The widely beloved slicing tomato might top the list of top crops, but the Mid-Atlantic region is a redoubt for lesser-known garden gems.
Slicing tomatoes and sweet peppers might be the Mid-Atlantic region's top crops, but the real story is more complicated. I garden there now, and often find myself feeling frenzied by the intensity of seasonal relay plantings coupled with the sheer number of worthwhile minor crops. It’s not just me. This region has a very long list of “sleeper” crops — vegetables that are not widely grown by gardeners, but are beloved by those who do. From mâche in late winter to spring asparagus to rutabagas in the fall, food gardeners in this region often juggle dozens of crops in the course of a six-month growing season.
Let’s say you’re trying to decide how much space to allot to chard and beets — two closely related crops favored by Mid-Atlantic gardeners from beginners to old hands. Take note: As years of organic gardening experience increases to more than 20 years, chard builds a significant lead over beets — good reason to make sure your chard supply is ample before going overboard with beets.
Speaking of chard (and kale, collards, turnip greens, and a global array of mustards, for that matter), hundreds of responses to the “how easy is it to store?” question indicate that many people in all regions don’t realize that leafy greens are as easy to blanch and freeze as snap peas. Many can be dried as well. On the other hand, gardeners in many different climates are doing so well with shallots that these hardy, fine-flavored, storable onions may soon become as popular here as they are in Europe. Think about it: A few net bags bulging with shallots to hang alongside your garlic may be just the thing your homegrown food supply has been missing.
Cabbage family: Broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi
Cucumber family: Cucumber, winter squash
Leafy greens: Arugula, chard, lettuce, mâche, mustard (all types), pac choi, sorrel, spinach, turnip greens
Legumes: Asparagus/yard-long bean, bush lima bean, dry soup bean, edamame, snow/snap and shell pea, Southern pea
Root crops: Parsnip, radish, rutabaga, shallot, sunchoke, turnip
Tomato family: Eggplant, pepper (all types), tomatillo, tomato (all types)
Miscellaneous: Asparagus, leek, 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+.