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Allotment 96B: The Unusual, the Innovative and the Just Plain Weird…

Five months into allotment life and we’re hooked and starting to plan for next year. I’ve really enjoyed having more space to experiment, especially with some more unusual crops, and now it’s time to take stock. Here’s my conclusions so far on which have impressed and definitely made it into the seed list for next year and which are all show and no substance…

Fat Baby Achocha

My fat baby achocha (Cyclanthera pedata or possibly Cyclanthera brachyastacha – see Real Seeds website for further information) has been slow to start this year. Having grown other achocha before, I expected the allotment to be covered with rampaging vines, but until a couple of weeks ago there wasn’t that much growth and only a few fruit. Some other UK growers seemed to having similar experiences, so I guess the weather might have been to blame. However, my fat babies have been making up for lost time recently and I don’t think I’m going to need to buy green peppers for the foreseeable future.

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A snuggle of fat babies (or any other appropriate collective noun)

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This is where my fat babies live, next to my black-eyed susans

If you haven’t grown achocha, I would classify them in the ‘unusual’ category. They haven’t revolutionised the way I grow or cook, but they are easier to grow in bulk than standard peppers and can be used in much the same way. They work well when small as a raw addition to salads and are great in stir fried or on pizza when they get bigger.

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Mushroom and achocha pizza for tea

 

Trombocino

This climbing courgette (Cucurbita pepo) is a sweet tasting variety of butternut squash which can be eaten fresh or ripened and stored as a winter squash. This little baby trombocino is destined for courgette and chilli cornbread, but the daddy trombocino is still lurking in the undergrowth ready for harvest and measuring for the end of September for the Sutton’s Cup. I’m sure it won’t be the winning specimen, but it’ll be fun finding out.

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Ta da da da da da daaaaaa….

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Big Daddy trombocino

I like trombocinos for their versatility, ornamental value and productivity. I’d definitely grow them again and they fall into my ‘unusual’ category.

Oca

Oca or New Zealand yam (Oxalis tuberosa) originates from the Andes. I first grew it several years ago because, unlike potatoes, the foliage isn’t poisonous and is not susceptible to blight. Now the children are a little older it’s not so important to avoid poisonous plants, but the oca has thrived and become a family favourite.

Who could resist planting these little aliens?

Here’s my top 5 reasons why I’d place oca in the ‘innovative’ category…

  1. It is harvested around November when there is little else of interest in the vegetable garden. My kids and I love winter forays into the frosty garden (oca is best harvested after a hard frost has killed the foliage), returning with piles of red and yellow jewels – enough to brighten everyone’s day.
  2. They are very easy to grow, require no specialist knowledge and can be used in a range of ways – mashed, roasted or even raw in salads.
  3. You can save large tubers in paper bags in a dark place over winter and bring into the light to chit in early spring, which means unless you want to try new varieties, this is a very cheap crop to grow.
  4. The foliage is edible – with a lemony tang rather like sorrel. As with rhubarb, spinach and sorrel, oca leaves and tubers contain oxalic acid and therefore should only be eaten in small amounts and avoided by people who suffer from arthritis, gout and certain other ailments (for further information see the Plants For a Future Database). Tubers can be left in the light for a week or two after harvest to reduce the oxalic acid context and sweeten the taste.
  5. They are at the forefront of a movement to democratise the plant breeding process by the Guild of Oca Breeders – a group of gardeners, farmers and horticulturalists who are working to create an ‘open source and genetically diverse, day neutral oca’. This should help to improve yields, making the crop more successful in northern latitudes. I’m enjoying being part of this experiment, trying different varieties, studying growth habits and dissecting the beautiful yellow flowers to learn about how they are structured.

Planting and labelling duties

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Hoping we get another harvest like this in November…

 

Fuchsiaberry

My husband loves fuchsias and we’ve amassed a small collection of hardy fuchsias in pots and in the front garden. I can’t resist anything which purports to be edible, so I’ve tried the berries of our fuchsias with increasing reluctance as I encountered increasingly watery, insipid fruits with a most unpleasant astringency in the mouth afterwards. So when I read about the new Fuchsiaberry fuchsia from Thompson and Morgan, bred to be a heavy cropper and to have ‘large sweet fruits packed with vitamin C and nutrients’, I was intrigued.

Beautiful flowers and large berries

I planted the 5 plugs in pots, grew them on and then planted them in the allotment earlier in the season. They have grown moderately well, although a couple are suffering from the hot conditions and they have some dieback. The remaining 3 plants have plenty of attractive flowers and this week the fruits started to appear. They are a rich burgundy and promise juicy pickings, so I was disappointed when the taste was reminiscent of my hardy fuchsia berries, but with perhaps a slightly less astringent after effect. Maybe it’s something about the growing conditions or when I harvested them (they were plump and juicy), but I can’t see the Fuchsiaberry fulfilling its promise to ‘change allotments and flower borders in the UK’ if everyone else’s berries taste like mine do. I’m afraid, in my allotment at least, this experiment has been relegated to the ‘just plain weird’ category!

Some other unusual favourites

That’s it for the more unusual in the allotment this year, but I’m still experimenting in the garden with cucamelons, lemon grass, tree chillies, honeyberries, inca berries, Chilean guava, coffee and tea. Now I have the allotment space, my plans for next year include earth chestnuts, yacon, ulluco (two more South American tubers), perennial kale – possibly sea kale and/or Daubenton’s kale and my tomatillos will be reappearing after failing to germinate twice this year. I’ll still be growing beetroot, sprouts, tomatoes, potatoes, raspberries, carrots and many more ordinary staples, but I wouldn’t be without the wacky, weird and wonderful for all the tubers in the Andes.

Have unusual crops done well in your allotments this year? I’d love to hear about what you’re growing and how it’s going (especially if anyone’s had good experiences with Fuchsiaberry and can convince me to give it another go!) Thanks.

If you’d like to know how my unusual and more regular crops are getting on throughout the year, do follow my blog:

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Dogwooddays does not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

 

 

33 thoughts on “Allotment 96B: The Unusual, the Innovative and the Just Plain Weird…

  1. Beryl says:

    I have many of the same crops, but stupidly opted for Bolivian Giant rather than Fat Babies, so I have an enormous plant and no crops…Nada. The physalis are coming along a storm – I refuse to use Mr Wong’s new name for ’em – they get checked first on the plot snack list! I had to buy my lemongrass plants though, all seed efforts failed miserably. Even the guy at RHS Wisley grows his from supermarket stems, which made me feel better!

    Liked by 1 person

    • dogwooddays says:

      My physalis have fruits but they’re not ready to eat yet – not sure how big a crop. They are in the greenhouse and I always struggle to get big numbers. Not sure why. Maybe no Bolivian Giants yet, but I guess you’ll only need a few late in the season to make up for all the teeny fat babies? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Linda says:

    Another great blog … those oca remind me more of giant maggots than something tasty for the table, but I’m more than happy to take your word for it! You always whet my appetite to get growing but until our plot comes up, I remain a happy and heartily entertained armchair allotment enthusiast – keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Emma Cooper says:

    I love fuchsias anyway, so – depending on how hardy they turn out to be – my fuchsia berries may survive as an edible ornamental, transplanted into the front garden. But you’re right, flavour-wise they’re nothing to write home about, and they’re not going to convince the die-hard edible gardeners that they’re worth their space 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Alison Tindale says:

    I find our fuchsia berries have a good sweet taste – but do have the aftertaste too. Without that they would be perfect but I do snack on a lot of them anyway! They are just from a cutting from a friend’s garden. But maybe it’s just down to personal taste – I could send you a few to see if they seem any more flavoursome than yours!

    Liked by 1 person

    • dogwooddays says:

      Ooo yes thanks Alison, that would be really kind. I’ve tried ‘Army Nurse’ – very astringent and ‘Delta Sarah’ – less so, but all rather watery. Not had enough flowers on ‘Hawkshead’ or ‘Antigone’ yet to try them…

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  5. David Getling says:

    Because of a larger order I was able to buy 10 of Thompson & Morgan’s fuchsia posti-plugs. I grew on 9 plants successfully, one of which went to a neighbour, and the rest are growing happily in my garden. Well, I’ve had too black berries from one of them so far. I’d have to say, given the hype, I’ve been disappointed as they tasted quite bland, and certainly not sweet.

    I’m also trying James Wong’s top recommendation of Fuchsia Regina ssp. Regina, which I tracked down to Clay Nurseries, just south of London. These two plants which I planted in full sun are extremely thirsty and have not enjoyed the lovely warm summer, but they are doing well now with some flowers and a few green berries, which I’m eagerly waiting to try if/when they turn black.

    I’m really beginning to wonder about the hype of some of these alternative crops, because the lifeberry variety of goji berry that I planted is also meant to be sweet, but even the well ripened fruit is unpleasant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dogwooddays says:

      That’s really interesting David – thanks for sharing your experiences. I’ve been going round the garden trying all my other hardy fuchsias again this week and the T&M Fuchsiaberry really doesn’t seem to taste much better even when I leave it to fully ripen. It’s good to hear that this seems normal, not that my plants are producing sub-standard berries! I’d be very interested to hear if Fuchsia Regina is any better when the berries have ripened. I’ve not tried growing goji berries, but I have found Chilean guavas successful – they aren’t the most vigorous growers here, but do produce a crop and the berries are truly delicious, so I guess some more unusual crops are winners and others are experiments which aren’t worth repeating! Good luck with the Fuchsia Regina. 🙂

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      • David Getling says:

        Well, I also planted a Chilean Guava this year, which seems to be doing well (let’s see how it copes with winter), but I didn’t get berries this year as it’s very young. So hopefully I’ll get a tasty treat next year.

        I’ve also just ordered a cocktail kiwi plant (issai) so it will be interesting to see how long it takes to fruit, and if it lives up to the hype.

        It’s been an extremely busy year for me, in the garden, as it’s the first TLC it’s had in about 30 years!

        Liked by 1 person

        • dogwooddays says:

          Glad you’re enjoying being in the garden and growing new things. I’ve wondered about growing the cocktail kiwi, but I’m running out of room! I’m planning a post a the weekend on how to create a garden which is both ornamental and productive – the only way I manage to fit everything in as it is!! ☺

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  6. Kev Alviti says:

    Oca we love here but I think it’ll be the last year of growing achochas for a while, none of us are that keen on them! As for the fusica berries I keep trying all I find but none really excite my taste buds!

    Liked by 1 person

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