Variety is the spice of life! Part of what makes growing your own vegetables so much fun is trying something new and different. While you may always want to include your tried and true favorites in the garden each year, experimenting with new crops and varieties keeps things interesting. And who knows? Maybe you'll discover a new ″must-have″ to add to your list this year!
Nutritionists tell us that leafy greens are among the most healthful vegetables we can add to our diets. Kale and mustard greens are nutritional superstars, delivering loads of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants for few calories. But they also deliver on good taste, adding a piquant flavor cooked up with some olive oil and garlic or added to soups, stews, even salads. Colorful lettuces and chicories form the basis for tasty salads and add vitamins and fiber to the diet. Tolerant of cool weather, all these leafy crops are great for both early and late harvests.
Here's a trick question. Which says "summer" more -- sweet corn or watermelon? They are both equally evocative of long, hot summer days -- and both do best when planted from seed sown in the garden when the soil is well-warmed and all danger of frost is past. The same is true for other heat lovers like basil, okra, and summer squash. Grow them all and it will be easy to meet the recommended five-a-day fruit and veggie servings that nutritionists recommend for good health.
Here are some the exciting new varieties we are offering this season.
'Blue Lake FM1K' Bean (63 days) - A prolific pole bean variety, this white-seeded bean sets crisp, stringless, dark green pods from the base to the top of the 5.5 to 6 foot vines.
'Dwarf Long Green Pod' Okra (50 days) - This early bearer produces high yields of dark green, 7-8 inch long pods.
Summer Basil Blend - This blend of colors and shapes includes Bush Spicy Globe, Purple Dark Opal, Siam Queen, and Italian Large Leaf.
Mustard Braising Greens - A medley of tasty greens, this blend contains tatsoi, mizuna, Red Giant, mibuna, and Red Russian kale. This cut-and-come again crop can be used for salads or braising.
'Total Eclipse' Scallop Summer Squash (49 days) - Dark green, pie shaped, scalloped fruits have fine grained white flesh with good flavor.
Basil For an early harvest, start basil seeds 5-6 weeks before your last frost date and set out transplants a week after the frost date has passed, when the soil and air are warm. You can also sow seeds directly in the garden for a later harvest. Pinch off any flower spikes that appear to encourage the plants to make more leafy growth.
Beans Wait until the soil is warm and dry to plant. Bean seeds planted in cool, wet soil may rot before they germinate and are more likely to be attacked by the seedcorn maggot. Seeds that do germinate in cold soil may be stunted. If you're growing beans for the first time in your garden, dust seeds with a legume inoculant powder, which contains special bacteria that help the bean plants "fix" nitrogen from the air.
Chicory These Italian greens come in a number of types and hues, including tall treviso and sugarloaf, round radicchio, and leafy endive. Plant a mix to harvest young leaves for colorful additions to salads. Grown similar to lettuce, these greens grow best in the cool, mild weather of spring and fall, or even through the winter in warm regions.
Corn Synergistic (SYN) hybrids really go to town genetically in the sweetness department. They contain not only the SU-1 and SE genes that increase sweetness and creaminess, but also have the SH2 gene that slows down the conversion of sugar to starch, a combination that results in tender kernels with a long lasting, very high sugar content.
Kale This delicious green is always at the top of the list of the most nutritious vegetables. Plus its cold tolerance makes it a great crop for early and late in the season. Harvest mature leaves for soups or braising; tender young leaves are perfect for salads. For an early spring crop, start seeds early indoors like you would cabbage and set out in the garden up to 4 weeks before the last frost date.
Lettuce Make small plantings of lettuce every few weeks and you'll have home-grown salad fixings all season long. Plant outside as soon as the ground can be worked. Most lettuce prefers cooler temperatures. For midsummer plantings, switch to varieties bred for heat tolerance.
Mustard Greens Sow seeds in succession in the garden from spring to late summer for a continuous harvest of these piquant greens. To prevent damage from flea beetles, rotate crops and cover with floating row covers. Harvest at the baby leaf stage to add to stir fries.
Okra Wait until the soil is nice and warm before sowing seeds of this warmth lover. Harvest frequently when pods are 2-4 inches long, as larger ones get tough. Don't put harvested pods in the refrigerator -- the cold will cause them to turn black.
Peppers Start seeds 8 to 10 weeks before the date to set transplants in the garden, which is two weeks after the last frost date. Don't be over-eager; young plants exposed to too cold conditions may survive, but they won't bear well.
Summer Squash Gardeners in cool northern areas should wait until a week or two after their last frost date to plant seeds or transplant seedlings. Southern gardeners can make several several plantings in succession for an extended harvest. Protect young plants from pests with row covers, but remove them when blossoms form.
Watermelon Seeds of seedless watermelon varieties need very warm soil temperatures to germinate and rarely make a good stand if direct seeded. Start seeds indoors in peat pots, ideally on a heat mat. Seedless varieties should be interplanted with a seeded variety for proper pollination and good fruit set.
Q: I'm a transplanted Southerner now living in New England, and I miss my okra! Can I grow it this far north?
A: With a little extra effort you should be able to harvest a respectable crop of warmth-loving okra even in New England. Start by choosing a quick-maturing variety like our 'Dwarf Long Green Pod' that begins bearing in just 50 days. Give plants a headstart by sowing seeds early indoors 4-6 weeks before their setting out date, which will be a couple of weeks after your last frost date. Start seeds in individual peat pots to minimize root disturbance at planting time. Choose a sheltered spot in the garden, if possible, with some protection from the wind, and pre-warm the soil by covering it with black or clear plastic for two weeks before setting plants out. Work in plenty of compost before planting, as okra likes rich soil. Then keep your fingers crossed for a warm summer!