Variety is the spice of life – it’s an old saying that applies as much to edible gardening as it does to anything else. Plant breeders are well aware of it, which is why they are always developing new and unusual fruits and vegetables for gardeners to grow at home. In the past, it’s been up to plant scientists, alone, to come up with these new edibles, but more recently, chefs have been demanding a say, too. Not surprisingly, the two camps have often been looking for completely different things!
Where as a plant scientist may be on the hunt for earlier or later varieties, longer keepers, and more disease-resistant plants, chefs have been crossing their fingers for developments that make life easier for them. After all, even the home cook knows how long it takes to cut the stalk from a single capsicum (it’s a vegetable with a complicated shoulder, and if you don’t want to waste half the flesh, there’s some serious knife work that has to take place). Chefs have also been hoping for more flavour in vegetables (such as courgettes or zucchini) that have traditionally looked great on the plate, but which have tasted somewhat bland. And it goes without saying that they’re always on the hunt for edibles that will surprise and entertain their diners!
The upshot is, new fruit and vegetable seeds on the market with each coming year, and with a price to match. When you do reach for a packet, however, try not to resent the cost. Many years of plant breeding go into creating new varieties, so it’s understandable when they first come into the shops there are just a few seed in each packet, and they’re 2-3 times the cost of more traditional varieties. These new breeds are usually marked ‘F-1 Hybrid’, and they are the result of cross pollinating two different parent plants. F-1 stands for ‘first generation’ – they’re new kids on the block, and in a year or two, they’ll be so well known, their price will have reduced. If you’re thinking you can harvest the seed from F-1 hybrids so you never have to purchase them again, you’d be mistaken. F-1 hybrid seed doesn’t come true – it will produce something completely different to the fruit or vegetable it came from.
The pandemic has been tough on plant breeders, whose access to work places has been limited, but they’ve still managed to deliver some new varieties that keen gardeners have been quick to purchase. In addition, old heritage varieties, and traditional plants from other parts of the world have supplemented the range. Here are few newbies you may not have come across (some of which are available from Kings Seeds):
Okra Jing Orange – an Asian heirloom okra with orange blush skin and a creamy, dark centred hibiscus-like flower.
Caigua – a fast-growing vine from the forests of South America which produces small cucumber-like fruit that can be eaten raw or pickled. When cut, the fruit also soothes irritated skin (take care where you grow it – its leaves look very similar to those of the cannabis plant!).
Kalettes – a hybrid vegetable, these frilly little morsels are a cross between kale and brussel sprouts. With purple-veined (or deep purple) leaves, they look great on the plate when lightly roasted.
Verona Purple Savoy Cabbage – a pretty, thin-leafed Savoy with a red-purple blush to its leaves which loves cooler temperatures.
Skirret – known in Scotland as ‘crummock’, this herbacious plant produces an edible tap root so sweet it can be boiled in milk and used to sweeten rice pudding. It’s a tricky one to track down but is sometimes available from Kahikatea Farm, or try advertising in Organic New Zealand Magazine.
Enjoy the challenge of growing new edibles, and the fun of researching what’s available!