Preview: There are many unusual vegetables to grow in your backyard garden. If you are looking for something different to plant this year, check out this list of unique vegetables for your garden.
When growing a garden most people plant tomatoes, peppers, beans, etc. But once you’ve planted your usual crops, the ones your family eats regularly, it can fun to experiment. One of the main reasons I love to grow a garden is that there are so many unusual vegetables to grow.
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Every year I try to grow one or two varieties that are out of the mainstream. Oftentimes, I find something new that I love and grow every year like tromboncino zucchini. However, I’ve also grown quite a few duds, such as a mini pepper that was so small and full of seeds it wasn’t worth the work.
When you grow your own food, you can sample many yummy vegetables that you just can’t find in the grocery store. At least where I live, I have never seen patty pan squash or cheddar cauliflower in my local supermarket.
Listed below are some unusual vegetables to grow that I have tried and that have performed well for me in my Zone 7B garden. I have also listed a few others that I hope to try soon or have been recommended to me by other experienced gardeners.
Unusual Beans to grow
Yard Long Beans
I have grown many kinds of beans over the years, but one of the most unusual varieties was Red Noodle, a type of yard long bean. This variety gets its name from the fact that they grow very long, though not actually a full yard. Most varieties of yard long beans top out at about 18″. (But I think the ones in the picture on the right were about 2 feet when I took this picture!)
The Red Noodle variety is a deep red, almost burgundy color, that is very heat tolerant. It produces lots of stringless beans that are delicious steamed or stir-fried. This heirloom kind is definitely a plant to grow to impress your friends and family.
There is also a green yard long bean, also called asparagus bean. These taste like a cross between asparagus and green beans. They are wonderful added to stir-fries. This is a great vegetable to grow with kids because it is amazing how fast the beans grow. Measuring their growth each day, would be a great math lesson for young children.
Purple and Yellow Varieties of Beans
There are quite a few purple varieties of beans on the market today. I have grown Velour and Royal Burgundy and enjoyed both though I prefer Velour. Most purple kinds will turn green after cooking.
A few other purple varieties to try include Romano Purpiat, a Romano type bean that is early stringless, and Violet Podded Stringless which is supposed to perform well in cooler soil.
Just like purple varieties, there is an ever-increasing number of yellow bean varieties as well. I have grown Soilel and Rodcor with great success. These look so pretty in a stir fry with other brightly colored vegetables or pickled with “green” beans such as in these garlic spiced pickled beans from An Oregon Cottage.
A few other yellow varieties that look promising include Monte Gusto, a yellow pole bean that has a purplish vein and Gold Rush, a yellow bush bean that holds well on the bush and is excellent for pickling.
Just a heads up…Most colored beans don’t seem to produce as heavily as regular green beans. The exception to this rule seems to be the Red Noodle Yard Long Bean. They grow like crazy. I only planted about 20 seeds last year, but I had plenty of beans! You can read more about growing green beans here.
I have never grown runner beans but a few varieties I hope to try include Painted Lady and Scarlet Runner Beans. Both are heirloom varieties that have gorgeous flowers but the beans on the plants are also edible. These are both pole beans, meaning they need to be grown up a trellis. These varieties are favorites of butterflies and hummingbirds.
Unusual Varieties of Squash and Zucchini
About 10 years ago, I decided to try the tromboncino variety of zucchini. The stems of this variety are not as hollow as others types so squash vine borers have a difficult time getting through them. My experiment growing this variety was probably my best yet. I grow it every year.
This zucchini can be harvested young and eaten as a regular zucchini, but can also be left on the vine and eaten as a winter squash. The flavor is delicious and the fruits grow quite large. One zucchini is more than enough for my family of 5. These plants grow quickly and need to be trellised for best results.
Everyone who visits my garden laughs at the tromboncino growing in my garden. Most can’t believe they are actually edible. Below is a picture of one zucchini-They make great necklaces too!
Sunburst patty pan squash is another variety that is fun to grow. These yellow squash look like flying saucers and are suitable to be grown in containers or small gardens as they don’t vine like other types. They can be picked small or allowed to grow to 6-8″ without getting seedy though they are best picked at 2-3″. (Learn more about growing squash and zucchini here.) I recently spotted a light green variety (Benning’s Green Tint) that would be pretty to grow also.
Interesting Cauliflower & Broccoli Varieties
One of my favorite varieties of cauliflower is Cheddar. It looks like cheddar cheese! When cooked, this cauliflower actually turns a deeper shade of yellow. It can be a bit finicky to get started, but its beauty makes it worth the trouble. This variety grows best in a fall garden.
Another type of cauliflower I am trying this year is a Romanesco type called Veronica. This cauliflower is a chartreuse color and the heads form swirling spirals with points on top. It is supposed to be a nuttier-tasting version of regular cauliflower. I’ll update with pictures if this is a garden success story.
There is also a purple variety called Graffiti that I just may have to try next year. Unlike purple beans, this type of cauliflower retains its purple color once cooked.
There are several varieties of sprouting broccoli on the market now that are fun to grow. Sprouting broccoli doesn’t always produce heads like other types, it produces spears of broccoli. (Though some do produce a small head first.) I have grown Summer Purple before and this year I am growing it as well as the Miranda variety.
Both of these varieties as supposed to tolerate heat fairly well, so they are perfect for a spring garden where it can turn from spring to summer quite quickly.
There are lots of unusual cucumber varieties on the market now that are so much fun to grow. From Lemon Cucumbers, (that look just like a lemon) to Lime Crisp, (a variety that has a light green skin) to Miniature White Cukes that are small and perfect for a small space garden, you can most certainly find an interesting new variety to try.
I decided to try growing Mexican Sour Gherkin last year. These are a small, heirloom variety that are only about an inch long. They look like tiny watermelons and have a lemony, citrus taste. This variety produced tons of mini cucumbers on sprawling plants. You will definitely need to trellis this variety. The tendrils will attach themselves to anything, including nearby plants. I kept having to cut some of the tendrils off, but it didn’t seem to slow them down any!
Of course, I couldn’t forget about everyone’s favorite vegetable to grow…the tomato! Just looking through a seed catalog will show you that there are so many wonderful varieties to try. From purple to yellow to pink to green, you are sure to find some new varieties that spark your interest. There are even striped and tie-dye colored tomatoes.
There is a whole series of “Indigo” tomatoes that are a dark bluish-purple but are red on the inside. These are stunning tomatoes and would look beautiful in a salad.
Another unusual tomato variety is Brad’s Atomic Grape Tomato, This tomato has lavender stripes that turn almost blue when ripe. It is definitely a tomato unlike any you have ever seen before.
A green variety of tomato that has grown well in my garden is the Green Zebra variety. These are tangy, olive green tomatoes with yellow stripes. This is a great variety to try if you have trouble with tomatoes cracking.
Recently, there has been an explosion of pepper varieties on the market. While you still have red, yellow, and orange, purple peppers are becoming popular. Purple Beauty is an open-pollinated variety and Purple Star is a hybrid type. (Here is a post on the difference between open-pollinated and hybrid and which you should choose for your garden.)
Purple Sweet Potatoes
Purple sweet potatoes are quite the novelty for kids, if you grow them in your backyard garden. While unusual, they are actually even more nutritious than regular sweet potatoes. And the purple color remains once the potatoes are cooked!
While purple eggplant isn’t unusual, a purple and white striped variety is. The variety Bride is a beautiful eggplant to grow. The purple on Bride is brighter than the standard purple eggplant, and there are less seeds inside. This variety also doesn’t seem to have the bitterness that some eggplants have. This is another favorite in my garden.
Other Unusual Vegetables to Grow
The watermelon radish is a very unique looking radish. Once cut, it truly looks like the inside of a watermelon without seeds. Radishes grow best in spring and fall. You can read more about growing radishes here.
Ground Cherries are another unique plant to grow. Similar to a tomatillo, they grow on plants about 1 1/2 feet high. When ripe, the fruit turns deep yellow and drops to the ground. Just like a tomatillo, they are encased in a brown husk. Ground cherries have a sweet, fruity flavor and are wonderful in salsas, salads and smoothies. They can also be used to make jam and jellies.
Veggie Garden Remix
If you are looking for even more unusual varieties of vegetables, check out Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix. She includes 224 different varieties of unique vegetables to add to your backyard garden. From snake gourds to amaranth, there is sure to be something in this book you haven’t tried yet.
Have You Tried Any Unusual Vegetables?
I love experimenting in the garden and growing new and unique vegetables. We’ve come across some family favorites, but we’ve also had our share of vegetables we won’t grow again. But since seeds are relatively inexpensive, growing a few new varieties of vegetables each year is a fun project for me as well as for my kids. If you have grown any unusual vegetables, I would love it if you would share your favorite varieties in the comments below.
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