There’s nothing like slicing into a homegrown tomato, but what about a homegrown daikon radish? Moving beyond garden staples is an intriguing way to push your taste buds, increase your horticultural knowledge, and expand your culinary skills. You’ve got plenty of options; the world has over 50,000 edible plants, but we eat just a tiny fraction of them and grow even fewer at home. If you’re in the mood for a gardening adventure, here are five plants to consider including in this year’s bounty.
1. Ground cherries
If you want to grow fruit but think you don’t have the time or space, ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa) are for you. Also known as cape gooseberries, these pale-yellow orbs taste like a mashup of pineapple and tomato and grow on low bushes that flourish almost anywhere. Prized and pricey at farmers’ markets, ground cherries are fantastic in pies and preserves—if you can resist eating your entire crop right off the plant.
2. Kabocha squash
Remember when you went to that Japanese restaurant and had a vegetable that tasted kind of like sweet potato but better? That was kabocha squash (Cucurbita maxima). For maximum sweetness, leave mature squash on the vine until their leaves start to die back in the fall; once picked, they’ll keep for several months in a cool, dark place.
If you want to have your mind blown by nature, check out some of the Glass Gem popcorn varieties developed by Carl Barnes; they’re perhaps the most beautiful corn on earth and extremely simple to grow. Planting your corn with kabocha squash and a bean of your choice creates a classic three-sisters arrangement that will maximize your yield while keeping your soil healthy.
Growing lemongrass feels like a kindergarten science experiment, so… bonus! If you like the crisp, floral taste of this herb, buy some fresh from your local grocery to start growing your own. Just peel off the dry outer layers, cut off the ends, place a stalk or two a glass of water, and let them sprout on a warm windowsill. When roots develop, it’s time to transplant your new friends into soil. Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is tropical, so plant it in a pot and bring the pot inside before the first frost.
Most radishes have a short growing season and need plenty of hot weather, but the daikon (Raphanus sativus) takes up to 70 days in cooler temperatures to reach its foot-long potential. Deliciously sweet and spicy, daikon are fantastic sliced raw for dipping, steamed, or grated into salads. This radish comes into season the same time as Napa cabbage, and the two are essential for homemade kimchi—if you’re interested in delicious fermented vegetables.
Gardening is one of summer’s pleasures, and growing something new adds an extra layer of excitement. You could have a new favorite food for the price of a few seeds, so experiment with the unusual and the unfamiliar. No matter what climate you’re in, you can produce a stunning variety of edibles from your garden—whether it’s a few pots on your patio or a half acre out back. Good luck, and happy growing!