How to Grow Unconventional Vegetables in Your Backyard

How to Grow Unconventional Vegetables in Your Backyard

How to Grow Unconventional Vegetables in Your Backyard

Growing unconventional vegetables in your backyard can seem daunting, but with some planning and preparation, it is very achievable. Here is an in-depth guide on how to get started:

Choosing the Right Unconventional Vegetables

When deciding which unconventional vegetables to grow, consider the following:

Climate and Growing Conditions

  • Make sure to choose varieties that will thrive in your hardiness zone and soil conditions. Some options include:

  • Malabar spinach – thrives in hot, humid climates. Grows best in fertile, well-drained soil.

  • Oca – prefers cool, moist climates. Tolerates poor soil.

  • Mashua – grows well in cool climates. Can handle partial shade.

Space Requirements

  • Some uncommon veggies, like nopales (prickly pear cactus), take up a lot of space. Be sure you have enough room in your garden.

  • Options for small spaces include lemon cucumbers and ground cherries.

Your Interests

  • Grow vegetables that intrigue you and suit your tastes. Examples:

  • Ramps – for lovers of garlic and leeks

  • Romanesco – for fans of spiral shapes and fractal geometry

  • Okra – if you enjoy the sticky pods in gumbos

Preparing Your Garden

Proper preparation is key to successfully growing unique vegetables:

Soil Quality

  • Test your soil pH and amend it as needed. Most uncommon edibles prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil.

  • Mix in several inches of compost or other organic matter to provide nutrients.

Sun Exposure

  • Give plants at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily.

  • Morning sun is ideal for heat-sensitive plants like amarthanthus.

Raised Beds

  • Grow in raised beds for better drainage and soil quality. This benefits high-maintenance plants like salsify.

  • Use wood, stone or concrete to build long-lasting beds.

Trellising and Staking

  • Install trellises and poles for vining veggies like malabar spinach.

  • Stake tall, top-heavy plants like cardoons to prevent toppling.

Planting and Care

Follow these tips for successfully raising your unique crops:

Start From Seed

  • Uncommon veggies are hard to find at nurseries. Order seeds online well before your growing season.

  • Sow seeds according to each plant’s needs – many like watermelon radish prefer direct sowing.

Watering and Feeding

  • Provide 1-2 inches of water weekly. Less for succulents, more for thirsty plants.

  • Apply a balanced organic fertilizer monthly or based on soil test results.

  • Certain vegetables have special needs. For example, hopniss thrives on wet soil.


  • Hand pollination may be required for plants like ground cherries. Use a small brush to transfer pollen.

  • Growing flowers nearby attracts pollinators for crops like sunchokes.

Pest Prevention

  • Use floating row covers or insect netting to keep pests away.

  • Identify and pick off egg clusters, caterpillars and beetles by hand.

  • Make natural pest sprays with ingredients like neem oil or hot pepper flakes.

Harvesting and Storing

Reap the rewards of your unusual garden with proper harvesting and storage:

Harvest at Peak Maturity

  • Pick most crops like salsify when fruits or roots reach full size but before they flower and bolt.

  • Harvest leaves like orach progressively as needed.

  • Timely harvesting prevents over-maturity and toughening.

Curing and Drying

  • Cure onions like ramps for 2-3 weeks in a warm, dry spot prior to storage.

  • Air dry peppers like shishito until crisp before freezing.

Storage Conditions

  • Store tender crops like fiddlehead ferns wrapped in damp paper towels in the refrigerator.

  • Winter squash and celeriac keep for months in a cool, dry basement or cellar.

  • Freeze extras to enjoy out-of-season! Blanch vegetables first for optimal flavor and texture.

With some creativity and planning, you can create a thriving backyard garden filled with unique vegetables you won’t find in any grocery store. Follow these tips and you’ll be harvesting basketfuls of delicious, unconventional produce. Let your curiosity and taste buds guide you – the possibilities are endless!