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Growing and harvesting one's own vegetables is one of the most satisfying gardening experiences. But even if you don't want to transform a whole section of your landscape into a vegetable garden, you can grow quite a few vegetable types in small sections, in a container, or even interspersed with non-edibles. To learn how to grow the vegetables best suited to your preferences and location, the Better Homes and Gardens Plant Encyclopedia provides key information such as growth characteristics, mature size, and requirements such as sun, shade, and moisture for each vegetable. You'll also discover how different vegetables perform in different climates, and find out how best to integrate vegetables into your landscape.
Grow something a little different this year and try amaranth. It will likely grow taller than you and produce stunning, large reddish to gold flowers. It's almost worth growing just for the flowers alone.
Vegetable amaranth produces coleuslike green leaves overlaid with burgundy patches. Use the tender young leaves in salads and stir-fries as you would to spinach. The leaves have a nutty, tangy flavor so are best mixed with other greens. The seeds are a favorite of nutrition-conscious cooks, especially vegetarians, who like its high protein and fiber content. The seeds, which are produced in abundance, can be used as a cereal, ground into flour, popped, toasted, or cooked with other grains.
This delicacy has been prized by gourmands for decades and fetches top prices at supermarkets. In warmer climates, though, it grows like a weed (in fact, in Mediterranean regions it is a weed, growing wild in hot, dry spots). Best of all, when you grow your own, you can harvest while the bracts are still small and extremely tender.
The edible parts of this relative of the thistle are actually flower buds. Steam or boil the green bracts ("leaves" enclosing the flower bud), and scoop out the fleshy inner side of each bract. The most highly desired part of the vegetable is the heart, positioned at the base of the bracts, below the hairy center. In Zones 8-10, set out transplants in fall. In all other areas, sow seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost, and move plants outdoors early enough to receive at least 10 days of temperatures above freezing but below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. (Plants must be exposed to cold in order to bloom.)
This delicious salad green fetches top dollar at the supermarket, but you can grow it for pennies at home. It has an intriguing, spicy, nutty flavor that gourmets love. Make a salad of arugula only or mix it with other greens.
Arugula grows best in cool weather, becoming peppery and bitter when weather turns hot. Full heads mature in five to six weeks; baby greens may be harvested after three weeks of growth.
Add a touch of the exotic to your vegetable garden with Asian greens. They come in a fascinating array of colors and textures. Some have curled or rounded leaves, while others produce feathery, deeply lobed leaves. Leaf colors range, too, from deep red to light green. Flavors vary from mild to spicy, so experiment -- an easy thing to do because they're fast and easy to grow from an inexpensive packet of seeds.
Plant Asian greens in early spring or late summer so that plants will mature in cool weather.
This early-spring treat is one of the few perennial vegetable crops, so once you get a patch established, it will give you many years of delicious harvests for little work.
Growing asparagus can take time, but it's well worth the effort. Grow asparagus in well-drained soil with a neutral pH. (Add lime to the soil if it is acidic.) Asparagus is usually planted in trenches from two-year-old plants called crowns. You can also start it from seed, but it will take an extra year or two to reach harvestable size.
Snap beans, also called green beans, are one of those must-have vegetables in the garden. They're easy to grow, are bothered by few pests, and if you choose a pole type, they take up hardly any square footage in the landscape. Or get creative and grow pole beans on fences or any other upright support
Beans come many colors, shapes, and sizes. Pods may be green, yellow, purple, or speckled. The plants range in size from 2 feet tall for bush types to pole types that may climb to 12 feet. A bean harvested when young, before the seeds fully develop, is called a snap bean. Once the seeds have reached full size, but pods have not turned brown, it's called a shelling bean. After the pod dries and seeds mature, it's called a dried bean.
This old-fashioned favorite is becoming trendy once again. Use beetroots fresh, steamed, or roasted. At room temperature, beetroot is great in salads. It's also a favorite for pickling and canning. Although beetroots are usually red, they may also be yellow, pink, or stripped, creating a beautiful effect.
The leaves of beets are also prized. Usually, leaves are green with veins that match the root color, though some produce reddish-purple leaves. Tender young beet greens can be added to salads. When they're larger, they're usually steamed, sauted, stir-fried, or cooked. They're especially appreciated in the South, where they're "cooked down" with ham or bacon either solo or combined with other greens, such as mustard greens or collard greens.
It used to be that bell peppers were available almost solely as green peppers. Then in the 1980s red bell peppers became more common in recipes (especially when roasted), and now bell pepper fruits are grown in a rainbow of fascinating colors: green, white, yellow, red, orange, and chocolate brown.
Green fruits are actually immature peppers. If you leave them on the plant, they eventually will develop one of the other colors, most commonly red, and become sweeter.
Bell peppers are being hailed as a superfood, low in calories, high in flavor, and Vitamins A, C, and other nutrients. They are delicious in salads, stir-fries, soups, stews, and roasted or grilled.
Bell peppers need temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit to grow well. Avoid planting them too early in the growing season, and protect plants from cold temperatures.
Mom was right: Broccoli is good for you. Nutritionists consider it a superfood that helps you in so many ways. Go ahead and boil it and serve it with butter, but also try adding it to stir-fries and Italian pasta dishes.
Broccoli needs just the right conditions to grow perfectly, so don't expect supermarket-sized heads from the home garden. Instead, you'll get smaller, very tender heads. This is because broccoli is a cool-season crop that grows best with extended cool weather in spring and fall (or during winter months in mild areas). The edible part of the plant is a cluster of flower buds. Most varieties produce one main large head 50-55 days after transplanting into the garden. If you leave the plant in place, smaller secondary buds will develop on side shoots.
Twenty years ago, it seemed that no one, other than devoted Italian cooks, had ever heard of broccoli raab. Now, this Italian delicacy, which is closely related to broccoli, is being called for in a variety of recipes -- and for good reason. It has a more pronounced flavor than broccoli but does not form a large head like its more common cousin. Also, its leaves, stems, and heads are edible.
It's commonly added to pasta dishes or served on the side of meats and other entrees. To prepare raab, blanch stems in boiling water then saute in olive oil until tender.
If you've never had homegrown Brussels sprouts, you're in for a treat. They're smaller than those found in the supermarket, with a sweeter, more nutty flavor that's utterly delicious.
Brussels sprout plants have thick, trunklike stalks that grow 2-3 feet long, studded up and down with the edible sprouts, which look like baby cabbages. Each stalk may produce 50-100 sprouts. It is a slow-growing vegetable that requires 90 days or more to reach maturity. In most regions, start plants in spring for a fall harvest. Wait until after a few frosts to harvest. They'll be much milder-flavored and sweeter.
Grow cabbage in your garden, and you're sure to gain a new appreciation of this ethnic favorite. Cabbage, after all, is a classic vegetable that's been a staple in Western diets for hundreds of years.
If you've ever endured eating overcooked boiled cabbage, you'll enjoy finding better ways to use the tender, homegrown version, especially if you experiment with the many interesting varieties available. There are early, midseason, and late varieties; round, conical, or flat-head types; smooth leaves or savoyed (crinkled) foliage; and colors ranging from yellow green to blue green, deep green, or purplish red. Each has a distinct flavor, with the red types being among the most sweet.
Use homegrown cabbage fresh. Shred and add by the handful to mixed salads. When it's young and tender, it has a more mild flavor. Use it in classic or innovative slaws, too, and you'll find them a treat. Try stuffing large leaves. And, of course, you can always cook them, pickle them, or even make sauerkraut.
Who knew you could have so much fun growing carrots? You can always grow carrots like the traditional, large, orange-root types, but also have fun with the many different types of carrots now available for gardeners to grow from seed.
Classic orange-root carrots have been joined by new varieties in a rainbow of colors, ranging from red to white, yellow, and purple. They also come in a variety of shapes, including small, almost round, very large, and more cylindrical.
Carrots are loaded with vitamin A and beta-carotene, both known as antioxidants and cancer fighters. Use carrots raw in salads, or explore their uses in Indian salads. The juice from carrots is the health-buff's staple. And they are, of course, fabulous in soups and stews or as a side dish. Cooking carrots makes the calcium in them more available, another nutritional bonus.
Cauliflower is trickier to grow in some climates than its cousin, broccoli, but the effort is well worth it. And the reward of harvesting a large, attractive head from your garden will give a great sense of satisfaction.
Plants grow best in cool (below 70 degrees F) weather. In most locations it's best to plant it 90 days before the first fall frost so heads will mature during cool weather. Traditional white-headed cauliflowers required gardeners to tie leaves over the developing head to ensure mild flavor and development of snow-white curds. Some newer varieties have outer leaves that naturally cover the head, eliminating the need for blanching. Varieties that develop colored heads of orange, purple, or chartreuse also need no blanching.
This old-fashioned relative of celery also goes by the name celery root. The edible part is actually an enlarged knob of a stem that grows underground. Peel off the buff or tan outer layer to reveal the crunchy white edible interior.
You can eat it raw, but it's used most often to impart a mild celery flavor in soups, stews, casseroles, gratins, and other hearty baked dishes.
At the end of the 19th century, celery was considered a rare gourmet treat. Hostesses purchased beautiful crystal vaselike celery servers just to showcase this elegant vegetable. Today, we rely on celery as a crunchy, low-calorie treat and the basis for flavoring soups and stews. It's readily available at the supermarket, but you'll have fun growing it at home and will appreciate smaller celery heads, which are more tender and mild flavored.
Homegrown celery is delicious raw in salads and appetizers or cooked in sauces, soups, and stews. It requires a long growing season (at least four months) and grows best in moderate temperatures. Because it takes a long time to mature, start seeds indoors 10-12 weeks before your area's last frost date. Transplant seedlings to the garden after danger of frost has passed.
If you're tired of the same old vegetable side dishes, grow Swiss chard. You'll find dozens of different ways to serve it. The classic preparation is to lightly saute; it in olive oil and garlic. But also use its greens raw in salads. Or sliver the leaves and stems and had several handfuls to a pot of soup.
Swiss chard is an attractive plant, and the newer "rainbow" Swiss chards available are very striking -- and still taste great. You can even include them in a flowerbed! Although flavor is best in cool weather, chard tolerates the heat of summer quite well.
There are two types of Chinese cabbage, Napa and bok choy. Napa types are barrel shape with tightly packed heads. Bok choy types form tall narrow heads with thick white stalks and deep green leaves. Napa types may be shredded and substituted in salads for lettuce. Both types are used stir-fried or steamed.
A staple of bountiful Southern tables, this delightful green is usually "cooked down" with bacon or ham, sometimes by itself and sometimes with an assortment of other greens. It's also great to chop or shred and add to Southern-inspired soups, such as a ham-based or black-eyed pea soup. Plant plenty of collards because even an armload of these greens will cook down to just a few servings.
Collards are closely related to cabbage. Collard stalks and leaves are tough and best eaten cooked. Tear the leaves off the stems and shred them by hand before sauteing them or adding them to soups or stews. For a summer crop, sow seeds four weeks before the last frost date. For a fall crop, sow three months before the first fall frost.
Few things say summer like sweet corn, picked just minutes before eating. Sweet corn starts converting its sugars to starch the second you pick it, so it's hard to find sweet corn more tasty than that from your backyard.
Sweet corn takes space. It's essential to plant a number of rows (more is better) because the ears are wind pollinated and they need the critical mass for best production. For this reason, it's most efficient to plant corn in a block of short rows or hills rather than in a few long rows. Most stalks produce just one or two ears of corn, so plant plenty!
And do what the professionals do: Plant early-, mid-, and late-season varieties to ensure the longest season of harvest, several weeks in late summer. Choose from standard sugary (su), sugar-enhanced (se), and supersweet (sh2) varieties with yellow, white, or bicolor kernels.
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