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About the Author
Niki Jabbour is the award-winning author of Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix, The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, and Groundbreaking Food Gardens. Her work is found in Fine Gardening, Garden Making, Birds & Blooms, Horticulture, and other publications, and she speaks widely on food gardening at events and shows across North America. She is the host and creator of The Weekend Gardener radio show. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and is online at nikijabbour.com.
Read an Excerpt
like tomatoes? try garden berries!
Like me, you may already be experimenting in your tomato patch, trying a mixture of unique heirlooms and hybrid varieties, each of which offers something different and tasty. Tomatoes (along with peppers and eggplants) are one of the most popular crops in the nightshade family, but other members are definitely worth a try! Some tasty ones include the "garden berries": ground cherries, Cape gooseberries, and tomatillos. With all of these plants, keep in mind that although the ripe fruits are edible, all other parts are poisonous.
Glorious Ground Cherry
A.K.A.: Husk cherry, Physalis pruinosa
DAYS TO MATURITY: 70 days from transplant
HAILS FROM: North America
VARIETIES TO TRY: 'Aunt Molly's', 'Cossack Pineapple'
THE FLAVOR OF a ripe ground cherry is comparable to pineapple with hints of cherry tomato and vanilla. It's an unusual combination, but one that works. Occasionally, I'll bite into an extra-ripe berry that almost tastes like butterscotch — sublime! Their sweet flavor is what earns them the nicknames "strawberry tomato" and "Cossack pineapple." You can eat the fruits fresh or in salads, but you can also turn them into jam, pie, cobbler, or sauce for drizzling over ice cream or cheesecake. If you have a dehydrator, you can dry them and eat them like raisins.
This is a fun and easy crop to grow, with the low, bushy plants producing hundreds of marble-size berries from midsummer until the hard autumn frost. The fruits drop from the plants when they are ripe, hence the name ground cherry. They are firm fruits, even when ripe, with seeds that are so small the fruits actually seem seedless.
TRICKY TO START, BUT SELF-SOWING EVER AFTER
Ground cherries are notoriously tricky to germinate, but a bit of bottom heat will boost germination rates. I sow seeds indoors, 6 to 8 weeks before my last expected spring frost, and help them along by covering the seed trays with clear plastic wrap and placing them on top of my fridge to keep warm. Germination can take 2 to 3 weeks. Once transplanted into the garden, expect the harvest to begin in 70 to 75 days.
You may need to start them only once, though! Ground cherries are prolific self-seeders, so expect many volunteer plants to pop up the following season. You can either thin them and leave a few in place, or dig them up to share with gardening-minded family and friends. Growing them in containers on a wooden, stone, or concrete deck or patio will minimize the threat of self-seeding.
RELAXED OR TRUSSED UP
The plants have a relaxed growth habit, which can take up a lot of garden space. I use tomato cages (inserted at transplanting time) or insert three 4-foot wooden stakes around the plant and use twine to keep the growth relatively upright. If you do support your ground cherry plants, you can transplant them 2 feet apart. Unsupported plants should be spaced at least 3 feet apart. They don't get very tall (between 1 1/2 and 3 feet in height), and they can also be grown in pots on a sunny deck or patio. Ground cherries pollinate themselves, so small-space gardeners can enjoy this crop, even if they have only one plant.
LOOK DOWN FOR FRUIT
Harvesting is as simple as gathering up the fallen fruits — a favorite activity for our kids! Sometimes the fruits are still immature when they fall and need extra time to ripen from inedible green to rich, golden yellow. You could leave them on the ground for a week or two, but because the squirrels also love this treat, I pick up the fallen fruits every couple of days and bring them indoors to finishing maturing. To keep fallen fruits clean, I apply a straw mulch beneath the plants in early summer. This also helps keep the soil evenly moist, which ground cherries appreciate. To encourage ripe or almost-ripe fruits to fall, you can "tickle" or gently tousle the plant every few days.
If you're not going to eat your whole harvest immediately, store the small fruits, still in husks, in a refrigerator, cool basement, garage, or root cellar. Under ideal conditions, they can store from 6 weeks to 3 months. When frost threatens in autumn, cover the plants with a row cover or frost blanket to protect the crop. This can extend the season for several weeks.
Citrusy Cape Gooseberry
A.K.A.: Inca berry, Aztec berry, golden berry, Physalis peruviana
DAYS TO MATURITY: 70–80 days
HAILS FROM: South America
VARIETIES TO TRY: None
IF GROUND CHERRY FRUITS GROW to the size of marbles, Cape gooseberries are closer to that of a cherry tomato. In fact, I find they look very much like 'Sungold' tomatoes when fully ripe; about 3/4 inch in diameter, with glossy orange-gold skin. Once ripe, the fruits are more tart than ground cherries, with a flavor that combines the tang of citrus with hints of tomato and pineapple.
Cape gooseberries need a slightly longer growing season than ground cherries; short-season gardeners will find that prewarming the soil before planting will give them a jump on the growing season. To prewarm, lay a piece of black plastic mulch (or even black garbage bags split open) over the bed 2 weeks before you intend to plant. Once the crops are in the ground, a mini hoop tunnel covered in clear plastic can be used to protect plants from the up-and-down temperatures of late spring. Just be sure to open the ends of the tunnel on mild days to allow good air circulation.
GO EASY ON THE NITROGEN ...
Overall, Cape gooseberry is a low-maintenance crop, needing full sun but growing in a wide range of soil conditions. I dig in a few inches of compost before planting, but no aged manure or high-nitrogen fertilizers. Too much fertilizer will result in lush, vigorous growth but few blossoms. The plants of Cape gooseberry fertilize themselves, but you can boost pollination by giving the plants a gentle shake from time to time.
If garden space is tight, plant them in large pots or planters; they make attractive container plants and can be mixed with other ornamental or edible plants in their pots. Cape gooseberry plants grow more upright than ground cherries do, typically reaching 2 to 3 feet, or even taller in southern regions.
Cape gooseberries can be slow to ripen, especially in northern gardens. If frost threatens while the plants are still heavy with ripening fruit, erect a mini hoop tunnel to shelter the plants. This can be left in place for several weeks as the remaining fruits turn from green to bright gold inside their husks.
Like ground cherries, the fruits are gathered as they fall from the plant. Ripe Cape gooseberries can be stored in a cool site (50°F/10°C) for up to 3 months. They can be eaten fresh, cooked, or dried (toss dried fruits in homemade granola bars or trail mix). Chop fresh Cape gooseberries and add them to leafy or fruit salads, salsa, chutney, or relish. I have a friend who swears that the best way to eat them is to dip the fresh berries into melted chocolate (but isn't everything better dipped in chocolate?). You can also bake them in pies and crumbles or make them into jams and jellies.
A.K.A.: Husk tomato, Physalis ixocarpa
DAYS TO MATURITY: 70–75 days
HAILS FROM: Central America
VARIETIES TO TRY: 'Toma Verde', purple
AH, TOMATILLO, the starring ingredient in salsa verde, the classic Mexican green salsa. By themselves, tomatillos have a tart, citrus flavor, but roast them and pair them with hot peppers, onions, and cilantro, and you've got a dynamite dish that can be added to tacos, served with a bowl of nachos, spooned onto grilled fish or chicken, or used in a thousand other ways to add a bright zip to your cooking.
Straight out of the garden, tomatillos look very much like Cape gooseberries and ground cherries, but they are more the size of golf balls. Another important difference is that the two other species are not eaten while still green, but tomatillos are; if you wait until tomatillos turn pale yellow, they'll be too soft for most dishes and the flavor will have mellowed significantly. You'll also notice that tomatillo fruits fill out their husks as they grow, often splitting the papery wrapper as they approach peak ripeness. When that husk is removed, the fruits look like a green tomato, which is why they're also called husk tomatoes.
IT TAKES TWO!
Tomatillos are very easy to grow, but they are not self-pollinating, and you need at least two plants for good fruit set. When planting, bury half of the stem beneath the soil to help encourage deep-rooting and drought-resistant plants. They are relatively low maintenance, but they do need 1 to 2 inches of water per week; too little water, and they will drop their blossoms without developing fruit.
It's not just the fruits that are larger; the plants of tomatillos are also bigger than those of Cape gooseberries and ground cherries. They can grow 3 to 4 feet tall and spread up to 3 feet across if left unsupported. I space my seedlings 2 1/2 to 3 feet apart and stake them by placing three 4-foot stakes arranged in a triangle around each plant. I wrap garden twine around the supports as the plants grow to hold them in place.
BROWN HUSK = RIPE FRUIT
The fruits are ripe when the husks turn from green to brown. You can also give the husks a light squeeze to see if the fruits are firm and have filled out the wrapper. Once husked, you'll notice the skin on tomatillos has a sticky coating; just rinse it off before you use the fruit. Ripe tomatillos can be stored for up to 3 months by placing them in a single layer in a cool basement or room. However, the fruits can also be frozen (husk, rinse, dry, and freeze) in freezer bags. Any ripe fruits that are left on the ground will reseed the following spring and can be lifted and moved to a new spot or shared with tomatillo-loving friends.
GIVE PURPLE A WHIRL
Experimental gardeners (which I hope you are) will want to try purple tomatillos, which have very pretty purple-green fruits and a slightly sweeter taste than green tomatillos. If an early frost threatens, cover plants with a frost blanket or row cover to protect them, or pick the maturing fruit and allow them to continue ripening indoors. Full flavor is achieved when the fruits are mostly purple.
WHY GROW ORDINARY TOMATOES?
BEFORE CRAIG LEHOULLIER (author and tomato advisor to the Seed Savers Exchange) introduced me to the staggering assortment of colors, shapes, sizes, and flavors of heirloom tomatoes, I thought the sunny yellow fruits of 'Lemon Boy' were novel. Boy, was I in for a surprise! Soon I was picking the pea-size fruits of 'Mexico Midget', the weird clusters of 'Reisetomate', and the pale ivory tomatoes of 'Snow White'. Note: Days to harvest are from transplant, not direct seeding.
'BLACK ZEBRA' (80 days). Fruits of this cross between 'Green Zebra' and a black tomato have a remarkable sweet, smoky flavor. The 1 1/2-inch tomatoes are burgundy-purple brushed with green streaks, and in my garden, they begin to ripen in August. The plants are indeterminate.
'CHOCOLATE SPRINKLES' (55 days). These grape-shaped tomatoes are super sweet with a unique color combination: red skin streaked with green stripes that combine to give a chocolaty appearance. The indeterminate plants are disease resistant and bear a heavy crop on long tresses.
'JAPANESE BLACK TRIFELE' (80 days). An heirloom with large pear-shaped fruits that are meaty and juicy. The flavor is complex; slightly smoky, with mild tones of balsamic vinegar. We love them for fresh eating, but they also make a delicious salsa and an amazing, and beautiful, caprese salad.
'MANDARIN CROSS' (80 days). My family is obsessed with orange tomatoes, and this golden Japanese slicer surpassed all expectation. The plants yield a heavy crop of medium-size, meaty fruits with a wonderful sweet flavor. Definitely a keeper.
'MEXICO MIDGET' (65 days). When Craig LeHoullier first told me about 'Mexico Midget', a pea-size heirloom with big tomato flavor, I thought he was pulling my leg. Then he kindly sent me some seed, and we've been growing them every year since. In fact, they reseed with abandon, so I just weed out excess seedlings each spring and leave a few to grow to maturity.
'REISETOMATE' (70 days). This one is just fun to grow: the large fruits look like clumps of cherry tomatoes stuck together. The lobes don't all ripen at the same time, a trait that earns 'Reisetomate' its nickname, traveler tomato — it could be taken on a journey and the individual bumps could be torn off as they ripen. It has a strong tomato flavor, thick skin, and a sometimes mealy texture.
'SNOW WHITE' (75 days). The past few summers, we've been enjoying the ivory yellow fruits of 'Snow White'. In fact, my tomato-loving niece has declared it her new favorite. The productive, indeterminate plants bear long clusters of Ping-Pong-ball–size tomatoes starting in midsummer.
like peppers? try these!
When I was growing up, I occasionally saw a red or green bell pepper pass through our kitchen, but I can't say I ate many of them. (As a very fussy kid, I'm sure that was mostly my fault.) When I finally got my own garden and started poring through seed catalogs, I quickly realized how many peppers there were just waiting for me to sample them. I wasn't interested in the common green or red peppers. I wanted the chocolate-colored peppers (Would they actually taste like chocolate? Nope!) and 'Sweet Banana' (the fruits actually do look like bananas!) and 'Chinese Five Color', which has plants that bear small peppers in a rainbow of colors all at the same time. Such diversity!
Uncommon Sweet Peppers You'll Love
FOR ME, SWEET PEPPERS ARE garden candy. As a novice gardener, I was hesitant to plant peppers, thinking them difficult to grow. How wrong I was! Given full sun and plenty of summer heat, peppers are very low maintenance and reliable. The first variety I tried was 'Sweet Banana', which charmed me with its bright yellow banana-shaped fruits. From there, I planted 'Purple Beauty' and 'Sweet Chocolate', enjoying the variety of colors and subtle flavor differences. Note: Days to harvest are from transplant, not direct seeding.
'SWEET CHOCOLATE' (78 days). Who can resist chocolate? Not me! So, when I saw 'Sweet Chocolate' listed in a seed catalog, and read that the plants are early producing and tolerant of cool weather, I knew I had to try them. Just 2 months from transplanting, we had medium-size green peppers; 2 to 3 weeks later, they ripened to that rich chocolate brown. The flavor was not chocolate sweet but peppery sweet and crunchy. The biggest fruits were about 3 inches long and 11?2 inches at the shoulder, with fairly thin walls.
'PURPLE BEAUTY' (75 days). This was my first purple bell pepper, and it is one we continue to grow. The 18-inch-tall plants are reliable, even in our occasionally cool summers, and we all love the color. Compared to the modest size of 'Sweet Chocolate' peppers, these are large (3 to 4 inches long) three- or four-lobed, thick-walled peppers.
'SWEET BANANA' (75 days). My kids love the butter-yellow banana-shaped fruits of this award-winning heirloom. The 6- to 7-inch-long peppers will eventually ripen to red, but they can be picked at any stage. Their flavor is mild, but as the fruits turn red, they sweeten nicely. The plants are heavy producers, typically yielding around 20 peppers each.
'BIANCA' (65 days white, 85 days red). With most sweet peppers, the fruits start out green and eventually turn red, yellow, or orange as they mature. The fruits of 'Bianca', on the other hand, are pale ivory that ripen to a bright red. The plants are early to mature and produce a good yield of medium-size four-lobed peppers. 'Bianca' is also highly resistant to tobacco mosaic virus.
Excerpted from "Niki Jabbour's Veggie Garden Remix"
Copyright © 2018 Niki Jabbour.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsIntroduction
Try ground cherries, Cape gooseberries, tomatillos
Bonus: Unusual tomato varieties
Try cucamelons, West Indian burr gherkins, cucumber melons
Bonus: Unusual cucumber varieties
Like summer squash?
Try bottle gourds, snake gourds, luffa gourds
Bonus: Unusual summer squash varieties
Like snap beans?
Try yard-long beans, hyacinth beans, edamame, chickpeas, daylily buds
Bonus: Unusual snap bean varieties
Try mizuna, mustard, Italian dandelions, turnip greens
Try celtuce, minutina, Tokyo bekana, mache
Try hosta shoots, asparagus peas
Try Chinese cabbage, yu choy sum, komatsuna
Bonus: Unusual cabbage varieties
Try 'Spigariello liscia', 'Piracicaba', Romanesco, gai lan, sea kale, huauzontle
Try Jerusalem artichokes, groundnuts, Chinese artichokes, daylily tubers, dahlia tubers
Bonus: Unusual potato varieties
Like spring radishes?
Try daikons, black Spanish radishes
Bonus: Unusual radish varieties
Like bulb onions?
Try Japanese bunching onions, Egyptian walking onions
Bonus: Unusual bulb onion varieties
Try Hamburg parsley
Want more options?
Grow these unusual varieties of peppers, winter squash, peas, eggplants, kale, carrots, beets, and turnips
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