Grit Blogs > Nature and Gardening at the Edge

What is that in my garden?

We plant our garden and think that we know what to expect. Every year there are some unusual insects or weeds but occasionally even the vegetables don’t look familiar. We star at something unfamiliar and ask ourselves, ‘Did I plant this?’

This year has been a record year for garden mysteries. I planted my usual few hills of pumpkins. A friend who spent time in South Africa asked me to plant some African pumpkins. The vines and blossoms look the same as those next to it. The fruit, see picture, is quite different. The color is pale green although my friend assures me that gray is the mature color. They are much flatter and more deeply creased than the familiar orange types. I’ll be interested to hear how these pumpkins are used and perhaps get a sample of pie or whatever the favorite dish is that they make.

Meanwhile at the other end of the garden my broccoli has positively turned into a hedge. I have learned that the over production of leaves and lack of heads is a result of uneven temperatures in the spring. I haven’t found a use for all of the leaves on the nearly two foot tall plants. I have gotten some small heads.

The biggest mystery was in the potato patch and this one sent me searching online. My potatoes have small green tomato like fruit on them. The University of Iowa web site assures me that this is not from cross-pollination with tomatoes. The part of the potato that we enjoy is actual a tuber on the roots. Most of the plant is otherwise poisonous and should not be eaten. The familiar flowers that we see in mid summer on potatoes occasionally are pollinated and develop fruits, which is what I found. The web site assures me that they contain solanine, the poisons found throughout the potato plant and are not edible. Also, since potatoes are grown from cuttings, the seeds could be a more challenging to produce a potato plant.

If you grow sweet corn, you have probably seen those alien-looking ears that have smut growing on them. The kernels are replaced with large grayish shapes that eventually open to release black spores. Occasionally smut is found in the tassel area or as large growths near the ground. This is actually yeast like parasitic plant that grows on corn. It is particularly a problem during drought years when it thrives.

While it is to most eyes rather ugly and blight, it is actually edible and is considered a delicacy in some cuisines. The taste is described as mushroom like.

My take away from finding unusual things in the garden is to investigate before ingesting. I would have thought corn smut to be poisonous and fruit from any garden plant potentially food but how wrong I would have been.

  African pumpkins Potato fruit 

queenann ships
9/18/2012 5:50:46 PM

From NC co-op extension site. http://caldwell.ces.ncsu.edu/2009/07/potato-fruit/ I received an interesting call this week about potatoes having a tomato-like fruit growing from the vine. Occasionally gardeners find small, round, green, tomato-like fruit on their potato plants. These fruit are not the result of cross-pollination with tomatoes. They are the true fruit of the potato plant and are referred to as berries. These berries are produced when potato blooms are fertilized. All potato plants bloom, but most of the time the flowers just dry up and fall off without setting fruit. However, occasionally a few flowers will produce fruit. Yukon Gold is a variety known to often produce berries. Usually gardeners grow potato plants from underground tubers of the potato. This is the part of the potato we eat. The terminology can be sort of confusing. Tubers planted in the garden are called “seed potatoes” and produce an exact genetic clone of the mother plant. Potatoes can also be grown from “seed” like many other vegetables. These are called “true potato seeds”. The true potato seed is not a clone of the mother plant. When true potato seeds are from a hybrid plant, like Yukon Gold, they will not have the same characteristics as the mother plant. To grow potatoes from true potato seed, the seeds first need to be separated from the rest of the berry. To do this, start by gently mashing the berries. Then place the mashed berries in water for three or four days. The mixture will begin to ferment. Pour off the floating debris that is on top of the water. The viable seeds will sink to the bottom of the glass. These should be rinsed in water and allowed to dry. Place the true potato seeds in a labeled envelope and store in a cool dry place until planting. True potato seeds from a hybrid plant will not likely produce potatoes of good quality, so just plant these as a garden experiment. Potatoes are a member of the poisonous nightshade family. Potato berries should not be eaten. All green parts of the potato plant contain toxic glycoalkaloid compounds that can cause headaches, diarrhea, cramps, and in severe cases, coma and death. Thank you, Bill and Maecile Ramsey, for sharing this interesting phenomenon from your garden.


nebraska dave
9/16/2012 12:33:21 AM

7:22 PM 9/15/2012 Minnie, this has been indeed a weird year in the garden. I have never heard of potatoes bearing fruit above the ground. Maybe it's a certain kind of potato. Our potatoes this year bearly produced the seed back. Next year we have a plan that hopefully will produce more. The pumpkins produces great pumpkins but were ready for harvest in the middle of August which is about six weeks early. I hope they are still good for Halloween. We will have room for more next year. I had smut on the corn this year as well. I would have to be pretty hungry before I ate smut. It just looks nasty. The raccoons or some critter of the night ate the sweet corn this year. This year was a learning year. Next year we will be ready for the night shade creatures. :0) Have a great day in the fall garden.


beth mitchell fienemann
9/14/2012 11:45:56 PM

I don't know what they are but they were all over the end of my potato plants as well !! I through them away :(