: In situ 5mm deep, in rows 12cm apart.
Germination period: 15-20 days. 
Spacing: Thin out to allow some carrots to grow larger. 
Harvest: From finger size up to 14-16 weeks for mixed coloured carrots and 10-14 weeks for ‘Pariser Markt’.
Suggestions: Use a general fertiliser to prepare the soil and leave out compost. Mix the tiny seeds with fine sand before sowing.

unusual_and_fun_veg_for_the_garden11Beetroot Chioggia

The heirloom Chioggia beetroot has wonderful visual appeal with its red and white candy stripes inside, and is extremely sweet.
When to sow seeds: All year round.
Where to sow seeds: In situ 1,5cm deep, in rows 40cm apart. Pre-soaking seed in warm water overnight just before sowing speeds up germination.
Germination period: 7-9 days. 
Spacing: Thin seedlings to 10cm apart when they are 8cm tall. Thereafter thin as necessary. 
Harvest: 10-12 weeks.
Suggestions: Small tender leaves can be used in a salad while the older leaves can be cooked and eaten in place of spinach.

Radish Easter Egg Blend II

unusual_and_fun_veg_for_the_garden12Radishes are one of the quickest and easiest crops to grow and full of vitamins and minerals.
When to sow seeds: All year round.
Where to sow seeds: In situ, 1cm deep, in shallow drills, in rows 20cm apart. 
Germination period: 5 days.
Harvest: 25-35 days
Suggestions: Inspired by bright multi-coloured Easter eggs, these radishes come in an unusual range of colours that look great in a salad.

Purple podded peas

This ornamental pea produces purple pods that can be harvested young and used as snow peas, or left to mature for shelling.


When to sow seeds: March to August depending on your province.
Where to sow seeds: In situ, 30-50cm apart. 
Germination period: 5-10 days. 
Harvest: 70-80 days. Pick peas frequently to prolong production over three months.
Suggestions: Provide support for these 2m-high plants.

Butternut squash ‘Barbara’

unusual_and_fun_veg_for_the_garden14This butternut has an unusual and decorative outer skin colour, with a delicious nutty flavoured flesh.
When to sow seeds: Spring and summer in frost areas, spring to autumn in frost-free areas.
Where to sow seeds: In situ, 4cm deep and 1m apart. 
Germination period: 10-14 days. 
Harvest: 90-100 days to harvest as mature fruit. 
Suggestions: Immature fruit can be used as a baby vegetable, 45 days after transplanting.

Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights’

unusual_and_fun_veg_for_the_garden15This cultivar is popular because of its brightly coloured stems.
When to sow seeds: All year round at regular intervals to ensure a constant crop.
Where to sow seeds: In situ in rows 20cm apart. Presoak seeds overnight.
Germination period: 6-10 days.
Transplant: When seedlings are large enough to handle.
Spacing: 20cm apart.
Harvest time: 60-65 days.
Suggestions: Pick the outer leaves regularly to ensure high yields of lush leaves.

Yellow pear tomato

unusual_and_fun_veg_for_the_garden16These small pear shaped heirloom tomatoes are deliciously sweet. The tall plants bear large and continuous harvests. They can be grown in containers and hanging baskets.
When to sow seeds: Late summer and early autumn in subtropical gardens. Otherwise in spring and summer.
Where to sow seeds: In situ in rows 30cm apart.
Germination period: 7-14 days. 
Spacing: Thin seedlings to 1m apart when they are large enough to handle.
Harvest time: 70-80 days
Suggestions: Stake the plants to ensure the best fruits. Eat off the bush or put into salads.


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