Out-of-the-ordinary arugula, prickly pear cactus, Indigo tomatoes and other fascinating, new veggies
By Kris Wetherbee | Special to The Oregonian | March 2014
It’s that time of year when we gardeners head out to our favorite nursery or garden center with shopping list in hand for red tomatoes, green peppers and salad cucumbers. And if you’re ahead of the game, then you’ve already started seeds indoors for your veggie favorites. But why stop at familiar varieties?
Fascinating veggies with uncommon characteristics are as appetizingly beautiful and exciting to grow as they are to eat. These out of the ordinary offerings come with such exciting shapes, colors and a few unexpected twists that even picky eaters will be tempted to give them a try. Some of these are new introductions for 2014, and a few have stood the test of time. Any way you slice it, you’re bound to discover a few that will join the ranks of your new outstanding favorites.
Arugula ‘Dragon’s Tongue’
Talk about gourmet baby greens. This exciting arugula is definitely not your everyday salad ingredient. Its dark green leaves are shaped like oak leaves with rich purple-red contrasts on the midrib and veins. And it’s as impressive in flavor as it is in presentation, with spicy, peppery notes that give just the right zing to salads and stir-fries. This open-pollinated variety is ready in 50 days from transplant
This broccoli and Chinese kale (Gailon) hybrid resembles broccoli raab with an asparagus stem. But unlike broccoli raab, ‘Asparabroc’ tastes mild with the just right hint of sweetness. It produces central shoots, though the real treasure lies in its tender side shoots that produce continuously for about four weeks in mild weather. This easy-to-grow variety is ready in 50 to 60 days from transplant.
Another new variety for spring 2014, Luther Burbanks Thornless Opuntia Prickly Pear features tasty blue-green 18 inch long pads and watermelon-like reddish-purple fruits.
Have you ever tasted a prickly pear pad? This fruiting cactus has long been a staple of Mexican, Central American and Southwestern cuisine. And the reddish-purple fruit that stud the pad are not only edible, they are quite refreshing, with a flavor that some liken to watermelon. This new introduction is cold-hardy (to below 20 degrees), sun-loving, nearly spineless and extremely drought-tolerant. Plants grow up to 6 feet tall with 18 inch long bluish-green pads.
The Indigo series is changing the face of the tomato world in a very exciting way. Not only are they extraordinarily beautiful to look at and quite appetizing in appearance, they are also incredibly delicious. But what makes them especially unique is that these unusual varieties are bursting with phytonutrients, especially high levels of anthocyanin, a naturally occurring antioxidant found in blueberries.
There are a rainbow of Indigo offerings, including ‘Indigo Pear Drops’, ‘Indigo Cherry Drops’, ‘Indigo Ruby’ and ‘Indigo Apple’. For best flavor and texture, harvest when the fruit has deepened in color and is soft to the touch. Here are a few additional Indigo varieties that are sure to whet your appetite.
Indigo Blue Berries ripen to a midnight black with maroon-colored bottoms. Indeterminate plants produce an abundance of 1 to 2 ounce cherry tomatoes; ready in 75 days from transplant.
Indigo Kumquat is a grape-type tomato with stunning color contrasts of tangerine-apricot fruit and indigo shoulders. Semi-indeterminate plants produce fruit, usually eight to a cluster, that entice with a delightful aroma and a sweet-tart flavor; ready in 75 days from transplant.
Indigo Rose is a surprise, with fruit colored deep red and nearly blue depending on which side is facing the shade and which side is facing the sun. Bred at Oregon State University, the 2-inch round fruits have complex layers of flavor for an intriguing yet well-balanced tomato taste; ready in 80 days from transplant.
This prized heirloom is a topsy-turvy curiosity that’s both ornamental and tasty. Harvesting is easy for this Italian black-eyed pea as the skinny, pencil-sized pods stand straight up from the top of the small bush-sized plants. The green pods are wonderfully tender and sweet if picked before the beans swell, or wait for the shell bean stage when the seeds fill out for a hearty rich flavor. Ready to harvest around 70 to 80 days after sowing.
How does this new introduction turns the tables on everyday “green” kale? The “greens’ are actually slightly curled blue-green leaves edged in creamy white. As such, this standout bi-colored kale is highly ornamental, yet a tender and tasty addition to salads, soups or stir-fries. And its perennial habit makes for continuous, cut-and-come-again harvest. Originally bred by Dick Degenhardt in Boskoop, Netherlands, ‘Kosmic’ is propagated by root cuttings and therefore available only as plants.
‘Painted Serpent’ Armenian Striped Cucumber
Unique in appearance with thin skins and crisp fruits with mild, sweet flavor are the hallmarks of this open-pollinated variety. Fruit will grow straight if grown up a trellis. However the long and thin, dark and light green-striped fruits grow in a variety of curved or coiled shapes if vines are allowed to sprawl, creating shapes that resemble coiled snakes. Fruits are best when grown in sunny, fertile soil and harvested at 12 to 18 inches in length. Ready to harvest in 65 days from transplant.
‘Sugar Magnolia Purple Snap’ Hypertendril Pea
A purple podded snap pea is fascinating on its own, but ‘Super Magnolia’ has a few other distinctive characteristics that make this variety of snap pea quite unique. For starters, the 6 foot plus vigorous vines have purple flowers and stunning purple pods that hold their color even when cooked. And the cross of a parsley bush pea with a purple podded snap vine pea gives ‘Super Magnolia’ its hypertendril traits, which means they are self-supporting, with tenacious tendrils that cling easily to the trellis. The 3 to 4 inch purple snap pods have good sweet flavor and produce over a long season; 90 days to maturity.
SOURCES FOR SEEDS AND PLANTS
Visit www.loghouseplants.com for a retail nursery or garden center near you. Here are four to get you started.
Down To Earth: 541-349-0556; www.home2garden.com
Molbak’s: 415-398-5110; www.molbaks.com
Portland Nursery: 503-231-5050; www.portlandnursery.com
Territorial Seed Company: 541-942-9547, 800-626-0866; www.territorialseed.com
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