I have my favourites in the kitchen garden, the crops I can’t imagine being without. I can’t imagine tiring of first early Lady Christl potatoes, or the candy-striped Chioggia beetroot, sugar snap peas, cavolo nero or Berrettina Piacentina squash or Sungold and Black Russian tomatoes.
But in other areas I am a lot more fickle. Quite deliberately I look for new veg and new varieties to try each year. It’s part of why I took on the allotment and the luxury of space for experimentation. Last year, I successfully grew ginger (indoors), physalis and sweet onions for the first time and was correspondingly unsuccessful with celeriac; the year before I had a complete 'mare with salsify.
This year’s newbies show a bias towards the new world. It’s partly intentional as I’m developing a Secret Garden Club workshop based on the food from the Americas, so some of the new produce is being grown for harvesting and tasting for the meet-up on September 1st (more info and ticket details here).
Mouse melon, or cucamelon (Melothria scabra)
These very attractive fruits look like stripey grapes and taste, apparently, of cucumber dipped in lime juice. We’re going to grow these in the Secret Garden this year – according to the supplier Suttons Seeds, the plants will climb vigorously, so we’re going to train these up a wigwam made of willow canes and hopefully we’ll be harvesting the fruit from July.
Or Solanum muricantum to avoid potential confusion. I first encountered these fruits which both look and taste like a cross between a melon and a cucumber about 20 years ago in Chile, where they are called pepinos dulces. I’ve often wished I’d brought some seeds home as the climate in southern Chile isn’t so very different from the climate in northern London, and have been keeping a look out for them ever since. This year I found them in Thompson and Morgan’s catalogue. This is another one to grow indoors, cautiously, to start with and to see if the conditions warrant taking them outside into a sunny sheltered spot – my patio, in this instance.
Although really a sub-tropical plant, cultivars of sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas , so related to the morning glory) are being bred to better withstand our cool wet summers. This year I’ve ordered some plug plants of the variety Beauregard to grow in a sheltered spot in the Secret Garden – the supplier, Suttons, claims that this is a better option than the more conventional sweet potato ‘slips’, or cuttings. They’ll need as much warmth as possible, so I’ll cover the ground the black plastic and plant them out through holes cut into it in late spring and cover with a Victorian-style bell cloche. Then we’ll see how the summer goes from there. If it’s anything like last year they’ll stay under cover. And even if they don’t provide much in the way of edible tubers, the young leaves and shoots are apparently also edible and can be cooked like spinach.