The National Gardening Association did a survey on the top ten garden vegetables. The winners are:
No surprise here. Even gardeners who don’t like to eat tomatoes love to grow them. Give tomatoes at least two feet of space between plants, keep the soil moist (drip irrigation works best for this), and plant chives near the base of the tomatoes to ward off insects. Planting marigolds around the border of the garden will help to fend off those pesky nematodes.
Eaten raw or turned into pickles, this member of the gourd family is also a relative of squash and cantaloupes. They perform extremely well when trellised, which also makes harvesting quite a bit easier. Full sunlight and well-draining soil are a must to get the most out of your cukes, and you should harvest when still green to avoid bitter cucumbers. Good companion plants include carrots and dill.
Bells, banana peppers, and pimentos are common varieties of sweet peppers found in home gardens. Trickier than tomatoes, sweet peppers set their fruit when the temperature stays between 60 and 90 degrees. Space your sweet pepper plants about two feet apart, and don’t forget to mulch.
Beans are some of the easiest, most nutritious vegetables that you can plant, and there are several varieties of bush beans, pole beans, and lima beans that do well in the Texas garden. Full sun and a moist, well-draining soil will improve your chances of getting a great harvest. Be sure to mulch the beans to keep them from drying out.
Carrots do best when grown in a sandy, loamy, soil. Once the seed sprouts the carrot sends out its tap root. Bits of rock or tough material will cause this root to change course, deforming the carrot. Raised bed gardening is great for growing carrots. Thin to three inches between plants once the seedlings are about three inches high.
One of the most popular varieties of summer squash is Zucchini. It’s also one of the most prolific, and will take over the garden if you let it. We first planted zucchini when I was a child; four mounds of zucchini eventually took over about thirty feet of fence and a swing set. That year my mother put it in almost every dish she made (she even used it in a cake!).
Be sure to plant a “short day” variety of onion for the Texas garden. Onions can take up to 120 days to harvest; Bermuda, Red Burgundy, and Texas Super Sweet are standouts.
Hot peppers have been around for about 10,000 years, and have been used in folk medicine remedies since their discovery. The heat of the hot pepper is from a naturally occurring substance called capsium. The level of heat varies according to the variety and ripeness of the pepper. They help to prevent hardening of the arteries, improve circulation, lower triglycerides and help with your cholesterol by reducing the oxidation of LDLs, lowering your risk of heart attack and stroke. Hot peppers also lower the risk of certain types of cancer, and improve your breathing by opening up your sinuses. The endorphin rush you get from a hot pepper leads to a general sense of well being, akin to a “runners high” that some joggers get during a workout. Some researchers also suggest that hot pepper consumption can even aid weight-loss by raising your metabolism.
There are hundreds of varieties of hot peppers. Most prefer sandy soil and a sunny location.
A cool weather crop, lettuce is perfect for early spring and late fall plantings. There are several varieties that do well in Texas.
Peas need essentially the same growing condition as beans, and there are about twenty varieties of pea that work for the Texas garden. There are bush varieties and vine varieties, English, snap, and Southern. My great grandparents used to grow purple hull peas, and while I like purple hulls my favorite variety is the sugar snap, preferably eaten while I’m meandering through the garden.