There’s no debate that supermarkets make a busy life easier, but one downside to supermarkets are that they have a strict list of stocked foods based on consumer demand, shelf life and other factors. Unfortunately repercussions of this include reduced nutrition content due to agricultural practices and a reduction in food diversity.
These foods in question can be highly nutritious and flavorful but have a terrible shelf life or be unpopular due to lack of knowledge. Sometimes public will become aware of the more unpopular foods and a food trend or fad is born being hailed as the next big superfood.
There are several times more types of fruit and vegetables that you can grow at home than what is available in a supermarket. That’s a world full of culinary exploration that you can discover in your own garden. The following fruits and vegetables have been listed for either ease of growth, nutrient levels or flavor but the common factor is that they are all uncommonly or never found in supermarkets.
Mulberries cannot be bought in the supermarket, they do not store well turning to mush after 24 hours or when frozen. These fruits are limited to being consumed in February straight from the tree in or in the form of jams, pies and smoothies. Mulberry trees are essentially an investment for the future as they can live for up to 300 years. However, buy as big a tree as possible as they are slow growing having their first crop of fruit after three years. Being a slow growing tree makes the mulberry a good candidate for growing in a large pot or training against a sunny wall.
The berries themselves are well loved by children tasting very much like lollies but unlike real lollies mulberries contain a treasure trove of anti-oxidants. They also have high levels of vitamin C and high levels of Iron with 100mg being 23% of your RDI. The trees themselves are a nice addition to the garden and will grow in all soils with good drainage but will thrive with good soil in a sunny, sheltered location. Morus nigra will grow to approximately 10 metres depending on site and dwarf plants are available growing as a bush that can be kept to 2 metres.
People who a familiar with Nasturtiums may have the term weed in mind when thinking of this plant, however it is the vigorous nature of the Nasturtium which makes it a powerhouse salad plant. In the height of summer the Nasturtium is a salad leaf you can rely on to not become tough or unpleasantly bitter. Historically grown for ornamental purposes and as a companion plant all parts of the Nasturtium can be eaten. The leaves have a peppery flavor similar to rocket and the flowers have a milder flavor that make salad more exciting.
Nasturtiums are highly nutritious with the leaves having high levels of vitamin C and iron, the flowers also rock a number of anti-oxidants. A few plants will be enough to provide a family with enough salad through the summer, leave a few flowers on toward the end of the summer to form seeds to keep for next season, sowing in late spring.
Everyone knows that regular cranberries found in supermarkets contain a heap of anti-oxidants but not everyone enjoys the taste. I have yet to meet someone who is not blown away by the taste of the NZ cranberry. The berries are sweet and deliciously perfumed almost like a dainty turkish delight. Other names for this wonderful plant are Chilean Guava, Strawberry Myrtle and tazziberry. The plant is an attractive evergreen bush that can be used as a low hedge growing 1.5-2m high by 1m wide and they are often available as lollipop topiary.
Unpruned, after three years bushes can crop up to 1kg worth of fruit in early autumn. All those berries pack an antioxidant punch stronger than blueberries, becoming increasingly popular in Australia. Like blueberries the plants prefer an acidic soil with good organic content, so add lots of compost/peat when planting. Plant in a place in direct sun out of strong winds, only one is needed as they are self fertile but two plants will make sure you have an abundance of fruit.
Growing garlic can be a hobby on its own for some gardeners but the range and price of garlic in supermarkets can be uninspiring. Growing elephant garlic can becomes somewhat competitive even if you’re just trying to grow a larger size than the previous year. A good bulb size will grow to the size of your palm consisting of four to six large cloves. Elephant garlic has a milder taste than usual garlic and the cloves are much easier to chop due to their larger size.
Cloves are traditionally planted on the shortest day of the year mid winter, but can be planted as early as late April. Planting early will avoid turning them into a giant monobulb. Plant them into a sunny location with good quality well drained soil prepared with blood and bone, give them lots of space to swell around 20cm from its neighbours and water during dry periods. Harvest when lower leaves start to yellow and fold from December to January.
When it comes to radishes their European counterpart is the most common in western culture, however the winter radish is greatly used in eastern style cooking. Other names include; Daikon, Mooli, Oriental radish and Icicle radish all referring to radishes cropping in autumn/winter, growing up to 10 times the size of normal radishes. Tasting very much like radishes their intense fiery taste is great in salads and stir frys, however when simmered until soft the taste becomes much creamier and mild making them a good addition to stews and curries.
The plants are very easy to grow but prefer a well draining soil in a sunny location, sow seeds direct where they are to grow 15cm apart in early autumn and keep well watered. They do not need fertiliser as they thrive on low nutrient soil so are perfect to sow after another crop has been harvested like potatoes. Ready to harvest after 4 to 6 weeks winter radish can be eaten fresh or stored without leaves for a few weeks in a cool dark place. Winter radish boasts an impressive vitamin C content, 27% of the RDI per 100g when raw, a perfect accompiant for the winter flu season. They also contain the active enzyme myrosinase which has been shown when eaten raw to prevent heart disease, diabetes, cancer and add to the health of the gut microbiome.
The plants listed above are a mere smattering of edible plants not available in the supermarket. Not even mentioned are the many varieties of food favorites that hold oodles of flavor or nutrients. For example the ‘Monty’s Surprise’ apple, is one of the most nutrient dense apples, Karaka blackberry will be the biggest sweetest blackberry you’ll ever eat and Apple Cucumbers will make your eyes pop with delight.
With the main staples many times cheaper and more convenient to buy than grow it is worthwhile to consider growing the foods that are not available in the supermarket. It also makes you seem very exotic and exciting to serve food unusual food when having friends and family over for dinner. To find out what is available for your space and location pop into the garden centre because let’s face it we all love talking about food.