Whether you have a small space outside your back door or huge garden, everyone can find something edible to perk their green thumbs. Take a peek inside our garden and see which heirloom varieties are our new favorites, and which are our old friends.
#10: Beans and peas
From snacking on fresh in the garden to opening up a jar on a cold winter day, beans (and peas) are definitely in my top 10! No meal is complete without a little green, and having it come from your garden is 100 times better, I'm sure. Contender and Blue Lake are two varieties that have always done well for us.
Even if I could only squeeze in one of these plants, it is well worth it. My family isn't much for pickles, so we tend to just eat them fresh. Many snacks are made up of freshly sliced cucumbers with some ranch dip. Cucumber sandwiches and salads are also reason enough to have cucumbers in your garden. We tend to grow the Marketmore 76 variety.
A good staple. Seems like most things I cook need a little sautéed onion. Even if you don't have a dedicated vegetable garden, tuck some onion starts around in your flower bed and enjoy the fruits of your labor! Eaten fresh, frozen, and dehydrated. Living in Texas, we generally grow the 1015 variety.
If most things need onions, everything needs garlic. I'm not sure there is such a thing as too much! We tuck garlic in among flowers, veggies and orchard, growing them wherever there is space. Very pretty addition to my pantry when it is all braided up! Garlic is also an excellent companion plant for roses and blackberries.
Many Southerners are familiar with the yellow squash and the zucchini, but few are familiar with the staples of the Northern cellars: Winter Squash. We grow both types here, but the Winter Squash is our favorite! We have our standards: the Butternuts, Hubbards and cheeses. We grow Jarrahdale, Acorn, Spaghetti, and Banana winter squash varieties, as the mood strikes from year to year. I encourage you to try some new varieties. They are so versatile in your kitchen, they are sure to become one of your own staples.
Mmmmmmmmm- my mouth is watering in anticipation already! There's nothing better during the heat of the summer than munching down on a sweet and juicy watermelon! We've introduced our Farmer's Market customers to the Georgia Rattlesnake variety, but there are so many more. Baker Creek boasts 50 varieties of heirloom watermelons. We'll keep trialing one or two different ones as time goes on, being careful for seed purity, but the Georgia Rattlesnake is my "Go To". In addition to eating them fresh, I also juice them, and take the insides and puree for the freezer. Yes, you can freeze watermelons! Also, don't neglect making some freezer pops with it for the children! Dave makes a refreshing watermelon wine as well. I hear that Watermelon Rind Pickles are good too, but my family isn't big on pickled anything, so I can't speak on that. Talk about making the most of your garden!
Yes, pumpkin is considered a winter squash, but in my list it needed a listing all of it's own. My very favorite variety is the Winter Luxury Pumpkin. Best flavor, by far, of the varieties we've grown! In addition to pies, pumpkins are excellent for soups, cookies, cakes, quick breads, bagels, and the list goes on! Loaded with vitamins and minerals, pumpkins are just plain good for you, so grow several. For northern climates, storage on all of the Cucurbita (winter squash family) is pretty easy: place the whole fruit in a cool and dry location. For us Southerners without cellars, they won't last as long whole. Normally, with good air flow, a couple of months after harvest is the most I can get. I generally plant later in the season to get a fall crop, and freeze any fruit that hasn't been eaten in the first couple months following the harvest.
Why pay $5.00 and up for organic lettuce at the grocery store when you can have your own? We grow a large amount of different lettuce varieties and feast from December through about early/mid April when they finally start to bolt. We'll eat big salads every evening, juice it for breakfast, often salad for lunch, and lettuce and/or spinach on all of our sandwiches every day of the season. Homegrown leaf lettuce is much tastier than your average store-bought, especially when compared to the bland iceberg lettuce. Much healthier too! Get used to eating right out of your own garden, and you'll never go back. The extra couple of minutes you'll spend gathering your harvest and washing it is well worth your time. We grow numerous varieties of lettuce.
I just couldn't bear to lump spinach in with the lettuce. It needed it's own number. If you can grow lettuce, you can grow spinach. Fresh spinach is not the nasty bitter yucky stuff that you find in the can, nor the almost as disgusting stuff that is in the freezer isle. Not even in the fresh produce will you find spinach that is nearly as good as what you can grow in your own garden. Leaves so thick and juicy that you nearly need a knife to cut them. The flavor of fresh spinach is sweet and delicious. All of our salads include spinach, and we often eat it on our burgers and sandwiches in lieu of lettuce. The vitamin content in spinach is much higher than even leaf lettuce. Boasting 2.71mg iron, 99mg calcium, and 28.1mg of Vitamin C, it's well worth incorporating into your diet. Try putting one cup in with your smoothie; you won't even taste that it's there, but you will certainly have a nutrition jumpstart to your day!
Of course, what garden would be complete without tomatoes? Ours certainly wouldn't! Tomatoes are our #1 garden staple. This year, we are growing 100 tomato plants, representing 10 varieties. We always grow out some beefsteak tomatoes for our sandwiches and hamburgers, and we must have some tiny varieties like the Mexico Midget so we can snack while we work. Not much is better than a sun warmed slice of tomato sprinkled with a little salt- mmmmmmmmm! The bulk of our tomatoes are the canning type, though. We trial many heirloom varieties, and we have our favorites. At the end of the season, my pantry will be full of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, soups with a tomato base, and salsa.
That's my list. The pesky thing about Top Ten lists is that they change. Ask me next month, and I might have something different based on what's growing. So, what's on your Top 10 Veggie list?