Do you enjoy trying new crops and varieties? Have you discovered anything recently that you’d be happy to share? I’m always on the look out for productive, tasty and attractive edible plants to grow in containers. Of course, not all my experiments are a success. Flops last year included the ‘wonder berry’, which grew well but tasted, well, un-wonderful (renamed the insipid berry in our house). And the mouse melons (that I was very excited about) failed to yield due to poor container drainage – I’ll try again in 2012.
But here are six from last year that did work well. If you’re on the look out for something a little different, do check these out.
1. Tromboncino or Tromba Squash
The problem with growing courgettes in a small space is that they tend to get large and bushy, taking up valuable space and shading plants next to them. Tromboncino squash makes a great alternative. It’s a vigorous climber and takes up much less horizontal space – perfect if you have a sunny place for it to climb (or trail), like a south facing wall or a window sill. It’s long, somewhat phallic like fruits are eye catching (‘tromba’ is the Italian word for trombone). The taste is similar to courgettes, but firmer and I think nicer. Thanks to Alex Mitchell for first recommending this to me. It’s available from Franchi seeds and Suffolk Herbs, amongst other places.
2. Agretti or Salsola
This unusual, succulent vegetable looks and tastes a bit like samphire. It’s delicious in salads or sauteed in olive oil and eaten as a vegetable with fish or meat. The seeds are notoriously short lived (just a few months) and germination can be a bit tricky. But once you’ve got it going, it grows and grows. It’s great for a small space because you can keep harvesting the leaves and it keeps growing back! I’m a great fan of growing unusual crops like this – one benefit is that they make nice presents for friends and neighbours. Seed suppliers include Real Seeds and Franchi Seeds.
3. Jalepeno peppers
I’ve grown chillies before, but this is the first time I’ve tried Jalepeno. Fresh Jalepenos are hard to find in UK shops. This is a shame as I found them more versatile than chillies for cooking, adding all the flavour of chillies but with less heat (although I did find the heat varied considerably, making for the odd surprise!). Just one plant produced lots of fruits – more than we could eat – making them a great crop if you have a small, sunny space to spare (I grew them on a ladder outside the front door). The seeds are widely available, I got mine from Tamar Organics – who incidentally also sell Ring of Fire chillies, a good choice if you want to grow a hotter variety.
For some reason, I’ve always thought of fennel as quite exotic. So I was surprised when I learnt it grows well in the UK. I tried it on the balcony for the first time in 2011. It proved to be a most attractive container crop, with beautiful lacy fronds that contrasted really nicely to the foliage of the neighbouring kale and cavelo nero. It looked particularly good when covered in dew drops. The taste of freshly harvested fennel was infinitely superior to shop bought, adding more vibrancy and depth of flavour to dishes. A more distinctive aniseed flavour, too – but not in an overpowering way (my wife who dislikes aniseed, still enjoyed it). The one small problem I had was that the bulbs didn’t grow to the size you see in the shops – but still large enough to be worthwhile.
5. Cherry Cascade tomatoes
There’s nothing very unusual about growing tomatoes but I must recommend this variety if you have hanging baskets. It really lives up to its name with a cascade of baby, bite sized tomatoes. We were eating them like grapes. Delicious, productive – and the plants, dripping with small red tomatoes, looked great, too! These came from Thompson and Morgan and you can see a picture in my August growing diary from last year.
6. Major Cooks Beans
In my experience, climbing French beans are one of the best crops for a small space: attractive, tasty and usually long cropping. I grew this heritage variety last year – and it’s the best I’ve tried yet. You can either eat them whole – the pod is surprisingly tender and delicious even when quite large – or shell them and eat the beans. They are available from the Heritage seed library and there’s a picture in my September Growing Diary.
What would you add to this list?