I have recently started reflecting on where the plants in our garden are originally from, because people often ask me the same question about myself. Most of our flowers, fruits, veggies and herbs in the garden are from other countries. I have started writing a series of blog posts to explore some of our favourite flowers and edibles we have grown over the years which are from overseas. In my previous blog post, I covered our favourite flowers in the garden which come from Mexico. In this post, I will focus on our favourite edibles which also come from Mexico.
There are so many great edibles in our garden which are native to Mexico, but the avocado is at the top of my list. This is going back quite a few years, but I remember an economist in NZ saying that young people would never be able to buy a house if they kept spending $20 eating avocado on toast in cafes. I have never been to Mexico, so I have no idea if cafes serve avocado that way and how much it costs. Maybe a Mexican economist has said pretty much the same thing about their younger generation, even if he or she didn’t refer to eating out and avocados, which might not be as expensive over there.
Back in 2017, we planted the first dwarf avocado variety made available in New Zealand, which is called Cleopatra. It is a Type B avocado. Cleopatra is supposed to be self-pollinating, but I also planted a semi-dwarf Type A variety called Esther. I’m really glad I did that because since then we have been getting much more fruit.
Tomatoes are a staple in our summer garden. Large varieties such as Beefsteak haven’t performed well in recent years, due to shorter and cooler summers which start later every year. The plants need to be grown in the ground and take a long time to develop before fruit forms. After that they require a lot of sun in order to ripen as the fruits are large and take a long time to change from green to red. These days, I prefer growing cherry tomatoes that have been bred for container planting. The plants are short and bushy and the small fruits ripen quickly. We sometimes even harvest cherry tomatoes before Christmas, which is nice. Don’t let the compact size of the plants fool you. They are actually much more productive than tall cherry tomatoes grown in the ground, in my experience. Even despite the floods and cyclones last summer, we ended up having way too many and shared the surplus with friends.
I usually grow peppers (capsicums) in 35 litre black containers in order to save ground space for root crops which require depth (such as potatoes and sweet potato) and crops which need room to sprawl (such as pumpkins and melons). I noticed that peppers actually grow much better in containers than in the ground in our garden anyway.
While the Jalapeno comes to mind when thinking of Mexican cuisine, there are so many different chilli varieties that exist with varying levels of heat. I got to know a guy who lives on the North Shore that loves growing superhot chillies, because he came around to purchase some plants when I was running a nursery from home a number of years ago. He always shares weird and wonderful chilli seeds with me and I usually give him other veggie seeds to round out his garden. Some chilli growers like making sauces but we always freeze them and use them free flow as required in cooking.
Until I did some research, I didn’t realise that the potato was native to Mexico, but sometimes things are not quite where you think they’re from. I love growing potatoes. They are incredibly easy to grow and you can’t beat the flavour of homegrown spuds. Potatoes can be roughly divided into two groups, early and main varieties. As the name suggests, early varieties mature early in the season and are usually waxy in texture, making them ideal for boiling. They tend not to store that well. Main crop varieties take longer to mature and are often floury in texture, making them perfect for baking and roasting. My favourite early variety is Liseta and my favourite main variety is Summer Delight. That is the conclusion I came to after growing a lot of different varieties over the years and comparing their performance. Both Liseta and Summer Delight are high yielders and produce lots of large potatoes. They also have a fantastic flavour. But that is a matter of opinion. Other gardeners might disagree with me because they have had a different experience growing them or prefer other varieties. I’m not sure if those varieties are available overseas but I’m sure you will find something that suits local conditions, if your climate is suitable for growing potatoes.
I didn’t realise sweet potatoes were native to Mexico either. We didn’t have a good harvest last summer due to cooler than usual temperatures and the floods and cyclones in Auckland. But the previous year, we had a bumper crop. I also wrote a blog post sharing my tips for growing kumara, which people can read if they are interested. If you follow the link, you can see a picture of our entire harvest at the top of the page.
I love the well-known Mexican dish esquites which requires corn. Unfortunately, it’s not something that I have great success growing in our garden. While cobs reached a decent size in some seasons, they were nowhere near as large as what you would find at the supermarket. Corn is pollinated by the wind. It needs to be planted in blocks rather than rows, otherwise pollination will be patchy and you might end up with lots of gaps in the cobs. Getting the spacing right can be a bit tricky. If you plant seedlings too far apart, they won’t be pollinated properly by the wind as they need to come into contact with one another. If you plant seedlings too close, the cobs will be quite small.
According to my research, squash is native to Central America and Mexico. Our favourite squash is the butternut, which has a wonderful flavour.
Butternut squash is extremely versatile and can be prepared in so many different and tasty ways. One of our favourite dishes is stuffed butternuts. The picture below contains homegrown butternut that has been stuffed with feta cheese (a favourite) and herbs from the garden. Above that is some sweet potato, also from our garden. This was prepared by my mother. I am a terrible cook. The extent of my skills in the kitchen is limited to making avocado on toast.
Although this post was dedicated to edibles that are native to Mexico, I really love marigolds which also originate from Mexico and I covered in my previous post. I wanted to finish this post by sharing a photo of one of my favourite varieties which is called French Vanilla. Marigolds are a great companion plant in the veggie garden and are thought to help keep pests away from edibles. I grew these ones in a plastic trough. You can’t see them in the photo as they are too little, but I planted climbing beans (also grown from seed) along the fence line which the trellis is attached to and they complement each other nicely.