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February 6, 2018 5:02 PM   Subscribe

Best veggie varietals for home gardeners?

We are experienced vegetable gardeners in US Zone 5b (growing season ~5 months). The site is a raised bed garden with full sun and lovely compost-enriched soil. We belong to a CSA, so the basics are covered. What crazy varietals should we try this year? Cultivars that are good for preserving are especially welcome.
posted by libraryhead to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Red Noodle beans from Fedco are very tasty. They take a bit longer than Provider beans and need support to climb but are very prolific and amusing. Both are favorites and I have successfully dehydrated them. I don't have a pressure canner but either should be suitable.
posted by Botanizer at 5:21 PM on February 6, 2018

Best answer: Matt's Wild Cherry is the tomato that won't die, no matter what diseases hit your other tomatoes. Even late blight doesn't stop it. The tomatoes are tiny, half the size of a typical cherry tomato, and better tasting. I plant other tomatoes for sandwiches or salsa or tomato sauce but there's always a Matt's Wild Cherry in the garden too and often it's the only one still alive and producing right up till the first frost.
posted by Redstart at 5:30 PM on February 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Always have a tough time ordering only what I can reasonably grow from Bakers Creek. Tomatillos and ground cherries were a wonderful surprise...high yield, delicious, and pretty too!
posted by this-apoptosis at 5:41 PM on February 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

I don't have specific varietal suggestions (other than everything they have), but you might want to check out Fruition Seeds. Everything is adapted to grow well in the NE, and they have some lovely heirloom varieties. Plus the founders are some of the nicest people I've ever met.
posted by dizziest at 6:30 PM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Tomatoes! Start them April 15. Matt’s wild cherry is great and Sun Gold is perfect. Grow both and brandywines (there are bunches) which take forever but are worth it. You can grow San Marzanos and throw them in Ziplock bags in the freezer and have them all winter.

In spring, field pea greens, arugula and lettuces. Field peas you buy by the pound... no cultivars. ‘Lincoln’ is good for pod peas.

Anything in particular you are interested in?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:43 PM on February 6, 2018

To piggyback on A Terrible Llama's excellent question, what type/s of preserving do you like to do? Canning, drying, freezing, pickling, fermenting? And though it may seem over-simple, imo you should always grow what you like most and can't buy, or buy at a reasonable cost.

Do you do starts from seed or have access to a grower who offers unusual varieties? If so, there are some varieties of tomatoes I'll recommend -- if you like tomatoes -- another question! -- particularly Russian-bred types. Or we can talk about heirloom potatoes?

How big is your raised bed area in total?
posted by vers at 7:24 PM on February 6, 2018

Best answer: My crazy vegetable experiment this year is Hatch Green Chiles. I've had good luck with poblanos--excellent fresh, just fine frozen in skinned strips, and amazing ripened, dried, and ground (ancho powder). This assumes you like Mexican cooking, of course.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:46 PM on February 6, 2018

Best answer: The one variety of tomato I always grow (the rest are just whatever strikes my fancy) is Garden Peach. I love them. They're prolific, a nice size (I like saladette-sized 'maters), delicious, and a fun conversation-starter as they really do resemble peaches, fuzzy skin and all.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:20 PM on February 6, 2018

Best answer: The only varietal from which we never ever deviate in our 5a garden is Carmen. Beautiful bright red peppers with fabulous flavor and huge yield.
posted by juliapangolin at 8:30 PM on February 6, 2018

Oh, and we preserve many lbs of peppers every year by grilling and freezing.
posted by juliapangolin at 8:32 PM on February 6, 2018

Best answer: My most-anticipated starts right now are shishito peppers (I only grew one bush last year, doing 4 this year), habanada peppers (habanero, but not hot!), Brad's Atomic Grape Tomatoes, loofah/luffa, and this year I'm doing a massive wall of cucumbers because homegrown varieties are so much sweeter and better tasting than travel-friendly store cucumbers.

I'm also doing a San Marzano tomato.

I did not order this GORGEOUS Glass Gem corn because I don't have corn-growing facilities, but damn.

I tuck as many pollinator-attracting flowers among my vegetables as I can. All of them love it when I let some basil bolt and go to seed (I get gorgeous goldfinches along with tons of bees), and I do sweet peas and nasturtiums (edible!) and as many sunflowers as I can cram in (planting 1-2 seeds a week all spring so they're staggered) and salvia and sometimes I buy a couple flats of marigolds for the pop of color and pest control.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:32 PM on February 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: We've mostly done canning (jam, tomato sauce) but open to trying more freezing, pickling, and fermenting.
We will start seeds, as well as buy starts from the nursery, although last year there wasn't much variety locally.
The big raised bed is about 12 x 20. Not big enough for real space hogs like squash or corn, unless we're growing nothing else. We do have other spots we can grow things, though, so if there's something irresistible...
posted by libraryhead at 4:53 AM on February 7, 2018

Romanesco broccoli looks beautiful & tastes more interesting than regular broccoli.

We grew glass gem corn the last 2 years and the end result is gorgeous, but we just used it for decoration so I can't tell you how it tastes.
posted by belladonna at 5:02 AM on February 7, 2018

FWIW I've grown corn in a roughly 6 x 6 (possibly smaller) patch. You have to plant it in a grid so it wind pollinates, or you can pollinate by hand. If you don't you get these shriveled ears. In at least some Native American traditions there is the 'three sisters garden' which is corn, beans, and squash grown basically on top of each other.

The squash provides mulch, keeps weeds down, and helps with water retention beneath the corn. The beans grow up the corn and help add nitrogen to the soil, which corn needs a good deal of. It's a good use of space if you like those three things sufficiently.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:04 AM on February 7, 2018

Maybe not the right thing to grow from seed, but my favorite plant to grow so far has been an enormous Mucho Nacho jalapeño bush. In a container I was able to easily overwinter it, it was extremely prolific and tasty and huge and I loved him.
posted by thirdletter at 5:12 AM on February 7, 2018

Kitazawa seed Is the go-to place for any kind of Asian-ish vegetables. Do you guys make kimchi? They have several types of appropriate cabbage.

Lots of awesome pickles to be found there.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:22 AM on February 7, 2018

We've grown Hakurei turnips. They're wonderfully mild and delicious.
posted by plinth at 8:48 AM on February 7, 2018

Best answer: Organic gardener & off-grid eater just a bit south of you in 6b, checking in.

If you like tomato sauce, try cream sausage tomatoes; they are maniac producers of crack-free fruit that, in our Darwin's garden are totally resistant to blossom end rot and hold well on the vine for long periods of time. They're also more resistant to cold weather, so they'll extend your season. This variety doesn't seem to be as attractive to tomato hornworm and blister beetles, which makes growing them organically much easier. They taste great and make a beautiful cream colored tomato sauce. Baker Creek says they're new and determinate but they are neither - they're an old indeterminate heirloom.

You can easily grow tomato sauce herbs in the same bed. Oregano and sweet basil grow happily alongside tomatoes. As does garlic (many veggies abhor garlic as a neighbor, but not tomatoes), though in your zone garlic is typically planted in the late fall (Nov) for a July harvest, so maybe that's something to try for next year.

Speaking of herbs you're unlikely to get from a CSA... If you like rosemary, and if your bed is or can be protected from cold winter winds, try a variety called Arp. It's hardy to zone 5. I grow it on the west side of my house as a perennial and despite winter temps that sometimes dip into the single digits, I still have to prune pounds of foliage each year... It grows like a shrub and would be 6 feet tall if I let it go! Fresh rosemary mixed/preserved with salt in mason jars makes a lovely Christmas gift, if you can bear to part with it. (If you're feeling fancy, mix in some dried garlic or dried lemon/orange zest as well.)

Pepper jelly is a fun and easy garden/canning project as well. (You can substitute any combo of sweet or hot peppers in a pepper jelly recipe.) We are obsessed with Aji Dulce peppers; they look super hot but actually have only a trace of heat... What they do have in abundance is an incredible, complex flavor and perfume. To me, they taste like a blend sweet wax pepper with intense notes of citrus, orange blossom, and cumin. The plants are absolutely beautiful and 3' tall - quite a conversation piece! Mad Hatter and Trinidad Perfume are similar "spice" peppers; both have really cute and interesting fruits too. They look adorable growing together! In addition to making pepper jelly, pickled peppers and salsa, you can dehydrate & grind the fruits in a coffee grinder to use throughout the winter. Homemade chili powder has so much more depth than store-bought chili powder.

If you grow sweet corn in a grid so that it can be properly wind-pollinated, Double Red is super fun. The color stays true through cooking & stains fingers and teeth.

More interesting plants include:

- Breadseed poppies (Papaver somniferum), which are sown now, ideally on top of the snow. They are finished with their life cycle by May, thus making room for summer crops. Be aware that in the US, legal seed grows illegal plants, so be sure to turn the spent poppy plants under -- including empty seed heads -- after you've emptied them. The seed is legal to keep and use in cooking/baking.

- Toothache plant. It temporarily numbs the gums and tongue when leaves, stems or flowers are chewed. A great party trick. Incidentally, the buds make a healthy natural mouthwash when steeped in a bit of vodka & distilled water with mint leaves.

- Clove pink and Borage make lovely edible flowers, perfect for decorating cakes and salads.

- Unusual dark-leaved chard varieties including Rhubarb Supreme and Joy's Midnight. Pickle the stems and blanch/freeze the greens for winter.

Last but not least, grow a few peanut plants! YES, you can grow them in your zone. From one planted seed, you'll get 50 - 75 peanut pods. Each plant needs a 1' - 2' radius (the branches will flop over mid summer and send "pegs" -- air roots -- into the soil, from which a peanut pod will develop). Direct sow a few seeds May 1st, and pull up the entire plant, branches, pegs and all (carefully!) just before your first heavy frost. Hang or spread the whole plant out to dry in an airy place like a garage for a couple of weeks and then pull off the peanut pods for roasting, grinding or cooking.
posted by muirne81 at 9:07 AM on February 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

One new plant I'm trying this year is the herb/bush curry leaf. I've been making dal for years and took a cooking class while travelling last year to learn Sri Lankan cooking - curry leaf makes all the difference and it freezes well so I'm hoping to have enough for all next year.

Second soren_lorenson, we grew garden peach tomatoes last year and they were delicious. I added the seeds again this year.
posted by five_cents at 1:48 PM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I only really have experience growing chillies ("peppers") so I would say: chillies. There are so many beautiful and crazy varieties these days, of all shapes and hues and sizes and flavours! You can buy all sorts of seeds from all sorts of places, but I have had way more success just throwing the guts of the chilli I want to grow directly into the ground. If you have, at a guess, some kind of Mexican or Caribbean farmer's market near you - or, of course, some kind of chilli expo - you will likely be able to buy seeds, pods, seedlings, established plants, whatever you like.

Chillies like full sunlight or at least morning sunlight when they are established, but seedlings will need shade until their third or fourth set of leaves. They like rich, well-drained soil (so add perlite or pool sand or similar to your mix).

Disclaimer: I am in the Australian subtropics so your mileage (here: kilometerage) may vary. Note that "plant zones" are useful guides only but that the zones on the labels are self-reported after grower experimentation in maybe a dozen areas, and that they don't account for local microclimates, elevation, etc. (this rarely ends up mattering, I guess I'm just in a roundabout way recommending you watch your wallet!)
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:01 PM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm zone 4b. Every year I grow sungold cherry tomatoes, usually 2 plants. Last year I did one sungold and one chocolate cherry, and while I was a fan of the contrasting cherry tomatoes, my son requested that this year I do just the sungold. Here are some other varieties that we'll be growing again:

Zucchetta Tromboncino Summer Squash - a vining zucchini! I like the taste of traditional zucchini better, but the cool thing is that you can leave these on the vine until fall, and they turn into skinny, 4 foot long, mostly seedless butternut squash. My favorite summer squash variety so far is a yellow squash called 'butter cube.'

Nyagous tomato - I was surprised by how great these were, and they were the most consistent tomato producer of my non-cherry varieties. They are the perfect size for a sandwich, and they just kept coming!

Rattlesnake Pole Bean - I love these as bush or pole beans. They are flatter than regular green beans, a fun color, and are so tender when cooked.

Sugar Magnolia Snap Pea - super sugar snap peas taste better to me than these, but these are gorgeously purple and are so beautiful on the vine that they are worth it for me.

Green arrow shelling pea - my son likes to eat peas raw straight out of the pod, and this variety always has plentiful peas of consistent size in the pod. No huge pod with one gigantic and two tiny peas here.

MERVEILLE DE QUATRE SAISONS LETTUCE - sorry for the caps, I copied and pasted. This lettuce was beautiful and absolutely delicious. I will always grow it now!

Bright lights Swiss chard - super easy to grow, more longevity in the garden than spinach, and so colorful!
posted by Maarika at 6:08 PM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

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