What can I grow that I just can't buy?
September 11, 2007 7:16 PM   Subscribe

I was wondering if I could get some suggestions on strange, tasty, and difficult to purchase food I can grow in my garden.

I've been growing food in the garden for a few years now, and I'm really enjoying it. The problem is that it's the same old, regular stuff: green beans, lettuce, radishes, etc.

I was wondering if people had suggestions for unusual stuff I could try growing. Stuff I could mail order, or seek out and then grow that I've never tasted. Or it goes bad so quickly that I'd never be able to buy it in a store.

Let me give you an example. My landlord has a fig tree, which produces delicious figs for about 2 weeks of the year. They're so fragile and when they're ripe, they go bad in just a day or two, that I can't imagine how you could buy them in the store.

So what else could I grow?
posted by fcain to Home & Garden (40 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
It depends where you live, both to give realistic suggestions about what might grow there, and what might not be readily available.

If you like Asian food, why not try growing bok choy or other Asian vegetables?
posted by zadcat at 7:20 PM on September 11, 2007

Can pawpaws grow in BC? It would take a pair of trees, and several years.
posted by dilettante at 7:23 PM on September 11, 2007

OK, try Seeds of Diversity - this site is a seed exchange for heirloom vegetables and unusual varieties of veg that are not sold in grocery stores.
posted by zadcat at 7:26 PM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:29 PM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Miracle fruit
posted by caddis at 7:34 PM on September 11, 2007

I have the same idea as zadcat. Investigate heirloom veggies and fruits. Not only are you growing for yourself, but you can help keep these strains alive in a world where mass-production of veggies has led to food that looks good and is easily packaged but tastes like cardboard.

I think that this melon was a variety that I ate while working at a farm museum years ago, and it forever changed the way I thought of melons. So yummy.
posted by saffry at 7:34 PM on September 11, 2007

there are plenty of things that are available in stores in relatively hardy and tasteless varieties that are infinitely better fresh-picked, like berries or, as you mention, figs. you could also try heirloom apple varieties, if apples grow in your part of the world. seeds of change is a good resource for organic seeds.
posted by judith at 7:40 PM on September 11, 2007

Romanesco broccoli.
posted by shinybeast at 7:41 PM on September 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Aw, I was going to suggest figs! I can get them in the store (Trader Joe's) but store bought ones absolutely cannot compare to the ones from your own tree. They're dry and have a lot less actual fruit than tree ones. On the other hand, figs are a pain to harvest; they excrete a sticky "milk" that a lot of people are allergic to. You could test this on your landlord's tree. I get a rash from picking figs, which obviously makes a fig tree a little less appealing for me than for some people.

I might change focus and grow things that you can buy in stores but would never want to - peaches and tomatoes, for example, are readily available for purchase but most people I've met who have been raised on home-grown ones find the ones from the store really disgusting. Or things that are available from stores but at a dear price, such as avocadoes or kumquats.
posted by crinklebat at 7:43 PM on September 11, 2007

Daikon radish, especially for the greens.

Garlic, and harvest the scape.

Stinging nettle, which you might already have as a volunteer. Boiling for a minute takes away the sting.

Jerusalem artichoke, fava beans, and every herb you can think of.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:52 PM on September 11, 2007

Quince - it's a relative of the pear that's best made into jams and jellies. It has beautiful ornamental flowers in the spring. I have two of these flanking the front steps to my house.

Heirloom tomatoes, particularly ones that have unusual coloration, like Cherokee Purple.

Blue potatoes.

Paw Paws. Similar to a banana - very custardy.

Persimmons. I love making persimmon bread!

Herbs - fresh herbs are kind of expensive, but growing your own is easy. Try ones you can't buy fresh in stores, like lemon basil, pineapple sage, or chocolate mint.

Edible flowers! Pansies, nasturtiums, etc. Look great on salads :)

Exotic peppers, like red savinas or trinidad scorpions.

Tayberries - blackberry/raspberry cross


Hardy Kiwis


posted by Ostara at 7:56 PM on September 11, 2007

Oh, 2nding Ostara on persimmons. See if you can find soft persimmons, which you pick and then allow to ripen further until they are a squishy mess. Then mix with yogurt. I have never seen those in stores for obvious reasons - even right after picking, they're way too soft to ship.

I assume there are major climate requirements, but dates are also totally different when fresh - they're buttery and rich, instead of dry and sweet. I mean, they're also sweet, but there's a lot more to them than that.

Clearly I love this question. Great one!
posted by crinklebat at 8:01 PM on September 11, 2007

They're really tasty and extremely cool looking.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:13 PM on September 11, 2007

Black, white or purple carrots.
posted by mds35 at 8:18 PM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Peas. Seriously. How often do you see fresh peas in the grocery store? They're always frozen or canned. And trust me, they are sooooo much better fresh.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:20 PM on September 11, 2007

Pandan, if you're into a certain subgenre of Asian cookery. Puddings, rice cakes, chicken wrapped in pandan leaves, oh my!

This has reminded me to continue my quest for aforementioned plant, for my near-future garden.
posted by Xere at 8:21 PM on September 11, 2007

Also. Chili peppers, if you're one of them us weirdos who aren't satisfied until the heat produces tears and sniffles. Can't beat a freshly plucked chili.
posted by Xere at 8:33 PM on September 11, 2007

Does citrus grow at all up there? I have a Moro blood orange tree and a Meyer lemon tree, both dwarf species that could be planted in pots and moved indoors if necessary. I paid about $20US for each, and I get the equivalent of hundreds of dollars worth of fruit from them every year.
posted by padraigin at 8:36 PM on September 11, 2007

I've grown heirloom tomatoes and strawberries that taste infinitely better than anything I could buy (well, maybe the best of a local Farmers Market comes close). Tomatoes and strawberries from the store taste terrible because fresh ripe ones don't travel well so they make them huge and tasteless as they breed for toughness.
posted by mathowie at 8:45 PM on September 11, 2007

Oooh, asparagus is another thing that is always going to be better if you run out and pick some a few minutes before you cook it up.
posted by padraigin at 9:05 PM on September 11, 2007

Salsify. Artichokes. Cardoon. Cavolo Nero. Radicchio. Cape Gooseberry. Celeriac. Florence fennel. Kohl rabi.

I have grown everyone of these except salsify. They are all good.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:18 PM on September 11, 2007

Oh, and try to get some horseshit and mushroom spawn and grow mushrooms. Yummy, juicy fresh mushrooms.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:22 PM on September 11, 2007

Oh man, I used to eat kohl rabi like it was an apple. It's incredible, I can't believe it's not more popular.

Jerusalem artichokes (or sunchokes) are also an incredible, and relatively hard to find, vegetable that is just amazing.
posted by padraigin at 9:36 PM on September 11, 2007

Orange and white fleshed watermelons look odd, taste great. They are as easy to grow as cantaloupes and honeydew melons, but you may find you need to erect a deer and rabbit proof fence, if you want any for yourself! Also, Silver Queen sweet corn and popcorn are pretty easy to grow. Nothing like ears of Silver Queen on the table 30 minutes after they've been growing on the stalk!
posted by paulsc at 11:45 PM on September 11, 2007

We have this berry bush in my yard that produces way more (mulberries? blackberries?) than I could ever afford. I keep meaning to freeze them. It'd take a while for a bush to get that big, though.
posted by salvia at 12:13 AM on September 12, 2007

My gigantic patch of basil is something it would be hard/expensive to get at the store, at least in the quantities it takes to make a good sized batch of pesto.
posted by anthill at 3:54 AM on September 12, 2007

Fedco is my favorite seed supplier. They have heirloom and organic varieties and useful descriptions.

I try to plant one "weird" thing every year to see what it's like to grow and if there's advantage to homegrown.

Here are some winners:
Arugula - can't usually find it in a store, amazing flavor, grows well and reseeds
Jet Setter tomatoes - prolific, great flavor
Cherry peppers - way hotter than store bought, nice flavor - used for my own hot sauce
Chard - much better than store grew the argentata variety iirc
Nasturtiums - put the flowers in your salad - pretty

Here are some losers:
broccoli - great tasting, spent an eternity picking off cabbage white caterpillars
celeriac - fragile - never grew to maturity
brandywine tomatoes - honestly didn't taste very good, killed by blight
posted by plinth at 4:05 AM on September 12, 2007

One of our biggest garden surprises has been the superiority of homegrown eggplant--there are lots of unusual varieties, and the small fruits that we harvest are sweet, rich, and almost sea-foody. Loofah is always fun, too; folks are inevitably surprised that it's a gourd, not an actual sponge, and the vine is lush and impressive. Lastly, parsley, when grown in abundance, makes a fantastic substitute for lettuce.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:24 AM on September 12, 2007

I'm thinking about growing elephant garlic as I can rarely find it in grocery stores. Regular garlic with its many and tiny cloves is so annoying to prepare. I take elephant garlic over regular every time.
posted by KathyK at 6:40 AM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

No specific items, but Seed Savers has lots of interesting heirloom vegetables, including dozens of tomato, potato, and melon varieties, and all kinds of other unusual things. They have a good catalog.
posted by fidelity at 7:30 AM on September 12, 2007

Shiso or perilla.
posted by hecho de la basura at 8:17 AM on September 12, 2007

The best unknown vegetable is Gobo aka greater burdock.
It's the best kept secret of Japan.
posted by SageLeVoid at 9:53 AM on September 12, 2007

I'm going to second (third?) basil, if only for the cost.
I just made pesto the other night with basil from a friend's garden- free. Had I gone to the grocery for it I would have easily spent $40 for an equivilant amount.
posted by Kellydamnit at 3:04 PM on September 12, 2007

Fava (AKA Broad) beans are tasty and grow well here but I've never seen them for sale.
posted by canoehead at 3:05 PM on September 12, 2007

How could I forget passionfruit?

Dear questioner, do seek advice on what works in your region. All the things above are great, but for example, I can rarely grow good eggplants, because it doesn't get hot enough for long enough in here in Wellington.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:04 PM on September 12, 2007

Passionfruit may called grenadillas where you are. Semi-perennial vine fruit. Totally yummy.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:05 PM on September 12, 2007

Arugula - can't usually find it in a store, amazing flavor, grows well and reseeds

Man, you must be living in My Blue Heaven. It is always, every single day, available in the supermarkets where I live. I think it is the perfect salad green, and yes, a good green to grow. mmmm
posted by caddis at 7:11 PM on September 12, 2007

Pea shoots are amazingly good.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:17 PM on September 12, 2007

Response by poster: Sorry, I should have mentioned, I live in Vancouver, Canada. We have a tough time doing melons and citrus fruit, but almost everything else is doable.
posted by fcain at 10:56 PM on September 12, 2007

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