Giant pumpkins at the National Heirloom Expo
By Jordan Laio, Networx
I had the great pleasure of attending the first annual National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, CA this past year. There were thousands of varieties of heirloom fruits and vegetables, but some of the biggest attention-grabbers were the giant pumpkins. With the smallest weighing in at a few hundred pounds, those giant pumpkins were a sight to behold. Did you know you can grow giant pumpkins and other giant vegetables at home?
Lest you think the pumpkins are huge because of some special fertilizer or mineral treatment, giant vegetables, like other jumbo crops, just have giant genes. A good indicator of these crops is the word "giant" in their name (like the giant pumpkin and giant flat Dutch cabbage, see below). If you want to be the envy of everyone at your community garden this year, give these oversized crops a try.
While not all these varieties are as dramatic in their size as the giant pumpkin, they are extraordinary in their categories.
The giant pumpkin naturally grows, on average, to 250 pounds. That's a lot of pie and maybe even enough pumpkin to make a house out of a la the classic nursery rhyme Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater. Under the right conditions it can reach 1,800 pounds, which will fetch you a ribbon at the county fair.
Turkish Giant Garlic
Beautifully purple striped garlic described by seed companies as having a full garlic flavor, this garlic also produces large heads which have earned it the name Turkish Giant.
While elephant garlic may not be a true garlic (it is actually more closely related to leeks), it still looks and tastes like garlic, although with a milder flavor. Its bulbs often measure a whopping 3-5 inches in diameter, and it always overshadows the other garlic on grocery store shelves.
Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard
Chard leaves are a vegetable garden standby. They are delicious freshly shredded in salads or sauteed with garlic like spinach or even in a tart, as the French like them. With Fordhook giant Swiss chard, which grows up to 22 inches high, you'll have plenty of nutritious greens to use as you wish.
Also known as the snake melon or serpent cucumber, the Armenian cucumber is not a true cucumber but rather a melon that looks and tastes like a cucumber. Nevertheless, if you want to impress your friends with two-foot-long, thick cukes, they don't have to know the difference. The Seed Savers Exchange catalog boasts that they also make great pickles.
Giant Musselburgh Leek
More stout and stocky than tall and lanky like most leeks, this giant grows up to 2-3 inches thick. The giant Musselburgh is an heirloom variety introduced in 1870 (according the Landreth Seed Company) and kept around not just for its girth, but also for its fine flavor.
Tree collards are a true giant. While most collards and the closely related kale get by at a height of around 3 feet, tree collards can reach well above 6 feet, emulating a tree in their stature. Another unique characteristic is that they are perennials, remaining in the ground from year to year without bolting (flowering) and continuing to produce full-sized, delicious leaves. They can only be propagated by cuttings and not seeds, so they are limited in their availability.
Big Daddy Onion
Claimed to be the largest storage type onion, the big daddy onion is a tasty yellow onion and puts pathetic normal sized onions to shame. Good to use raw or cooked.
Another true giant, the Superschmelz kohlrabi can grow 8-10 inch bulbs weighing over 25 pounds each. Territorial Seed Company notes in their catalog that this variety is known for its ability to grow huge without becoming woody; rather, it retains a "very sweet and tender" bulb.
Red Noodle Bean
So long that they look less like beans and more like ropes dangling from a green vine, the red noodle bean grows 18-inch long red colored pods. The rock star of the bean world, it is not even in the same realm, lengthwise, as other beans.
Do you grow giant veggies? Leave us a comment and tell us about your fabulous fruits. If you have questions, Jordan will be happy to answer them.