Archive for Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Vegetable variety picks for area gardeners

February 5, 2003


As we continue our pass through the vegetable alphabet, you'll notice that I'm hitting only on the -- pardon the pun -- garden-variety vegetables. You didn't see celeraic and chard last week, and you won't see kale and kohlrabi this week.

I'll leave it to you to fill out the gaps in my list. A reasonable approach to expanding one's gardening repertoire might be to try growing one or two veggies each season that you've never grown before. After all, the benefit of having a home garden is not just having access to food that's ripe when it's picked but also having access to more varieties of vegetables.

This week we'll cut a swath through the middle of the alphabet, with my recommendations for varieties that grow well in this climate and some pointers about planting times.

  • Eggplant. When most people think eggplant, they conjure up the large, round or teardrop-shaped fruit that their grandmothers used to slice, bread and fry. If you want that kind of eggplant, which we generally think of as Italian eggplant, grow Dusky or Black Beauty. Start your seeds indoors in early March to plant outside in late April or early May. Local greenhouses also carry transplants of these common varieties. But the Oriental eggplants, many of which have finger-shaped fruit, are also worth a try. Pintung Long is a likely candidate. There's also the white eggplant, such as Cloud Nine. Like all nightshades, eggplant detests frost.
  • Greens. I'm going to limit the discussion of this vast category to lettuce, spinach and mesclun, and my remarks here will be fairly general. That's because the variety of greens that can be direct-seeded in the garden invite experimentation. Two mainstays of looseleaf lettuce are the heirloom Black Seeded Simpson and Red Sails. A more bibb-type lettuce that offers color is Red Deer's Tongue. The words you're looking for on the seed packet are "slow to bolt." As soon as the weather warms, your lettuce will turn bitter and grow out of control. You also can experiment with a variety of different greens -- some with a zingy flavor, such as arugula -- but the easiest way to get a broad sampling is to plant a mesclun seed blend -- or two. Spinach also comes in many varieties, but two that are reliable are Melody, for semi-savoyed leaves, and Space, for smooth, spoon-shaped leaves. Plant all your greens in 10-day intervals from March through April to keep the harvest coming into June.
  • Melons. All melons can be direct-seeded or grown from transplants. The ground temperature must be at least 70 degrees for the seeds to germinate in the garden. Ambrosia is by far my favorite orange-fleshed melon. Fastbreak is a common early cantaloupe that will mature about two weeks earlier. I also like Passport for a green, or honeydew, melon. Sugar Baby is a reliable small watermelon that can be eaten in about 80 days; for lunker watermelons, try Crimson Sweet.
  • Okra. Okra can be direct-seeded once the ground temperature reaches 70 degrees. It's also best to soak the seeds overnight before planting them. Annie Oakley II, Cajun Delight and Clemson Spineless are the standards and will produce good crops. I also like Red Burgundy for the color it adds to the garden. Like burgundy beans, the pods cook up green.
  • Peas. Peas can be divided into three basic categories. All of them need to be planted in late March or early April so they can mature before the onset of the summer's heat. For snow peas, Oregon Sugar Pod is the most reliable here. The vines generally grow to about 18 inches and don't need to be staked. The best snap pea I've grown is Sugar Snap. In shelling or English peas, it's Green Arrow.

Next week, we'll finish up, beginning with peppers.

-- When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.

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