Growing your own fruits and vegetables comes with many benefits, from saving money and getting the freshest produce possible to getting exercise in the garden, and being able to choose from an incredibly vast selection of different varieties that you’d likely never see in your local grocery store.
With all of those choices, why not have some fun and grow some more unusual fruits and veggies, it’s a great way to try some new flavors and flood your body with nutrients at the same time.
While this fruit definitely has a cool name, you have to stretch your imagination a bit to picture an actual dragon. Either way, it’s definitely an unusual one, with a red skin that projects out like fish fins, or dragon scales, hence its name. Inside, is a creamy white flesh somewhat akin to a kiwi, dotted with tiny, crunchy black seeds. While it isn’t common in the Western world and is mostly seen growing in Asia, it is becoming increasing popular, with some commercial farms starting to pop up among the more traditional crops.
Dragon fruit tastes a bit like a melon, with the texture and tiny seeds similar to kiwis. Just like kiwi, you won’t really notice the seeds when eating the pulp, in fact, when you bite down on a few it actually releases a slight tangy flavor that enhances the taste. It’s best eaten slightly chilled, and then cut in half and the pulp scooped out with a spoon. It offers lots of nutrients, including vitamin C, cancer-fighting antioxidants and a good level of fiber.
This unusual fruit can be grown just about anywhere in the world, though it does best in a warm climate with mild winters. While it’s fairly drought tolerant, it does appreciate regular watering and well-drained soil.
Alpine strawberries sometimes referred to as mountain strawberries, don’t really resemble the plump modern garden strawberry. They’re actually prettier, with small white flowers and fruit held high, often above the leaves. While they are tiny, they really pack a punch when it comes to juiciness and flavor, with a depth that those modern varieties can’t compete with.
Alpine strawberries make an excellent groundcover – you can even let them run rampant, and they’ll help suppress the weeds while protecting the soil from erosion too. They also grow well in containers and would make a wonderful edible plant for a patio garden too. The fruit prefers a loose, slightly acidic soil and full sun for the best quality, though they will tolerate a variety of soil conditions, provided they have adequate drainage.
If you’re looking to fill that lull in August between the peak of summer and fall raspberry harvests, Japanese wineberries are ideal. They grow similar to blackberries and are gorgeous all year long with their long, arching red-purple canes, but are especially attractive in the winter after the leaves have dropped.
Japanese wineberries have a deeper, wine-like flavor, as compared to raspberries, for a perfect sharp-sweet balance. Plant in well-drained but fertile soil, preferably in a sheltered area, like against a sunny wall, which tends to produce the best fruit. Just like the raspberry, it is biennial, meaning the canes grow one year and fruit the next.
Ice cream banana
This fast-growing cold-tolerant fruit really tastes like banana ice cream – who would have thought that ice cream could actually grow on trees?! When you taste the soft, creamy fruit, you’re sure to agree that it was aptly named, it’s really not like any other banana variety in the world. It can be grown just about anywhere, tolerating temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit, so if you live in an area subject to extreme cold, it will require winter protection.
Not only does the ice cream banana tree produce heavenly tasting fruit, it has a stunning display of burgundy flowers too. During the growing season it needs lots of water to keep the soil consistently damp – you want to give it enough to saturate the roots without watering so much that the plant stands in the water. If the soil gets too soggy, it can cause rot.
Karela is a bumpy green squash that definitely looks a bit weird. It’s also known as bitter gourd, which provides a clue to its taste, although many people cook it with brown sugar to help balance out the bitterness. Some actually prefer the bitter quality, particularly when paired with Pakistani dishes, such as goat and lamb. It’s also commonly used in Chinese cuisine.
Karela is an outstanding source of vitamin C and calcium, and it’s also said to help lower blood glucose levels in diabetics. It’s easy to grow too, and with very little maintenance provided you have well-drained soil and a sunny spot in the garden that gets a good amount of sunlight during the day. Although it’s a warm weather crop, karela can be grown throughout the year as long as it’s not exposed to extreme cold conditions.
Rainbow carrots sound like something you might see in a Dr. Seuss book, but surprisingly, they’re very real. Most people aren’t aware that carrots were originally white and sometimes purple, so it’s actually not all that strange, but it is a spectacular way to add lots of color to your garden. Rainbow carrots come in purple, orange, yellow, white and red, and the seed packets are generally a mix of all of them. The flavor is pretty much the same, but their visual interest makes them well worth planting – and their health benefits actually vary a bit too.
Cucamelons, are like a mini-watermelon. They’re adorable little fruits that also go by the name “Mexican sour gherkin,” or sometimes, “mouse melon,” which is the translation for their Spanish name, “sandiita.” They’re about the size of a grape, and taste like cucumbers and lime.
This sour fruit that grows on a thin vine has been eaten since pre-Columbian times and are a staple in Mexican diets, abundant vitamins, and minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Cucamelons need frost-free weather and soil temperatures of between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit to bear fruit, but if you live in a cooler area, you can grown them in pots and move them indoors to a bright, warm room when nighttime temperatures drop below 50 degrees.
The nopal cactus, also known as prickly pear, is indigenous to Mexico and parts of the southwestern United States. It’s been a staple part of Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisine for years, but few people outside of those regions have even heard of it. The flower of the nopal cactus is one of its best attributes, with the showy bloom creating a gorgeous spectacle in the garden.
The fruit contains two edible parts: the pad, or nopal, of the cactus which is often treated like a vegetable, and the pear, or fruit. They’re easy to grow from pads and take root almost anywhere, and grow with little or even no care. They’re extremely drought-tolerant, which is why they’re so common in desert areas, though you’ll need to take care to put them in a safe spot so that their sharp spines don’t cause injury. In recent years, science has shown that the nopal cactus is a powerful superfood, rich in antioxidants as well as offering cholesterol lowering properties.
Kohlrabi is a strange, alien-like vegetable, but it has a surprisingly sweet flavor and it can be roasted or eaten raw and sliced up like an apple. Although it’s a member of the cabbage family, it’s easier to grow than cabbage. It offers a ton of nutrients, including lots of fiber and vitamin C.
The plant does best when it gets six hours of full sun each day and an even supply of moisture. The fast-growing, cool weather crop will have your plants ready to harvest in just a few weeks after planting – when the swollen stem of the plant gets to be about the size of a tennis ball, you’ll know it’s time to harvest. In the meantime, you’ll have some very interesting looking plants in your garden.
Jicama looks like a really big, smooth tomato. It originated in Mexico, but it’s slowly begun to appear on menus in the U.S. The tuberous root vegetable is delicious when sliced raw into salads or, like they do in Mexico, marinated in lime and other spices like chili powder and served as a condiment. Jicamas are rich in vitamin C and contain a good amount of fiber too.
Generally planted from seeds, this plant does best in warm climates that receives a moderate amount of rain and doesn’t do well with frost. Keep in mind that the tap root is edible, but the leaves, stems, pods, and seeds are toxic and should be discarded.
Purple podded peas
Inside, purple podded peas look the same as any other: green. But outside, they have a gorgeous aubergine color that looks stunning on the vine. As the color makes the pods stand out, they’re much easier to harvest too. The pods are mainly in pairs and as they mature they become mottled with green. The long flower stalks mean that the pods are held away from the foliage, making a magnificent display of long purple pods. Taste-wise, they’re the same as ordinary peas.
Planting them so they get partial sun will ensure your plants thrive – you’ll also need to remember to water frequently. As they’re incredibly easy to grow in a variety of conditions, this unusual plant is great for beginner gardeners and those that like low maintenance gardens. Like other types of peas, purple podded peas are rich in protein, with each half-cup supplying as much as an egg. They’re also high in fiber and contain a small amount of iron and calcium.
Luffa, also known as a ridge gourd, is rather aptly named – popular with hippies and others who are enjoying a get-back-to-nature kind of life, who like to use it as a back scrubber or a sponge. When it’s young and tender, it’s taste is similar to zucchini. As it grows older, and woody, the flesh melts away and leaves an abrasive skeleton. Luffa gourds are grown primarily for their fibrous tissue skeleton for use as a sponge, but those young fruits can be cooked and eaten like squash or substituted for cucumber in a salad. Luffa is commonly used in Chinese and Indian cooking.
The fruit contains a wide variety of nutrients, including an array of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, and it’s a particularly good source of vitamin A. Luffas are a very vigorous plant, with their vines reaching lengths of 15 feet or even more. They make an excellent summer screen plant, as they’ll thoroughly cover every inch of fencing available to them. You’ll need to grow them on a sturdy, tall trellis or a fence that’s at least five to six feet high. Without a trellis, those vines can quickly overrun your garden. When the gourds are ripe, the skins will dry while the stems start to turn yellow.