It probably seems early and with scattered snow it certain feels early but it’s never too early to start thinking about the vegetable garden! Store bought vegetables just don’t thrill me the way the fresh garden picked varieties do. It makes sense when you consider that garden grown vegetables don’t have to be picked days before use just to be shipped across the country. The other huge advantage is that you know exactly what chemicals have or have not been on your vegetables! Peace of mind is priceless isn’t it? That’s enough with why you should grow vegetables in the backyard, side yard or anywhere in your vicinity – at least for today (I sense another Friday Five post coming on that topic!) Let’s take a look at the five vegetables that I will always plant in our raised beds!
Let’s start the list off right with my all item favorite – tomatoes! If you consider the garden a meal, the tomatoes are the main course. We use the tomatoes for pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, and for canning but by far the most typical use for our tomatoes is between two slices of bread, slathered with mayo, a little bacon, and often a couple delicious slices of turkey! Of course taking a slice of tomato with mozzarella cheese and dressing it with balsamic vinegar is a delicious appetizer that can run you upward of $8 at some restaurants. We gardeners can do that much cheaper – and more deliciously! There are some regular varieties we grow every year like Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, and now Woodle Orange but we always try to add a new variety or two each year. I stopped planting cherry tomatoes with one exception: Sungold. Sungolds are one of the tastiest cherry tomatoes around and they’re orange too. I’ve heard that orange is a popular color around here…
Rouge D’Hiver Romaine Lettuce
Another vegetable we grow every year is Romaine lettuce. We like the Romaine lettuces as opposed to head forming lettuces because of the ability to cut and come again! With Romaines you can pull a few leaves from a few plants, make a salad, and come back a week later for more. The variety I like the most is Rouge D’Hiver which actually comes back on its own if you let it go to seed, and you should! The flowers are an attractive addition to the summer garden (so long as the deer don’t eat them). When sowing lettuce I typically scatter sow lettuce a cleared area rather than work in rows. Lettuce seeds are small and don’t need much (if any) soil covering them to get growing.
Yellow Summer Squash is another vegetable we try to grow every year. We aren’t always successful as the pests for cucurbit crops are numerous. Curcurbits include many of the vining vegetables like cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, and melons. The biggest pest for our squash is the vine borer. To prevent them row covers are an option but the bees can’t get into the plant area to pollinate them which becomes an issue. Bt injections reportedly help once an infestation is present but I’ve never tried it. Squash bugs are also an issue but can be removed by hand or crushed when you find clusters of eggs under the leaves. Even with all the issues we still try to grow yellow squash because of its delicious buttery taste! Breaded squash medallions fried in olive oil and good but mostly we just grill them with a coating of olive oil sea salt and pepper. Are you getting hungry yet?
Musk Melons! That’s right I said musk melons! Otherwise known as cantaloupe, musk melons provide us with our morning fruitiness. We strive to have some sort of fresh fruit with breakfast each day and during the summer cantaloupe gives us a replacement for store bought fruits (citrus) that we can’t find locally. While we are taking bites out of our cantaloupe, the cantaloupe is taking a bite out of our grocery bill! I always tell my wife that “We cant-a-loupe because we’re already married!” Yes I know, that’s a very cheesy joke, but that’s what you get when you live around here. Cantaloupes suffer from many of the same pests that the summer squash does so grow multiple plants to ensure a good crop. We grew Sierra Gold, Old Time Tennessee, and Jenny Lind last year.
While there are several other vegetables we grow yearly like spinach, radishes, beets, carrots, and others, slot number 5 belongs to the cucumber. Cucumbers are yet another cucurbit for this list. We use them mostly in fresh salads but I really want to try my hand at pickles. I attempted refrigerator pickles once and they turned out good but I think it’s time we made an attempt at some dill or sweet pickles. I grew a pickling cucumber last year but while weeding Bermuda grass accidentally pulled the shallow root system of the cucumber plant out! I don’t advise anyone to do the same. Needless to say those pickling cucumbers were in a pickle! I attempted to replace the roots back in the soil but the damage had been done.
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