In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
August, 2001
Regional Report

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'Chioggia' beets look like normal beets on the outside, but have red and white stripes on the inside when cut open.

Growing Odd Vegetables

Each year I love to experiment with unusual varieties in my vegetable garden. I still grow the tried and true varieties of tomatoes and beans, but love the unusual. My tests feature vegetables that are a bit out of the ordinary, but they have yielded some great taste treats. Many are now staples in my garden.

Asparagus Beans

One odd-looking vegetable that is absolutely delicious is the asparagus or yard-long bean. I have grown these for 5 years now and wouldn't be without them. The unique beans originated in Southeast Asia and grow on twining, delicate stems. They also have an unbelievably tenacious root system. Plants bloom in mid-summer with a pair of large white or purple colored flowers. Once pollinated, the flowers are followed by tiny dark green beans that reach 1 foot long literally, in a few days. If not picked young for eating, they can grow up to 3 feet long, ripening to pale green, and expanding in diameter as the red or black seeds ripen.

Care for Beans

Although they grow and taste similar to pole snap beans, asparagus beans are more closely related to southern cowpeas. I plant mine in average garden soil and they get no fertilizer except a compost side dressing in spring. Avoid planting in rich soil and applying lots of nitrogen. This causes abundant leaf growth and few beans.

Bean Teepees

I grow these vining beans on bamboo tripods although any type of trellising with poles and string will work as long as it can accommodate the 7 to 8 foot tall vines. Harvest when the beans are about 1/2 the diameter of a pencil, before the seeds have filled out inside, and when they still snap when bent. They taste great steamed, but my favorite is to stir-fry them with lots of garlic.

Unusual Beets

Another oddity I started growing several years ago that is now a staple is 'Chioggia' beets. 'Chioggia' is an heirloom Italian beet that's pink inside with dark red concentric circles. These beets are beautiful to look at and they taste sweet and tender for the entire season. I can leave these in the garden as long as I need and they will still have a tender texture and taste great. These beets freeze well, too. Best of all, they don't stain faces and hands like standard beets, which is a definite plus when you have two small kids.

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