In this busy modern world, cities are expanding and backyards are shrinking. Yet the desire to grow food is more pressing in the face of rising food costs and the instinctive need to give kids the freshest vegetables possible.

Reconnecting with nature and teaching kids their food doesn’t actually come wrapped in plastic are also wonderful reasons to want to give growing a go.

With a smaller backyard or even only a balcony we are far removed from our parents and grandparents generations where they had the stereotypical quarter acre and grew most of their veggie needs. These days we have to make rational choices about what to grow, to fit in with our available space.

There’s always the safe option of carrots, peas, spuds, tomato and cabbage. The things that will help with the weekly budget and that the kids will eat – even with a spot of coercion. Or…

Growing unusual veggies

You could throw caution to the wind and grow the weird and the wonderful.

These are the luxury items. The ones you walk past in the store and think, “gosh, one day. Maybe when we have a dinner party and I want to impress someone, or when the kids are at grandmas and we can have a fancy date night dinner with the good plates and candles.”

Then there are the veggies you think “what on earth do you do with that?!” These are the things that add variety and excitement to a mundane diet, and by growing them you won’t break the bank during the weekly shop.

There are so many interesting things to try – flower sprouts, kohlrabi, caigia, artichokes, elephant garlic, okra and amaranth to name but a few.

Even the mundane can offer luxurious interest to the home gardener as there are over 100 varieties of tomatoes available in the form of seeds, and many of the ordinary things like carrots can come in many great colours rarely seen in the stores. A garden of such great wonders will most certainly be a wonderful talking point when having guests over for a visit and your dinner parties will be remembered for quite some time.

If this all sounds a little daunting then take some time to decide what you want to grow, do a bit of research to find out more about the weird and the wonderful unusual veggies.

Learn how what they like to grow, how much space they will need and if they will need to be in your sunniest spot or not. Finding out more about it all will make it seem less daunting to grow. But, when it comes to eating them – well there is always the excitement and anticipation of not knowing how it will actually taste and if, after going through all the effort of growing it, you will actually like it (let alone the kids)?

One thing you can do, to remove the fear of the unknown, is to look up recipes, or Youtube videos, and see the best ways to cook your unusual veggies and what flavours are commonly paired with them. Seeing images of delicious looking meals laid out on a plate can make anything seem appetising.

At this point I would like to offer a word of caution to the adventurous gardener, where carrots seem mundane and the strange looking kohlrabi is so last season.

Take care though

Take real care when gardening off the beaten track – as just because a plant has a fruit, it doesn’t mean it is safe to eat. Often it’s suggested weeds, berries, mushrooms and other foraged plants are full of the latest must-have antioxidants, or tonics, to bring great health and well-being. But, unless you know for sure, it isn’t worth the risk.

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Sarah O’Neil lives on a small 3 acre lifestyle block. The family moved from the big city to the country in 2007. Sarah has published 3 books, including The Good Life, four glorious seasons in my country garden. She's also an award-winning blogger, winning a Yates Vegie Growing Challenge and still writes regularly. Visit Sarah’s website at sarahthegardener.co.nz.

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