Episode-950- 8 More Unusual or Underated Crops for the Homestead — 41 Comments

  1. I’m (trying) to grow mouse melons this year. Husband is getting tired of me chanting the name. They really took forever to get any growth. They’re finally starting to take off so hopefully I can feast on them soon.

    • @Barb, I planted some early on and they seemed to be over taken by other plants and just vanished, they seem to love the heat so that may have something to do with the slow start.

    • These things are a weed in my shrub bed and grow all over my shrubs. To me they taste like a cucumber but with a slight green flavor. Green Dean ( says not to eat them once they turn dark….unless you need major laxative.

  2. I gotta try mouse melons next year. And try to parch corn and make corn nuts. Thanks Jack!

  3. Jack,

    This year was my first garden. I planted what I like to eat and battled the drought here in Southern Illinois. I didn’t have high yields but it was a great learning experience. My son and I spent a lot of time in the garden. He’s 15 months old and loves the garden. Now I’m starting a fall garden. This time I’m going much larger. I just added my first raised bed its 4′ x 16′ long and 12″ deep. I plan on adding another raised bed next year. Love your garden podcasts. This show changed and continues to change my perspective and attitude on life. I’m almost free, no more credit cards, buying silver, added a few personal defense weapons to my gun collection as well. Wife is slowly getting on board. She canned all of the yield we had. Thanks Jack.

  4. Jack,
    While watching my squash and melon plants wilt in this Dallas heat, I cannot help but think of the cute little watermelon plants I encountered hiking in the arroyos just north of White Sands in the New Mexico desert. I cut one off the vine and proudly brought my “watermelon” back to the ranch house only to receive laughs. I had come across a Coyote Gourd. They’re said to be bitter and inedible, but this link says the Native Americans used them for soap, ground and ate the seeds. I might “walk away” except that it was 110 degrees out and the vine was deep green, lush, doing just fine in hot sand that was killing the grass beside it. That has my respect. Needing little water has my respect. The article also warns the vine could “take over.” Hmmm. I’ve got some areas I wouldn’t mind being taken over. I’m guessing that deep green has to mean some sort of nitrogen fixing as well. It’s mentioned elsewhere as a cover crop. I like edible cover crops, even if it takes a bit of preparation.

    Somewhere in the back of my mind I think this is a great opportunity for some Luther Burbank type to come along, create a less bitter, edible strain (like the Burbank Potato), and you have a crop that could feed the world. The Coyote Gourd has great potential.

    • Johnny, I think I saw the same thing growing in the Arizona desert near Wilcox. I couldn’t believe those things as they were growing everywhere in the scorching desert. I thought maybe someone had been ‘guerrilla gardening’ some kind of melon or squash as they were all over the sides of the roads. You’re right, though, if someone could breed them to be edible you could probably help a lot of starving people.

  5. Awesome Jack, you saved me a bit of work for the coming winter with this episode, you found at least 4 crops i’m gonna try out in my small backyard next year!

  6. I have never gotten New Zealand Spinach to germinate. I have planted them in the ground and in seed trays. Neither have ever germinated. Do you have any suggestions? I live in Utah. I have raised beds and drip hose. I always water my seeds by hand to make sure they stay wet. Thanks.

    • @Patricia, some do report that. My first suggestion is sow a lot of seeds, that is how nature does it. You can also soak them overnight before you sow them. Another idea is take a fingernail file and scuff up the sides before sowing to encourage germination.

    • I have a red worm bin. I’ve noticed that seeds sprout like crazy from my worm castings. This summer I’ve been taking seeds from the garden or CSA, putting them in small containers in the worm bin. I plan to ‘plant’ the worm castings as a way of starting seeds.

  7. In our zone 4 mountain climate , we have had great success with Painted Mountain and Hopi blue corn varieties. Painted mountain was bred in Montana to do well with the cooler nights like we have. I’m trialling Floriana Red flint corn this year and look forward to making some polenta from it as it has received rave reviews.

    • Hon, can you tell me what your summer highs are? Here in 5b/6a southern Colorado, we still get lows in the 55-65 range all summer long. Love the look of Painted Mountain and that it’s open-pollinated, just worried it won’t handle the high temps around 95 (especially this summer)

      • Lidia, At my elevation , 2600-2800 ft., we get similar highs 85-95F with a few days 100+ most years, but our nights can cool down to the low 60’s. My annual swing can go from -10 to 100+ and still only have 3 seasons (mud, skeeters, and ice ) Thank goodness for a year-round creek!

    • Im growin the painted mountain corn at 6300′ in Basin, Montana and its doin well

  8. As far as pressing sorghum, I would think that a decent 3′ sheet metal roller would do the trick. I’ve got a 100 year old sheet metal shop in the barn and I’ve gotta tell you, I wouldn’t want to run any of my body parts through my roller. Craigslist is littered with old equipment like this, I know ’cause I thought about selling my 8′ brake & the rest of the equipment last year and the market was flooded with old hand operated stuff like this, so I figured ‘hell, I’ll hang onto it and maybe I’ll come out of retirement someday after the crash and do some bartering.’

    • I have considered that approach when I was looking into sorghum as a potential ethanol feed stock. After looking at sorghum/sugar cane presses, I think you would need to add serrations/knurling to one of the rolls to get the canes to feed correctly. I guess it would depend on the roll diameter. A plate roller might do it without any mods other than a catch basin

  9. Hey Jack,

    Great episode! Do you have any suggestions on pruning Tomatillo plants? The two I planted keep growing up though I would prefer for them to bush out. Maybe this isn’t possible?

    – TP

    • Just ‘top’ your tomatillo plant(s) to get them to stop growing up (so much), and bush out more. Of course, left to themselves…if you cage them, they will bush out and grow incredibly tall…at least that’s what mine did last year. This year I have giant bushy bushes volunteering EVERYWHERE! Oh, and by ‘top’, I mean to cut the tops off the branches. The plants (any plant) will stop growing from that stem, and start to grow stems from the nodes below the cut causing it to bush out.

  10. Thanks Jack,
    These are my favorite type broadcasts. I’ve been gardening over 35 years and learn something every year! Since, I started listening to you about 18 months ago, I’ve rekindled my interest in the homesteading arts, I started cannning again, beekeeping, and brewing beer!

    I know it is important for us to acknowledge, and prepare for, the dark future ahead. But it is easy to get over whelmed with all the negativity. I finally had to stop listening to AJ, because the constant banging of the war drum just burnt me out! I’ll be ordering some of the mouse melon for next year. For those in the south, it’s time to start ordering onion seed if your going to start from seed. I usually plant short-day onions around the end of September to mid October, and plant them out to the garden around Thanksgiving.

  11. My grandfather and his brothers made sorghum syrup for 50 years using a mule which went around in a circle and pressed the canes for the juice, which was then cooked. Hard work. Have a cool photo from the 1950s.

  12. would you please talk about the best time to plant stuff for fall? It is so hot now, can I plant stuff and just water a lot?

    I wish you would do a show on the how to’s and whens of planting a fall garden.


  13. I picked up some Mouse Melon seeds a few weeks ago. I’m looking forward to trying these likely next year. Probably getting a bit too late in the year to start them now.

  14. Hi jack,
    You think the sorghum syrup or liquid could be used for brewing a mead-like beverage. I’ve heard of sorghum beer and whiskey, but nothing similar to mead. I guess all it takes is someone to try, lol.

    • @Scott absolutely but I think you need to use syrup as the juice has a ton of stuff in it you don’t want in your beer. I would also say it would be better to do like a sorghum syrup beer like half syrup and half malt, etc.

  15. Jack,

    I have a few suggestions regarding your cilantro bolt issue…although I cannot understand why anyone would want to be able to smell the stuff, let alone put it in their mouth…I understand some people do. So, here goes…

    Don’t start your cilantro in the spring if you want to use it in your tomato or tomatillo salsa recipes. Cilantro can take two weeks to sprout, so you’ll want to wait to sow some seed until around 4-5 weeks before you plan on having tomatoes and tomatillos to turn into salsa. Then start a some more a week later, and continue weekly succession planting to insure a good supply of only stinky, not vilely reeking cilantro for your recipes.

    In super hot climates, it may be necessary to grow cilantro in large deep pots indoors. Apparently it’s not as flavorful as cilantro grown outdoors…but to my view, that would be a good thing. Part sun is fine for cilantro…especially if you live in a hot climate. Cilantro would love dappled eastern sun, and heavy western shade…oh, and lots of regular watering.

    The substitutes are: Vietnamese Cilantro, aka Vietnamese Coriander and Rau Ram – Polygonum odoratum (note: odor). Vietnamese Cilantro doesn’t taste exactly like cilantro…but it’s real close. It is a warm weather tender perennial that’s easily grown. And, Culantro, aka Thorny Cilantro and Stink Weed – Eryngium foetidum, which is native to Mexico…it is a hot weather tender perennial and grows just dandy in heat. It is said to taste just like cilantro, supposed to be hard to grow, and has medicinal properties.

    P.S. – Never buy Burpee seed when it matters! Last year I planted what was supposed to be Chocolate Cherry, but turned out to be Purple Russian or something that looks like it (and my husband hated them), and this year (when it mattered because I sold starter plants) the plants that were supposed to be Orange Habaneros (all three that I kept) are looking like some kind of pepper that IS NOT even thinking of being a Habanero. Very embarrassing and very disappointing.

  16. Pingback:Growing Cilantro | FEATHERLY FARM

  17. Going to have to try the Mouse Melon. Jack got me hooked on Groundcherries a couple of years ago. That pic is the ultimate “cute”

  18. Culantro is great! Like a badass, tougher cilantro.

    I had it potted here in zone 6 Northeast Ohio and it made it through most of an 85-100 degree summer, but appeared to need a bit more water than some hardier potted items (maybe my pot was too small and lost water quick). The leaves are thicker and tougher than cilantro, and grows more like a rosette of 4-8 inch toothed leaves. It is also stronger in taste, a bit goes a long way! It didn’t really take much to make it grow, and it sends up a wild looking seed head for those that can’t grow it year round. I believe it is a perennial in really warm zones and is native to a subtropical area

  19. I’m sad. All these great ideas and us here on the North Coast have to wait till next year.

    I did not have much luck with my garden this year. Our Strawberries did well, and are starting back up again. Our broccoli, brussels spouts, lettuces, and turnips got about 1 inch tall and stopped. But, with out planting any this year we had onions and potatoes pop up and are doing ok.

    I had better luck at the fire hall, our garden there is doing well. This is the second year we have done one and while the broccoli did not come up at all, the tomatoes, onions, herbs, lettuces and potatoes have done well. We added five blue berry bushes this year and the guys are talking about adding some strawberries. I’m going to suggest some of these in the second plot we are trying to get permission for.

  20. Jack – as usual for me lately, your show is a blessing and breath of fresh air. It’s rare to find so much intelligence, compassion and common sense in the same package. And you are a top-notch communicator. Thanks for all you do!

  21. Jack~
    I picked up a tomatillo plant this year and it has grown about 6ft tall! I was pretty excited about it, until I realized that tomatillo is not a self-pollinating plant, so I am now the proud owner of a glorious weed. I had only planted the one plant as an experiment in my small starter garden. Just posting this so that small garden owners don’t make the same mistake I did! This was the earliest flowering plant in my garden, so I can imagine how many tomatillos I have missed out on…. next year, I will be prepared. Thanks so much for your podcasts…you keep my ‘project list’ growing ever longer!

  22. As of this weekend, 8/11/12, my mouse melons are FINALLY flowering here in NJ. Amazing to see the tiny female flowers with the microscopic fruit at the base. There’s about a zillion flower buds so I am crossing my fingers that I get a good harvest (and that I actually like the way they taste)

  23. I just love when you do podcasts like these!!! I love the uplifting ones!!! I really could have very happily listened to this one for hours and hours if you kept speaking.
    It was a spiritual boast.
    I also enjoyed the black out one and the one about lacto fermentation. I wouldn’t mind another sailing one with more actual hands on advice.
    I just love your do it yourself episodes.
    Anything about homesteading, foraging, hunting, fishing, food preservation is great. Reusing, doing for yourself, making it from scratch. Gardening! I also love tips and tricks our great grandparents knew that we never learned (but wanted to)
    Ok, I’m rambling. Love the show! Thanks!!

  24. Just listened to this episode, and found it interesting. We bought seeds at our local Agway, not sure if they were Burpee, but they do sell them. In any event, we bought zucchini and they came up as orange gords or squash or something. I think they’ll make great hanging targets at our outdoor range, but thought it was interesting given the reviews at burpee.