The Best Vegetables You Can Grow

After seven years growing nearly 100 kinds of tomatoes, more than 50 varieties of peppers and at least three dozen varieties of lettuce, our own Kris Wetherbee has declared the winners.

| April/May 2001

Growing organic produce for farmers' markets for seven years gave me a tremendous opportunity to try out dozens of varieties each year. All in all, we've grown nearly 100 kinds of tomatoes, more than 50 peppers and at least three dozen lettuce varieties, along with an endless medley of others. occasionally I was disappointed by varieties that performed poorly or were lacking in flavor, but sometimes it was like discovering gold. When I find a winner these days, it joins the ranks of outstanding favorites I can count on for their high quality, adaptability and prolificness.

While our farmers' markets days are now over, we still take on the challenge of trying out new varieties in our large country garden. The majority of space, however, goes to a select group of outstanding vegetables and companion flowers that shine throughout the country. Some are award-winning heirlooms and hybrids, and all are treasured and grown for their dependability, productivity and winning flavor.

Best Beans and Peas

These days I usually try only one or two new varieties of beans and peas each year-I know that nothing will beat the sweet flavor of Sugar Snap and Sugar Ann. With vines growing to two feet, Sugar Ann (1984 All-America Selections winner) produces pods about two weeks earlier than Sugar Snap (1979 AAS winner), a pole variety that grows to six feet. I grow both, which extends my season of culinary joy with the sweetest peas this side of heaven.

Bean pods can be different sizes and shapes that range in shade from yellow to green to purple — sometimes even speckled. For ornamental appeal, the choices are limitless, and many bring great taste to the kitchen as well. Though there are several worth mentioning, tasty and tender pods make French/filet beans like Totem (a bush variety) and Kentucky Blue (a pole bean; AAS 1991) a must-have delicacy. Another renowned all-star is climbing Kentucky Wonder. Fresh lima beans are in a class by themselves, and so is King of the Garden, a pole variety that produces full-flavored pods even on cool summer nights.

Increase your flavor potential by growing beans and peas in full sun and a compost-enriched soil — cool for peas and warm for beans. Their shallow root system demands a steady supply of water to produce succulent pods, and be sure to keep them picked when they're young and tender so they'll keep producing.

Cabbage Family Champions

Here's a heads-up for one of the earliest, best-tasting varieties with super large domed heads — Super Dome broccoli. For summer and fall harvests, I found the best flavor and vigor with heat-tolerant Arcadia broccoli. My personal favorite, with a buttery-smooth, cashew-like flavor is Romaneseo, a lime green cauliflower-type head that swirls into a fascinating maze of conical clusters.

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