Top 5 Culinary Plants to Grow

We all have our routines - some stringent and some more relaxed - and although we don’t consider ourselves routine people, when we wander down to our local cafe each morning, to get our regular coffee and sit out our regular seat and have the same regular conversation with the regular barista…well, we realise that some of our habits go unnoticed. A routine helps set our day on the pattern of familiarity, where we won’t be shocked or surprised. It will be the same as yesterday - comfortable. 

The routine can extend into the veggie patch too and dictates what plants we grow each year. In the same way, this spring will be much the same as the last. We have our proven tomatoes, salads that we’re comfortable with, and a few other bits and pieces that do the seasonal merri-go-round.

But if you find yourself restless, considering what to do differently this year in the garden, here are five plants that you may not have considered. Maybe because they seem too difficult, or not suited to our climate, or maybe because not enough people have been talking about them so they’re off your radar. So here are 5 varieties that will hopefully light a fire under your gardening routine.

1. Tomatillo: a lot of us have probably never seen a tomatillo plant grow, yet alone eat a fruit, but if you’re looking to lift your Mexican cooking game, this is the plant you need to become more familiar with. Tomatillos are used as the base of a legitimate salsa verde - replacing the tomato from whose family it belongs to - because of their tartness and high pectin content, they are perfectly suited to making sauces. Eaten raw or cooked, the tomatillo is also known as the 'husk tomato' as the fruit is enclosed in a lantern like casing. Growing tomatillos is a far easier exercise than its more common relative. Much hardier and less nutrient needy, they will appreciate a warm space in a free draining soil. Because the flowers are not self-fertile, they need a pollinating partner to produce fruit. Two plants together will make an abundance of salsa verde. 

2. Ginger (turmeric and galangal too): a hardy, warm blooded rhizome, ginger is perfectly suited for growing in a large pot that helps to alleviate trips to the supermarket or using that shrunken, limp nob-let left in the bottom of your fruit bowl. Mostly grown for its underground root zone, the leaves are also edible and a suitable substitute when the plant is not quite ready. Because of ginger’s love of hot, humid conditions, try your best to replicate those during the summer if you are living in a cooler, more temperate climate. This is why we recommend growing it in a pot, so it that be moved to avoid frost. Make sure to source good quality, organic stock for planting, and give it a long growing run throughout the entirety of the warm season. Once the cooler weather returns and plants begin to yellow, upturn your pot and reap your harvest. Save part of the rhizome for planting next season, making sure to store in a cool, dry place.

3. Micro greens: in the spectrum of easy things to grow that may seem difficult, sprouting a few seeds to a juvenile stage and then hacking them down (to sprinkle over your smashed avocado) is right at the top. Micro greens are so simple to grow and they can be done in any old small space. For the easiest results use an incubated mini greenhouse that will retain moisture and heat; this speeds up the process and lessens maintenance. Rather than using herb seeds which are incredibly slow to germinate, use faster germinating varieties such as radish, broccoli and peas.

4. Sweet potato: the sweet potato is typically seen as a tropical/sub-tropical variety, not suited to more temperate climates. Given that it's frost sensitive and likes a long run of up to 180 days in the garden, plant in early spring in temperate climates (after the last frosts) and keep in a warm space, in well drained soil. Best grown from a sprouting sweet potato, it will send a long vine running across the garden, darting underground at junctions to form new tubers. Rather than waiting to entire period until maturity you can also snack on the leaves, which are edible (unlike regular potatoes), nutritious and tasty. At the end of the season it is possible to save cuttings off the vine to reuse next spring. The easiest way to do this is by placing your cuttings into a vase of water, where they will resprout new root growth and live happily for many months out of direct sunlight. For indoor plant fanatics, sweet potato grows perfectly well inside as a decorative plant.

5. Cucamelons: also known as the Mexican Cucumber or Sour Mexican Gherkin, they have the appearance of tiny watermelons (measuring a few centimetres in length, a little less across its breadth) and taste like zesty, sour cucumbers, as though someone has squeezed lime juice across them. A vertical climber, they have small, delicate tendrils that will latch onto a simple trellis, or larger neighbouring plants. Easy to grow, they are a late spring entrant, preferring to be planted around the same time as your chillies, eggplant and capsicum, and usually outstaying them, producing well into the first winter month. Best to sow from seedling - if you can source them - otherwise propagate in a mini greenhouse and then transplant once the weather is suitably warm.

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