Why replicate the supermarket experience?

  • Last updated: 16 September 2022
At the start of writing this blog, I stated that on our relatively limited space, we would mainly focus on growing things that were unusual, expensive or difficult to obtain. After all, I can’t see the point of going to all that effort of growing, if we are just going to replicate the soulless offering provided by supermarkets. It might be an unusual variety of something that is relatively standard fare, such as a cucumber or tomato, or it might be a really unusual vegetable that you never see on the shelves.
So to start with the non-supermarket varieties of standard fare, we are growing National Pickling cucumber. This is a compact cucumber, which can be picked at a small size and used for pickling or allowed to grow to around a size of 15 cm. It is incredibly productive, and we have fruits setting at the end of June. I always prefer the flavour and texture of smaller cucumbers to the long watery varieties proffered by supermarkets. It’s strange, I have found small tasty cucumbers available in many other European countries, but rarely see them in the shops in the UK, so it makes sense to grow them.
Now onto the more unusual! Outside we have two South American root vegetables, oca and yacon. Both were given to me a few years ago. Yacon is an interesting plant. It produces a plant that looks like a bit like an artichoke, then it produces large tubers that can be cut into thin strips and eaten raw in a salad. I have found that it can yield up to a bucket full of tubers from one plant, even in a dull summer.
Ocas are brightly coloured tubers with wrinkled skin. In past years, I have put the tubers in pots around March to allow the foliage to grow, then transplanted the plants in May – it is relatively time-consuming, so this year, I just planted the tubers directly in the ground in May. The plants are looking healthy but are definitely less advanced than when I transplanted them last year, so we will have to judge which method is best. The foliage looks similar to the oxalis weed but slightly taller and less spreading. Tubers are set pretty late, into October and November, so you do need to be patient when harvesting them. I think they are worth waiting for – they are like small salad potatoes with a nutty citrus taste. And just to check whether you could buy ‘oca’ in a UK supermarket, I looked online, and it tried to change my search from oca to okra or ocado, so I think we can safely say that they are not widely available in the shops...
More about Anton...
Anton is a Knowledge Officer at Garden Organic, where he has worked for 16 years. He is looking forward to writing a series of blogs on how to garden using little resources.
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