It’s that time. Before you know it, you’ll be in the garden, spending time with your vegetable plants. If you are like me, while you are working, your mind is wandering off to all those wonderful meals you will be preparing with your harvest.
One of the things I am always mindful of when selecting the vegetable plants I grow, is whether or not it will do well here in the South. Everyone’s gardening Zone is different, so if you live in the cold Northern regions, it would be tough to grow okra, but you may be able to grow Brussels sprouts much easier than we can.
Before you start planning what vegetable plants to grow in your garden, be sure you check your Gardening Zone. Once you have that information, check to make sure the seeds and vegetable plants you buy are for things that will grow well in your area. It is so much better to do this first, so you don’t waste time and money on things that won’t grow!
Another thing I think about is the nutrition factor. I want to provide my family with healthy meals, so I focus on nutrient dense fruits, vegetables and herbs.
As for my southern garden, here is some growing information on a few of the more popular types of vegetable plants we love to grow. I will only go into specific varieties for the tomatoes and squash, because these seem to be the basic plants in any garden. Hopefully, this will help you determine if they are right for your garden.
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Choosing Vegetable Plants – Tomatoes
Celebrity – These delicious vegetable plants have been on the market since the mid 1980’s. The Celebrity tomato is a hybrid. It was bred to withstand a long list of diseases. They are one of the few tomatoes which can be grown in the heat of the Deep South, all the way up to the short growing season of Canada. They take approximately 60 days to mature. It is a medium sized red tomato, and the plant itself is often considered semi-determinate.
On the downside, the flavor is somewhere in the middle – it doesn’t taste like cardboard, but you also don’t get that rich flavor that is prized in homegrown tomatoes.
Beefsteak – There are a number of beefsteak tomato varieties, from the Mortgage Lifter Heirloom to the Beef Master hybrid. But one thing is for certain – if you want one of the large, meaty tomatoes, you really need to grow them yourself. They are considered too large for commercial use as they don’t conform to the machinery. Considering one slice of a beefsteak might very likely cover your entire piece of bread, I can understand that.
Most of these plants require heavy staking, due to the weight of the fruit. They also require fertilizing and at least 1” to 2” of water a week, and 70 to 72 days to mature.
Better Boy – this is a hybrid tomato that produces an abundant amount of almost 1 lb. tomatoes. It was originally bred to resist the common tomato viruses. It is indeterminate and the flavor is great. Considering it takes 70 – 72 days from seed to fruit, if you are growing it in a Northern garden, it would be wise to start it in the greenhouse and then transplant as soon as the ground is warm enough.
This is one that needs to be well staked, due to the abundance of fruit.
Choosing Squash Plants
Yellow Crookneck – Considered a summer squash, just a few of these plants can keep you in squash all year long, if you freeze or can them. They are best eaten small, around 2” in diameter, as the larger they get, the tougher the skin becomes. These are considered an heirloom, and take approximately 50 – 55 days to mature. Once they do, you need to watch/harvest them every day to get the best tasting fruit.
Lemon Squash – these are by far my favorite vegetable plants when it comes to squash. They are an heirloom variety, and the plant produces round yellow fruit approximately the size of a lemon. I found that the skins don’t get as tough as the crookneck variety, and these are an excellent size for frying. Like most squash, you are looking at 50-55 days to mature. Trust me – on day 50, I’m already pulling out my oil and frying pan!
Zucchini – if you have ever tasted zucchini bread, you will definitely want to plant this. Fair warning – unless you have a LOT of family and neighbors that love zucchini, don’t plant more than one or two. Even with that, you will have way more than a family of four can consume in a year. Okay. Make that three years.
As with all squash, plant after the last possible freeze in your area, and if you need a jump start, plant seeds in your greenhouse and transplant after the ground is consistently warm – no cooler than 60 degrees.
Sorry, Northern folks. This is probably one of the true delicacies of the South. Okra of any variety, whether heirloom or hybrid, only takes 50 to 60 days to mature, but they thrive in our hot, humid summers. They are best picked when young – approximately 2” in length. A popular heirloom variety is the Clemson Spineless, and a good hybrid is said to be the Pentagon.
Although they claim there are okra varieties that will produce up North, I’d have to see it to believe it.
Cucumbers – Are they a Fruit or a Vegetable?
Cucumber is actually a fruit, but has long been prepared and eaten as a vegetable. These come in several varieties – eating/slicing, pickling and burpless, to name three. Traditionally, cucumbers need a trellis to support the long vines. There are some bush varieties available, if you don’t want to go to the trouble of building a trellis.
Cucs are a tender plant that can’t tolerate extreme cold or heat. It takes them approximately 65 days to mature, so start them as soon as your soil warms up, or start them from seeds in your greenhouse. Be careful when transplanting – they just barely tolerate root disturbance.
Choosing Pepper Plants
When choosing vegetable plants, peppers always make the top of the list. Regardless of if they are bell, jalapeno or Habaneros, peppers seem to be slow starters, but once they get going, they can produce an abundance of fruit.
Depending on the variety, they can take anywhere from 70 to 80 days to mature. Since this takes them through the heat of the summer, watch for blossom drop, which can occur when the temperatures reach the 90’s and higher. Low humidity seems to make this worse.
Although they grow in the north, the longer growing season seems to make them more suitable in the South. My favorite varieties are the California Bell (heirloom); Big Bertha (hybrid); Tam Jalapeno (hybrid); and the Sweet Banana (hybrid).
This is just a short list of vegetable plants I would choose for garden. Most of these vegetable plants grow well in pots as well, which makes them suitable for sunny apartment balconies, patio gardens, or homes with very small yards. Regardless of what you plant, I strongly advocate everyone growing at least one vegetable plant if they are able. There is nothing like biting into fresh food that you grew yourself.
If you are looking for great heirloom seeds with an excellent germination rate and is cost-efficient as well, check out the seeds offered by Mary’s Heirloom Seeds. It is one of my favorite place to order mine!