Much beloved in the Central/Midwest region, gardeners rate tomatoes at #1 in their list of top food crops.
PHOTO: AMY GRISAK
A tight space race goes on in gardens in the central/Midwest U.S. because so many crops grow well. Cabbage and summer squash earn high overall ratings, but except for spinach and lettuce, leafy greens are bit players here. Of course, we’re talking about a climate in which spring is fleeting, summers can be scorchers, and fall slips into winter overnight. It’s no wonder that vigorous warm-weather crops are the top crops.
The largest sample group in the survey came from the Midwest, which may have given a boost to the national numbers behind tomatoes and peppers, both much beloved in the heartland. Note that sweet corn is missing from the list, and in fact it was more highly rated in the Mid-Atlantic region than in the Midwest. It’s possible that, like carrot lovers in the Northeast, Midwesterners let market farmers grow space-hungry sweet corn for them.
Delving into the numbers behind Midwestern tomatoes, we noticed that gardeners who often or occasionally use chemicals rated the overall performance of tomatoes at 3.1 (on a scale of 1 to 4). Organic gardeners rated them a little higher at 3.2. Moving up to Midwestern gardeners with more than 20 years experience who described themselves (and presumably their soils) as “beyond organic/sustainable,” the numbers rose to 3.6. That’s not far short of a perfect score (4) — good reason to keep digging in compost and using plenty of mulch!
- Slicing tomato
- Sweet pepper
- Cherry tomato
- Bush snap bean
- Paste tomato
- Snow/snap pea
Other Highly Rated Crops
Cabbage family: Broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi
Cucumber family: Cucumber, pumpkin, summer squash, winter squash
Leafy greens: Arugula, chard, mustard (all types), pac choi, sorrel, spinach, turnip greens
Legumes: Dry soup bean, pole bean, shell pea, Southern pea
Root crops: Beet, parsnip, potato, rutabaga, shallot, turnip
Tomato family: Hot pepper, tomatillo
Miscellaneous: Asparagus, leek, okra, rhubarb, scallion, sweet corn
Read The Best Crops for Your Garden to find top crops for other U.S. gardening regions.
Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers, and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.