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Most Recent Ag News Article

September 28, 2022 -   Uncommon vegetables grown in Alberta

As the growing season draws to a close, it is worth spending a little bit of time thinking about some of the crops that you might try out in future years. According to Robert Spencer, a horticulturist, most people choose few vegetables from the vast array of choices. This might be due to preference, taste, or growing season limitations. “However,” says Spencer, “if you are tired of just having potatoes, carrots, onions, peas/beans, and some leafy greens, why not consider adding some variety to what you are growing?”

If you aren’t wanting to push the envelope too far, Spencer suggests that you consider trying a different variety or two of the vegetables than you typically grow. Pick one that needs five to ten more days to mature. You may need to take some extra steps to ensure that you get something to harvest, but it is a fairly small risk. You will be amazed by the variety in flavour and culinary uses available from a slightly longer maturing crop.

If you want to try something different, there are a number of interesting options out there. One of the only “native to North America” vegetables is the Jerusalem artichoke, sometimes called a “sunchoke.” It is related to sunflowers and can produce a tremendous amount of aboveground plant growth. However, the harvested part is smaller, sweet tubers. The plants aren’t all that difficult to grow, however, finding plant material to start with can be challenging. The other consideration is that you will need a fair amount of space, as well as plenty of sun and TLC.

Globe artichokes are within the thistle family. They are a large plant, with all of the characteristics of their thistle relatives (spines, spikes, and other unfriendly parts). You will need to start this crop from transplants, as it will take too long to mature from seed in the garden. They will need to be protected, due to the prolonged growing season, and they will need plenty of care.

Celery may or may not be commonly grown, but it can require a bit of care and consideration in order to be successful. Homegrown celery is full of flavour. It must be grown from transplants as it takes a long time to mature. Celery prefers cooler temperatures and plenty of water to grow.

Spencer says, “Experts teach that if you want to guarantee that you will have nice, tender stalks with a good flavour and texture, try and keep light away from the stalks as much as you can.”

You can plant celery deeply and gradually fill in the soil as the plant grows, however, this means that you have to clean the stalks a lot at harvest. You can also protect the bottom half of the stalk from light by wrapping the stalk loosely with cardboard, a milk carton, or wooden slats. It will require some adjustment as the plant grows, but it will provide a better taste experience at the end of the growing season.

These are just a few different vegetables that are less common, but relatively easy to grow. “But what if you want a real challenge?” asks Spencer.

Okra is a warm-season vegetable that is highly sought after in a number of cultural cuisines. It is theoretically possible to grow this crop in Alberta, but it will require quite a lot of time and a fair bit of protection to augment the growing conditions. It needs a long season and lots of heat. There will still be a considerable risk of failure, and, in the end, the yield will likely be fairly low. Having a greenhouse drops the risk down, but this isn’t an option for most people, especially for experimentation. 

You will have to start okra plants indoors a long time before planting and you can’t put out the plants before the risk of frost is well past. Okra will need a good amount of nutrients and a deep volume of soil to grow in, as the plants produce a really long tap root, as well as other roots. The plants grow up to six feet (2m) tall, although they can be as small as eighteen inches (45cm). Seeds need to be soaked for a day or so before planting, then will take upwards of two weeks to germinate. Once the plants are out in the warm soil and growing conditions, it is a waiting game. You may need to provide some later-season protection to get them over the finish line.

Another uncommon and potentially challenging vegetable is the sweet potato. Historically, this was a definite non-starter in Alberta, but there has been more work done on selections, resulting in more options. If you can find some slips in the garden centre, you have a decent chance of a good growing season. The slips/young plants are planted once it is warm enough outside and then will need plenty of heat and water to support their growth. They will also need nice, deep soil, with plenty of richness and fertility.

At the end of the day, there are dozens of different vegetables to grow in your garden, with hundreds of varieties and cultivars to choose from. If you are prepared to provide the conditions that they need to grow, you can have lots of tasty choices to sample from in the fall.