Tara Kate Linnane is happy in her polytunnel!

Unusual things to grow at home

The excitement and feeling of reward that comes from growing your own vegetables can not be matched – however, this can be even more fulfilling when you successfully manage to grow more unusual crops at home. There are a number of interesting objects and ingredients that can be sown, grown and harvested from your garden. These tend to need more heat than the average garden so they would be good growing projects if you have a conservatory or a greenhouse to provide the right conditions. This is my list of unusual things to try at home!


The first one is a luffa. Many people think that sponges come from the sea, this is true in some cases, though the old school back scrubber that was commonly found in bathrooms is in fact a dried fruit. Luffa plants are tender vines and belong to the cucumber family. In this country they can be grown indoors, for example in a conservatory with lots of light.

The vine fruits are edible when young and are eaten in other countries, but the reason most people attempt to grow this is for the fibrous material once the fruit has died out. This can be used as a sustainable sponge for cleaning the dishes, or yourself.

Luffas need a long growing season so need to be started off indoors, usually in March or April. There is some evidence that soaking the seed for 24 hours in lukewarm water before sowing encourages germination. I treat them like any other seed and sow in a takeaway container and leave in a sunny windowsill. Once they have grown into young plants, I transplant them into larger pots.

I have kept my plants indoor but will be planning on raising them in the greenhouse for heat. This is my second attempt at growing luffa. The fruits look similar to a courgette, and use tendrils to sprawl up supports. For luffa sponge, wait until the skin on the fruit is hard and turning brown. Peel the skin off to reveal your new sustainable sponge and make sure to collect the seeds.


Chia seeds have become popular. They are associated with health benefits and are used in Chinese medicine but originate in Central America. Chia seeds come from a rather beautiful plant called Salvia Hispanica, that can be grown here in Ireland. So you can enjoy both the beauty and the bounty from your garden. Before you choose where to plant chia seeds or transplant your seedlings, it helps to have a realistic expectation of the size of a mature chia plant.

Chia plants can grow to the size of a large bush or small tree. So, make sure there is plenty of room for the plant to grow tall before it flowers. When harvesting chia seeds, timing is vital.

If you wait too long the seeds heads will fall, so once the petals have fallen off the flower you can begin to harvest by collecting them in a brown paper bag. Chia seeds can be used to add to smoothies or incorporate them in a bread mix. They are versatile and have proven health benefits so are worth a try in your own garden.


Ginger is a staple in most of our kitchens but people are not aware how easily it can be propagated and grown at home for a more sustainable supply. Ginger as we use it comes from the rhizome or root of the plant. If you have a fresh piece of ginger and chop it into chop inch pieces ensuring each piece has a nodule, you can be sure that after a couple of months in a warm spot, you will begin to see growth. The ginger plant is an elegant looking specimen and can sit in your houseplant collection ready for a harvest the following year.

Commercial growers boost yields by watering regularly and hilling the rhizomes once a month. To achieve the same result at home, water weekly and once a month sprinkle several inches of rich compost into your pot, protecting the rhizome itself from solar exposure. Hold the greens at their base, where they emerge from the soil and lift the entire rhizome. Snap off a chunk of the rhizome, then place the rest of the plant back in its pot, sprinkle on more potting soil or compost, water heavily, and treat it gently for a few days. Like any fragile transplant, protect it from glaring sunlight for a few days while it recovers.


• Tara Kate Linnane is passionate about sustainability and growing all things edible. Together with her husband Barry, she has embarked on a journey of designing edible spaces and getting others started on their gardening adventures.

Follow their journey on Instagram @twopeas_inapolytunnel or visit thefoodscapedesignco.com to make contact for information.

You can email your questions to tarakatelinnane89@gmail.com