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Dakota Gardener: Growing Fancy Vegetables in the Garden

Exotic vegetable varieties can be fun to grow and delicious to eat.

By Tom Kalb, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension

What is the fanciest, most exotic food you have ever eaten?

I once ate snails.

When I was young and single, I used to eat at Wendy’s or Taco Bell almost every day. A friend told me that I was missing out on the best things of life. She took me to a French restaurant and ordered escargot for me.

I ate the slimy critters, but that was my first and last meal of snails. By the way, I went to Wendy’s and had a cheeseburger on the way home.  

Then I lived in Asia for several years. I ate lots of foods, sometimes with people who did not speak English very well. They prepared fancy foods for me, and I often ate the food without knowing what I was eating. These foods included squid, octopus, turtles and froglegs. Some of these foods actually tasted delicious until I later found out what I had eaten. Disgusting!

I’m done eating exotic animals. I much prefer eating exotic vegetables. Here are some of my favorites.

Start with French filet beans. These beans are crisp, tender and absolutely delicious. It’s hard to get too excited about beans, but gardeners in our North Dakota variety trials rave about filet beans. They love them. Crockett, Maxibel and Velour are popular varieties.

Another exotic bean is yardlong bean. Yardlong bean is one of the most popular vegetables in the world, but few Americans have eaten it. Harvest the pods when they are young, about 16 inches long. They taste like asparagus. That’s a nice surprise.

There is little reason to grow the standard ‘Straight 8’ cucumbers any longer. Asian burpless cucumbers are slender, thin-skinned, nearly seedless and free of bitterness. Their vines produce earlier, are more productive and resist diseases. Summer Dance and Tasty Green are good performers in North Dakota.

I have mixed feelings about peas. I hated them as a kid. They always ripened on the 4th of July. My ten siblings and I always shelled bushels and bushels of peas that day, and sometimes we missed the fireworks.

I much prefer snap peas. Snap peas are easy to grow and juicy. The best news is you don’t have to shell them. You can eat the shells and go to the fireworks. Sugar Ann is the top variety.

There are lots of Asian greens that are fun to grow. Mizuna is one of my favorites. The deeply cut leaves are beautiful, and they add color and volume to salads.

Speaking of salads, try a Batavian crisphead lettuce. The leaves are crunchy and delicious. Best of all, these German varieties withstand heat and keep producing all summer. Popular varieties include Muir, Nevada, Sierra and Magenta.

Cabbage? That’s for common gardeners. Grow something more exotic like kohlrabi. The round, swollen stems are easy to grow and have a fruity, crunchy flavor. I think kohlrabis look like Martian spaceships.

Other unusual vegetables that are delicious include orange cherry tomatoes, super sweet corn, yellow watermelons, golden beets and vegetable soybeans.

Not all unusual vegetables taste good. Purple carrots, for example, look beautiful and are extremely nutritious. Unfortunately, they taste bitter.  

You can add purple carrots along with snails on my list of disgusting foods.

If you want to try some special vegetables in your garden this summer, join our team of backyard researchers. I’ll send you a catalog full of promising varieties that gardeners in North Dakota are testing this year. To learn more about testing these varieties in your garden, visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/homegardenvarietytrials. More than 200 families participate every year and you are invited to join us.


NDSU Agriculture Communication – April 12, 2022

Source: Tom Kalb, 701-328-9722, tom.kalb@ndsu.edu

Editor: Kelli Anderson, 701-231-6136, kelli.c.anderson@ndsu.edu


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