20+ best vegetable varieties to grow
I’m creating a super-list of the best vegetable varieties to grow.
Out of curiosity, I threw myself on the mercy of Twitter. I asked the garden and allotment bloggers which one vegetable variety they wouldn’t be without. It should be easy to grow and tasty.
The answers were really surprising. I expected a roll call of familiar old favourites, but I’ve also discovered several unusual, delicious and easy-to-grow vegetables.
And I found some very interesting new posts on growing veg in the process.
Best tomato varieties to grow
Richard of the Homeallotment.com blog votes tomatoes as his favourite veg, and particularly loves ‘the fantastically named Japanese Black Trifele. It grows well as a cordon, either outside or in the greenhouse, and just needs the usual feeding and watering. They’re good either raw or cooked.’ Available from Brown Envelope Seeds.
Richard is also a Seed Guardian with the Stroud Community Seed Bank, and has written a very interesting post on 5 Reasons Why I Sow Seeds.
And The Chatty Gardener recommends Tomato ‘Costoluto Fiorentino’. It’s an old-fashioned big tomato, cordon-grown and an RHS AGM winner.
And because tomatoes are really one of the most popular home-grown vegetables, there is a third recommendation. Daily Mail gardening writer Constance Craig Smith says that ‘Sungold’ tomatoes are at the top of her list: ‘Irresistible!’
Best vegetable varieties you’ve never heard of…
There were some really exciting new recommendations. Professional gardener Joff Elphick of the Pot and Cloche Garden Podcasts loves growing puntarelle and agretti/barba di frate. ‘Puntarelle is something of an obsession in Italy. And I remember taking agretti to the Wilderness Festival and the chefs couldn’t get enough of it. I was backwards and forwards picking it to keep up with demand.’
Agretti or barba di frate is otherwise known as Salsola soda, Friar’s Beard or saltwort. It is a delicacy with a taste somewhere between seaweed and spinach. Serve in salads, stir-fries or lightly steamed.
Puntarelle is a variant of chicory, with light green stems and dandelion shaped leaves. It can be served raw or cooked. For stockists of both, see the end of the post.
The tastiest potatoes….
Once again, there were some unexpected recommendations. Robbie Cave of the Clockhouse Nurseries says that Spunta is one of their most popular sellers. Clockhouse Nurseries have 91 seed potatoes in their list. They don’t do mail order, so if you live too far away, there are suppliers at the end of this post.
New blogger, the Country Cottage Gardener, says she tried four seed potatoes last year, and loved Jazzy. And Julieanne Porter of Gwenfars Garden blog says that ‘ Sante is a good all-rounder and the most divine baked potato I’ve ever grown.’ Available from the Organic Gardening catalogue. She added that she’d like to nominate sorrel, too. ‘It’s a perennial, needs almost no work and rewards you all the year round.’ See her post on sorrel.
Beetroot is a must-have…
One of the great bonuses of growing your own veg is to be able to enjoy unusual varieties. Many people mentioned beetroot as a top vegetable to grow. Steve Mercer (@stevemercer4) is a member of the RHS Veg Trials Forum and he says that ‘Boldor, a golden beetroot, is always on my list.’
Richard Chivers of the allotment blog Sharpen Your Spades also recommends a golden beetroot, Burpees Golden. ‘It’s much sweeter than the reds’.
Everybody loves garlic…
I was amazed by how many people had garlic on their ‘must-grow’ list. I’ve tinkered with growing garlic myself, but not wholly successfully. I was about to give up. However, I am freshly inspired by everyone’s recommendations. Gigi Allen writes a blog on interiors, art, gardens and all things flowery. She says she ‘wouldn’t be without elephant garlic. It’s milder, roasts beautifully and is delicious alone, on kale, or in fish, roasts or pasta. And it does well in my clay soil.’
…and cavolo nero?
Kale and cavolo nero cropped up in many recommendations. Liz of Hay Bulbs, a private botanical collection, says that her family’s health has improved enormously since she started growing cavolo nero, due to its high calcium and magnesium content.
Magnesium is associated with a number of benefits – it aids circulation, helps restless legs and calms horses (my words not hers). When my daughter was heavily involved with riding, I was curious to discover that people were giving their horses magnesium to calm them down. There certainly wouldn’t be any placebo effect on horses!
Personally, I am wedded to kalettes. The whole family loves them, even the kale haters. But maybe this is the year to try cavolo nero.
And other green leaves…
My own personal recommendations of the best vegetable varieties to grow include Swiss chard. I prefer the silver variety, but others like the Rainbow colours. If you pick around the sides, then one plant will crop for months, often during the winter. Travel and lifestyle blog Fossils in my pockets agrees: ‘Swiss chard for me – stir fry, Sunday lunch, spanakopita, Thai curry, soup, pasta sauce, salad…keeps on trucking all winter and always there when you need it.’
I also adore komatsuna or Japanese mustard spinach. It is like spinach, but is easier to grow and less watery.
No veg patch should be without beans…
Brighton allotment holder and artist Pemblebee Art says ‘borlotti beans for me. They’re easy to grow. I just leave them on the vines to dry and when the weather starts to turn, I lay them out to finish drying on a tray in the window. But you could just pod them and eat them fresh or freeze them.’
New blogger Katharine from The Tea Break Gardener says that ‘Cobra’ climbing French beans are her must-have. ‘They look so pretty, with lilac flowers, bountiful green beans and grow up a wigwam so take up very little space.’ Cobra is one of my favourites, too, so that will go on the list.
And an unusual, delicious squash..
I was just going to wrap this up when one more tweet came in from ‘allotment geek and unusual veg enthusiast’ Modern Veg Plot. ‘Winter squash is a must-have for me, and Black Futsu is my favourite variety. It has a nutty flavour, firm flesh and stores well over winter.’ Available from Plant World Seeds.
Where to buy…
No single supplier stocks everything recommended here. I have included stockists for the most unusual ones, such as Japanese Black Trifele tomato and Black Futsu squash, in their entries above.
Amazon stocks a good selection – eleven out of the twenty recommendations. (I am an affiliate, so if you buy I may get a small fee): Sungold and Costoluto Fiorentino tomatoes, sorrel, Spunta seed potatoes, puntarelli, beetroot Burpees Golden, Kalettes, Cobra and Borlotti beans, elephant garlic , komatsuna and Swiss chard.
Mr Fothergill’s also stocks eleven: kalettes, Sungold tomatoes, Jazzy potatoes, agretti, sorrel, beetroot Burpees Golden, Elephant garlic, Swiss chard, komatsuna, Cobra climbing beans and Lingua di fuoco borlotti beans.
Thompson & Morgan have Beetroot ‘Boldor’, kalettes, borlotti beans, Swiss chard, Jazzy potatoes, Sungold tomatoes, Elephant garlic and sorrel, as well as lots of other veg. I particularly like the look of their four variety All Season Long Kale Mix which includes cavolo nero. They also have a ‘5 packets of seeds for the price of 4’ offer on at the moment.
Franchi Seeds of Italy have agretti, puntarelle, sorrel, Costoluto Fiorentino tomatoes, Spunta potatoes and more.
Start the adventure now…
I’ve placed my orders. To buy seeds or seed potatoes for everything in this list cost me around £85 in total, including shipping. Although my maths is not brilliant and I did have to buy from about five different companies so that figure is approximate. I’ll let you know how it all goes (so do subscribe if you’re new here).
It’s really quite exciting to have other people decide what I will grow, rather than dithering over seed catalogues myself. Although, of course, I’ve done my share of dithering, too.
PS: February’s Garden of the Month on the Middlesized Garden YouTube channel is Posy Gentles’ long narrow urban garden. She is mapping out a few changes so if you have a thin town garden, do pop across to see what she’s doing:
Late but great additions…
A few suggestions came in after I first published this post, but they are really good. They must go in. Stephanie Hafferty is the author of No Dig Organic Home & Garden. She writes and talks about no dig (no till in the US) gardening. She suggests Czar Beans – ‘easy to grow and incredibly versatile. Eat as pods as runners or have the white beans fresh or dried. They’re delicious in savoury and even sweet dishes. And you can save the seeds!’
Professional gardener Lou Dowle has a lettuce and a tomato suggestion: Black Krim tomato and ‘Flashy Trout Back’ lettuce, an Australian heritage variety. She also nominates Courgette Costata Romanesco: ‘star-shaped when cut and still tender, even when they get too big.’ See Lou’s brilliant exotic garden, which she shares with her partner, Steven Edney who is head gardener at The Salutation Garden in Sandwich.
And Lynne Aldridge of The Little Blue Shed has another good courgette: ‘Rugosa Friulana from Franchi Seeds of Italy. Gorgeous texture and flavour and very productive. Fruits still good to use when they get a bit bigger, unlike some green varieties.’
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