What varieties of vegetables do you want?
May 07, 2009
Here are recommendations, albeit opinionated, for some of the common vegetable types you might plant. These choices are also widely available.
The tomato is perhaps the number one reason we grow vegetables. I sometimes grow up to 20 varieties, for the fun and flavor range, but I'd recommend three. For a slicing tomato, the heirloom 'Brandywine' is amazing, big, juicy, and sweet. 'Sweet 100,' an older hybrid cherry tomato, forms clusters of super-sweet salad tomatoes. If you want the yellow, low-acid equivalent, try 'Sungold.' Paste tomatoes are most useful for cooking since they aren't juicy. 'Roma' is good.
Note that tomatoes, especially paste, are classified as determinate and indeterminate. Determinate means they grow to a certain bushy size and stop, set fruit, and that's it. This is good for limited space and a short harvest time. Indeterminate means they are vines and will continue growing and making fruit. These need to be managed so that you don't end up with a ton of green tomatoes in September. You'll want to keep the sucker shoots on the plants pinched back during the season. Paste tomatoes ripened post-season in boxes just don't taste good.
All other varieties are easier to choose.
•If you can find 'Lipstick' pepper, you'll enjoy plentiful sweet red pepper harvests of this long variety.
•'Straight-eight' cucumber lives up to its name and is prolific.
•'Sugar Snap' peas can be eaten whole or shelled; start them early and plant again in August for a fall crop.
•Green beans come in all colors and shapes. Grow the one that interests you. Bush varieties can be planted three times in a season, assuring fresh beans until frost. Tall climbing varieties not only produce longer but they can save space by growing vertically at the north end of the garden. 'Scarlet Runner' beans have huge pods, grow eight feet tall and sport red flowers that attract hummingbirds. Fresh string beans outshine the supermarket bean any day.
•Bibb lettuce is a loose-headed favorite and 'Black-seeded Simpson' is a great early and late season choice. Throw in a red-leafed variety for color.
•Root crops might include 'Nantes' carrots, reliable and sweet when young.
•'Detroit dark red' beets are also reliable and the greens of thinned seedlings contribute to salads.
•Parsnips are a must if you want to harvest when the snow is gone next spring.
•Onions can be planted by sets. For summer eating, red onions are best.
•'Butternut winter' squash never fails to produce abundant crops. It is sweet when cooked and keeps in a closet for six months or more.
•If you like zucchini, grow one plant; it will out-produce your ability to eat all the fruits.
Growing herbs is a personal taste thing. I grow five varieties of basil, with 'Genovese' being my top pick. Lemon basil adds surprise zest to pesto. Fresh cilantro can't be beat for salsa and Thai cooking. Perennial herbs such as chives, sage, and thyme are easy to grow and only need to be planted once.
When choosing a variety, I frequently get recommendations from other gardeners and from articles. I then try the new variety and draw my own conclusions. Each vegetable has its own requirements for productive growth. Once you plant the seeds, paying attention to the health of your garden and each crop will give you an on-the-ground education that can't be reproduced in print.