I have been growing veggies for some time now. When I first started gardening, I didn't read the seed packets or catalogues all that carefully. And when I did, it didn't make much of a difference, because I hadn't been growing food long enough to know what I was looking for. Therefore, I mostly picked based on how cool the colour looked, or on how rare or novel the seeds sounded. Once in a while, I accidentally picked a winner, but more often than not I was disappointed. I remember the carrots that were a new variety and were advertised as a stunning moon white. What wasn't detailed was that they were so tough that you couldn't actually get your teeth through them. There was also the purple sprouting broccoli listed as a winter-sprouter whose leaves were a great addition to salads and steamed vegetables. The leaves were okay, not great. I understand why someone tried eating the leaves: out of desperation! These plants barely produced any broccoli, and the rare sprouts were miniature and tough. I tried this variety three times, in two different climates. It was always a loser :( I finally broke down and composted the remainder of these seeds. I wonder how often new gardeners give up because they think they are no good at growing tasty food, when really they are just growing bad varieties?
I don't have a farm. I have a productive garden. It isn't a massive garden, but it is big enough. I grow almost all of the produce that gets my family through the entire year. We are vegetarians so we eat a lot of vegetables! With space and a need for large harvests in mind, I have to strategize about which crops to grow. I base my decisions on what we like, what my husband most likes to cook our dinners with, how much space each type of vegetable takes up, how much each produces, how it produces in our particular climate and how well it stores. Yes, I am demanding :) Once I know what needs a spot in our garden, I look through the seed catologues for details on days to maturity, disease resistance, texture and superior flavour.
Based on these factors, here is a list of my favourite varieties that find a place in my garden every year.
Broccoli-Gypsy: giant heads followed by loads of broccoli sizeable sprouts. Keeps going until there is prolonged freezing weather in the winter.
Brussels Sprouts-Gustus: These Brussels sprout stalks grow tall and the sprouts are quite large. The flavour is fantastic. We leave the stalks growing and harvest sprouts as we need them in the kitchen, all fall and winter long.
Cauliflower-Amazing: beautiful, large, uniform, white heads. This variety does not need to have its leaves tied down.
Celery-Tall Utah: this variety of celery produces tall, thick, crunchy stalks very much like what you find on the grocery store shelves. My kids love to have ants on a log for lunch! Start indoors and plant out into two inch deep trenches. The trenches protect the celery just enough from sunshine at the base of the stalks.
Cucumber-Olympian: I love these cucumbers! They are a crisp, tasty field cucumber that is considered "burpless". They don't usually become bitter and in the rare case that they do, (from overwatering), I find that the bitterness is usually contained only in the skin and can be peeled away. This is a heavy producer.
Fennel-Perfection: I have had a hard time finding a variety of fennel that grows to a sizeable bulb while still staying tender. This is a good variety that does not become tough and woody as soon as it begins to bolt (start flowering)
Garlic-Russian Giant and Ferganskij: these are both hard-neck garlics (a single ring of garlic cloves in the bulb) that are sizeable and contain wonderful flavour.
Kale-Winterbor: Great flavour, long producing, with leaves all through the winter in the Pacific Northwest. In the spring, this variety again starts producing large quantities of leaves and also small, broccoli-like flowers that taste better than broccoli and are not spicy.
Leeks-Tadorna and Giant Musselburgh: Two great varieties that grow tall and thick and have nice white shanks. I plant the seeds in early spring. We harvest by thinning through the summer and then harvest the mature leeks as we need them all through the fall, winter and into spring planting time. To protect the leeks from the cool weather, I mulch the shoulders with fallen leaves in the autumn
Lettuce-Red Sails and New Red Fire: I almost exclusively grow red leaf lettuce and I grow them as cut and come again. Yes, crisp heads of Romaine are very satisfying, but I get more harvest from my space if I grow densely planted lettuce for the loose leaves. I prefer these tender red varieties because they are delicious and don't become bitter in extreme temperatures of summer heat or autumn cold. They are also very slow to bolt.
Tomatoes-Orange Banana and Red Torch: These are both short season tomato varieties (this means that they take a lesser number of days than other varieties to produce ripe tomatoes), that are fairly heavy producers. The Orange Banana are a delicious Roma-type that can be used for sauce but which I use mostly for slicing. Red Torch is also an oblong tomato and is lightly striped. Red Torch are firm and have a fantastic flavour that makes them perfect for eating raw.
Zucchini-Jackpot: I am short on space, so I prefer to grow bush zucchini rather than vine zucchini. For zucchini, these plants stay compact. This zucchini grows upwards until the plants finally fall over because their weight, and begin to do some sprawling. These have a great taste, even when I miss one in the garden and its huge. I tend to grate these and pack them in ziplock bags for use in soups, stews and sauces throughout the winter. Used this way, you can never have too many zucchini!
I know that I must be missing some of the veggies that I planned to include. If I think of any, I will included them here at a later date.
Please let me know your favourite varieties or seed suppliers in the comment section below. I always love to learn and it is fun to try something new.