Okra, sweet potatoes, and watermelon might be signifiers of the southern interior, but sweet peppers are the surprise #1 among the region's top crops.
Broccoli finally makes it onto the list of 10 Top Crops thanks to the Southern interior region’s long fall, which starts in September and lingers until December. In addition, educational programs that encouraged farmers to switch from tobacco to broccoli probably trickled down to gardeners. Seedlings must be set out during the torrid days of August, and you will need to use row covers. Weekly sprays with a Bt or Spinosad insecticide will control cabbage worms and other leaf-eating caterpillars, but with row covers you get additional protection from grasshoppers — the scourge of the late-summer garden.
Most of the crops Southerners claim as their own — okra, sweet potatoes, Southern peas, and watermelon — lined up just behind the region’s Top 10. One gardener commented that he took the survey just so he could say how happy he was with his okra. Yet it does look like the red clay soils of the South are tough for root crops, which even experienced gardeners often find difficult to grow. Framed raised beds filled with sandy loam may be the only solution.
On the other hand, fall greens pretty much grow themselves, and most Southerners value collards the most. Spinach, turnips, chard, and mustard may be good, but in the South, collards are king.
Cabbage family: Cabbage, collards, kale
Cucumber family: Cantaloupe, watermelon, 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, pole bean, snow/snap pea
Root crops: Potato, radish, rutabaga, shallot, sunchoke, sweet potato
Tomato family: Eggplant, tomatillo
Miscellaneous: Asparagus, okra, 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+.