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Stupid Vegetable Question

Okay, all you readers (particularly in LJ land!) perhaps you can answer a question for somebody who grows a lot of stuff for bugs and birds to eat, and very little (so far) for humans…

My vegetable experience is limited. Last year I did herbs, tomatoes and a couple kinds of peppers, and they all grew like lunatics, and there was way more than we could eat. (I also did cantaloupe, which grew like a lunatic, produced a bunch of melons, and we never did get one during the fifteen second window between unripe and rotting on the ground from over-ripeness…) This year, the same suspects–the cantaloupes volunteered–a couple more herbs, an Egyptian walking onion, and on a whim, I stuffed a couple of cloves of garlic in the ground a few months back.

Today, needing garlic, I pulled up a head of it. I was not expecting anything much, because the internet had informed me that garlic needs cold before it gets tasty. I was expecting a bland flavor akin to elephant garlic.

My garlic was approximately the size of a large peach pit, and when I peeled off a miniature clove and took a cautious nibble I went “BWHUUUUUHHHH!” and exhaled a wave of garlic intensity that caused cows to die a mile away.

Small it may be, but bland it is NOT. (It’s actually quite tasty, once you get past the bit with the death.)

Same thing with the jalapenos earlier this year, actually–Kevin roasted two on the grill, ate one, said the flavor was wonderful for the first tenth of a second and then the burning eclipsed it all. “They’re…delicious…” he wept, reaching for the second one, sweat pouring off his bald head like a man running around a field full of inexplicably dead cows.

Is this because it was a really dry spring and I didn’t water them enough? (I mean, they didn’t DIE…) Is the intensity of flavor caused by dryness hence smallness hence concentration? (Are vegetables at the supermarket just incredibly insipid?)

I mean, they’re delicious, just…damn, those are intense! Should I not be leaving the vegetables to fend for themselves quite so much?

Originally published at Squash's Garden. You can comment here or there.

Homegrown vegetables are always a thousand times better than what you can get at the store. I think it's because they haven't been processed like supermarket vegetables -- this way you get them when they're actually ripe, and haven't been picked while still green, refridgerated, shipped halfway around the country and artificially ripened with ethylene gas, etcetera.

Yes, this. The difference between something that´s been picked green and something that´s been allowed to ripen on the branch is astonishing. I particularly notice in tomatoes, but it will be true for any vegetable - even cucumber, which actually has a flavour besides "watery crunch" when you grow them yourself.

Fresh garlic always has that burn, and loses it as it's dried for keeping; and likewise chillies. First time you slice into a really fresh home-grown chilli, you can see the juice spurt out of it...

Next time you're down this way, we're going to kidnap you and force you to work on the farm. I think it needs it.

(Dammit, we didn't ask for chillies. Maybe next year.)

My experience in US supermarkets is limited, but what I have encountered was large, colourful, and almost entirely lacking in flavour. I do suspect that, fruit and veg being sold on the basis that bigger is better, it tends to be over-watered[*]. It may also be from varieties that grow to look good rather than to taste good (after all, few shoppers get to taste the produce before buying it).

For the reasons stated elsewhere, stuff from local growers, and especially home grown stuff, has a better chance of flavour.

[*] I distrust Dutch tomatoes in the UK for much the same reason. And British grown strawberries seem to be so much better than the ones trucked in from Spain at the start of the season. Again, it's the long-distance effect - a decently ripe tomato cannot be shipped very far.

My experience with radishes suggests that yes, if you want them milder, water them more.

(Growing radishes as a kid, in the southern Utah desert, they could take your tongue off, they were so strong. Now, growing them in drippy Oregon, and with this year being a particularly damp spring, they're basically water-flavored. Crispy and nice and fresh and no zip at all, not even a little.)

I love radishes usually but not the super zippy ones. Mild zip is fine.

so this information is wonderful! thank you :D

After starting to grow her own veggies, my mother swears she can never go back to grocery store veggies ever again. Home-grown ones just have more flavor. So that's normal.

I can't remember the last time a post made me laugh so hard, hee.
Love the way you write so much.

I have to agree with the above, home-grown is just much more delicious and are generally awesomely fresh... not to mention you can grow a lot of heirloom or rare varieties that just don't have the shelf life of commercial produce, but pack really unique flavors. I'd always thought apples were kind of 'eh' until I tried one from the local farmer's market... it made grocery store apples taste really watery and boring. :|

What's really annoying...

... is when you find a variety that tastes *really good* and then the supermarkets pick it up and suddenly all you can find is the 'made for supermarkets' version. I *swear* that Granny Smith apples had flavor and tartness before you could get them in a bag with red delicious and florida navel oranges, 3lbs to a bag...


I need to find someone with a desire to garden and willing to do so on my (city) property for a tithe of the output. I have neither the inclination to dig in dirt nor the ability to grow plants. I tried for most of my childhood and teen years to grow -- anything -- and only succeeded in killing whatever I touched.

I read this post and pretty much shouted out loud. That's just what happened with our garlics! Teeny tiny tesimal garlic bulbs so darn garlicacious they've fumigated the kitchen just from sitting in the garlickin' basket.

But teeny. Now I'mn gonna be addicted to this thread, in hopes that someone will explain the wee garlics.

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I hope it's due to being so dry because I haven't been able to water my garlic this year as they probably should be. It's my first year growing garlic and I'd like to think it's not going to be a total loss. o.O


When I have grown garlic, I have barely watered mine at all (we're on water restrictions here in South Australia, and we get something like ~450mm of rain on average per year as measured at my local weather station). You'll be fine :)

I have to echo what others have probably said on here. Home grown vegetables taste so much better than what you can get in the store. They have much much more flavor.

I think it does have to do with how much you water, thoooough home-grown stuff seems to be stronger in general. My mom's jalapenos start off almost sweet and mild, but later on in the summer, they turn really hot and lose some of the sweetness, but I assume that's just normal...

I Am Not A Botanist, but I would guess that that's possibly because the membrane, seeds, and ribs (where the heat is) aren't as fully developed.

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Ok, I'm willing to take your word for that, but why then are the hottest peppers (Bhut jolokia) found in the sweltering jungles of Bangladesh, in southeast Asia?


I don't know; but I seriously want to know whether I'm overwatering my garden, now. I think I may have to dig up a bulb of garlic and find out.


At least as far as the peppers go, it has nothing to do with "homegrown is better", and everything to do with watering. Peppers produce way more capsaicin in dry conditions than in well-watered conditions. This is one of the reasons why buying jalapeños in the store is such a blind crapshoot. Wrinkly skins or smooth skins, slightly springy or really firm -- none of these are any indication of whether they'll be OMG HOT or just meh. A regularly-watered jalapeño will be mild, but a jalapeño that's been forced to ask strangers on street corners for spare water? That guy will be mean.

New Mexico chili farmers have this down to an art. It's why you can buy mild, medium, hot, and extra hot green chile... they're all the same species of plant, but the watering conditions change their heat DRAMATICALLY.


but a jalapeño that's been forced to ask strangers on street corners for spare water? That guy will be mean. LOL


The more sulfur there is in the soil, the more pungent garlic and onions will taste. Less sulfur = sweeter.

Plus, organic homegrown always tastes more true, mostly because they have a chance to actually grow properly and they don't sit around in trucks and such travelling all over just to get to the store and sit some more.

Many commercial fruits & veggies are deliberately over-watered to make them giant and pretty and tasteless. Some orchards are actually flooded periodically to make for those enormous, shiny, picture-perfect apples or what not that look like heaven and taste like styrofoam.

Which is not to say it's necessarily all a matter of how much you water it, but between doing it at home (from seeds bred more for taste than ability to be transported 2000 miles without bruising) and less water, I'd think that'd be the cause.