Raising your own vegetables for fresh home produce is a goal that every self-reliant gardener strives to achieve. You’ll have success with vegetables for the home garden when you follow these simple rules.
Once you sit down with the plethora of seed catalogs received every spring, you realize that the possibilities for growing healthy food in your yard are endless. There there are more vegetable varieties than one home gardener can raise and still have a life outside the garden. Will you choose tomatoes for versatility, lettuce for variety, winter squash for long-term storage, or potatoes for fresh eating?
Ultimately the food that you choose to grow will have these two characteristics: they will be the food your family loves, and you will be able to store excess for off seasons when it is no longer growing. This requires knowledge of cool season and warm season crops.
Cool Season Vegetables
Cool-season crops are the first ones to plant in the spring in your garden year. This can be anytime from several weeks to a couple of months before the last frost date. These early vegetables can withstand cold temperatures, and they may even need them to germinate, grow, set fruit and mature.
For those of you in the south, your cool season crops are opposite of the north and fall is your cool season planting time.
Common cool-season vegetables: asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, chives, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, Swiss chard, kale, leek, lettuce, onion, parsnips, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips.
Suggested Varieties from our readers
Jan at The Nerdy FarmWife says her favorite vegetable to grow is New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides). It grows well even during our hot summers & makes for some delicious summer salads!
Kris from Attainable Sustainable: What is growing well for me? Potatoes. And I especially love that even after I harvest the potatoes, I’m surprised by more plants emerging from the bits I accidentally left behind. These second-generation potatoes are probably not the biggest or best, but I don’t have to put a bit of work into them until I harvest!
Kathryn at Farming My Backyard I’d have to say chard because it’s the only one I reliably don’t kill!
Warm Season Vegetables
Warm-season crops require higher soil and air temperatures and they are always planted outside after the last frost date. Warm-season vegetables have only one growing cycle, ranging from late spring, after the last frost date, to late summer. If you grow into early fall you will be taking risks. Daytime temperatures may still be warm enough but they will drop so much at night that the weather is not suitable for warm-season crops any longer. For example, cucumbers turn bitter when the nights are too cold, and one light frost will kill tomatoes, peppers, and sweet potatoes.
For those of you in the south, your warm season vegetables should be ready for the garden by Mid-March. As always, check your last frost date to exact timing.
Common warm-season vegetables: beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, zucchini and summer squash, pumpkin and winter squash, sweet potato, tomato, watermelon.
Suggested Varieties from our readers
Teri:: I live in Northeast Missouri, zone 5b, where my favorite fail-proof crop is sweet potatoes! I love how easy they are to grow, the fact that they are virtually pest and disease free, and that they will store for months in a cool, dry location!
Kris:: Once upon a time, I’d have said tomatoes. They always did so well for me, producing a huge crop that I could turn into salsa and marinara sauce. In my new location, though? I barely harvest enough for fresh eating.
Lindsay of School of Garden Design:: My best vegetable for a summer or winter garden (I live in a sub-tropical climate) is beetroot. I love the color of the leaves which I feed to all of my caged birds; the beet can be grated and eaten raw, pickled, boiled, grilled . . . the options are endless. The water from the beet (haven’t tried the leaves) can also be used to dye fabric. An all-around winner in my opinion.
Kris of Healthy Cells Magazine:: My favorite vegetable to grow is the Kent Pumpkin. It’s easy to grow and even when there aren’t any pumpkins growing it still looks impressive!! Plus pumpkins store really well & have multiple uses.
Karin:: I always plant peppers, both hot and sweet. We use them in many dishes and they are so good for you! I also always have squash, summer and winter, and love trying new varieties. Many of these keep well and all of them are healthy, nutritious and versatile.
Choose Heirloom Varieties
Heirloom seeds are becoming easier to find and you’ll find several online seed companies specializing in them. They come from open-pollinated plants and pass on similar characteristics and traits from the parent plant to the child plant.
There is some debate, but generally, heirloom plants are from seeds that are at least 50 years old. In general, you should consider heirlooms to be seeds that are possible to regrow and pass on from one generation to the next. Over time, growers saved the seeds of their best plants—whether those are the most vigorous, disease resistant, flavorful, or beautiful.
Growing heirloom varieties gives you diversity in the garden and with unique shapes, sizes, and colors, heirloom plants will often look different from the commercial hybrids you can purchase in the supermarket.
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