When the winter chill of January descends on the valley, I usually get a strong desire to curl up in front of the wood stove with seed catalogs and plan my spring-fall vegetable garden. It doesn’t matter if planting season is still 4-5 months away.
I want to plan. I want to dream. I want to buy all the seeds. Too many seeds! So many seeds that I can’t possibly plant and care for them all!
In the end, I’m always saved by my frugal nature and I always end up falling back on these tips for saving money on seeds.
But seeing as the fever is on me once again and seeing as people ask me what varieties of vegetables I grow, I thought it was high time I put my favorites out into the world.
So grab a mug of tea, get cozy in your favorite armchair and let me tell you all about my favorite “usuals” in the garden!
My Favorite Heirloom Vegetables
Before I get started, let me point out that some of these vegetable types may have different names where you live. It often depends on the seed company and your country. Just a heads up! And now? Let’s get started!
I’ve been experimenting with beans in my garden these past several years. I think I’ve found my favorites, but you never know what type of wonderful bean you might stumble across in the future!
Currently, I grow 3 types of beans, and they’re all pole (aka climbing) varieties.
Kentucky Wonder Brown Bean-a few years ago, I discovered this bean and just loved it! The plants produced well and the pods made excellent as snap beans for canning or freezing.
Blue Lake Pole Bean-an acquaintance who also gardens in the north introduced me to this variety last year. Or was it the year before? These pods are also excellent as snap beans and are nearly string less. Definitely a keeper in my books!
Annie Jackson Pole Bean-I’m only going on my 3rd year with this variety. I tried these beans because I wanted to see if I liked growing my own shelling beans. So I initially put in half a row, just enough to get a jar of seed for cooking. And I fell in love with their rich flavor!
They were unlike any dried bean I’d ever tasted before. I could swear someone added butter to them. And their texture was velvet soft in the mouth. Now we don’t eat a ton of beans, but one day I would like to grow enough for our occasional winter chilis and home canned jars of beans.
In my gardens, I sometimes grow yellow beets for summer eating. They have mild flavor and mature quickly. But my staple beet has always been (and likely always will be) the Lutz Green Leaf Beet.
Here’s why I love this variety!
- Lutz beet tops are edible and taste like swiss chard (but are less soapy)
- leafy greens remain tender throughout the year
- beets grow quickly and can be harvested all summer
- you only need to plant once because roots remain tender and crisp, regardless of size
- mature beets reach 5-6 inches in diameter without compromising texture or flavor
- Lutz beets are excellent winter keepers and will hold their crisp texture in the ground, cold room or root cellar!
Late Flat Dutch-this cabbage matures in early autumn and forms very large, very green heads of cabbage. Every year, I have the same thought when I look at the fully formed heads: it looks like someone sat on the cabbages while they were growing.
Yes, they look squished. While the outside circumference is round, the top and bottom side of the cabbage is flat. Hence the name “flat dutch.” I love using these cabbages for sauerkraut.
The rare times I have overwintered one or two in whole form in my cold room, I’ve found that they keep well.
Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage-These cabbages are a deep purple and also mature later in the season. They’re firm, sweet and have tightky formed heads. I use them to make a fermented apple, ginger and beet kraut.
And they’re also supposed to be excellent winter keepers as well.
I love carrots. They’re one of my must haves. And as with beans, I’m always trying new heirloom or open pollinated varieties in the garden. I find that I keep returning to the Scarlet Nantes carrot and also Red Core Chantenay.
Scarlets are sweet, of average size and make wonderful frozen carrots. They’re also winter keepers as well.
Chantenays are short and fat. They are very firm and can grow woody if left in the ground for too long. They’re not as sweet as Scarlets and make wonderful winter storage carrots as well. I like growing them in my garden beds that have clay or heavy soil. They can usually take it better than other carrot types.
I used to grow chard on a regular basis. And then I discovered the tops on my Lutz Green Leaf Beet tasted better than chard and could be used in a very similar manner.
I’m always a fan of vegetables that are dual purpose. So now I just harvest my beet greens and grow other things in the place of chard!
My man and I love sweet corn. But like peas, I don’t love the amount of space corn takes in the garden. Some years I do grow sweet corn, but I’m always trying new varieties. So I really don’t have a type to give you!
When it comes to grinding corn, I do have a favorite (even though I don’t grow it every year)! Floriani Red Flint is my favorite corn to grow for corn flour. Ears are large, red and full. They dry well, are relatively easy to remove from the cob and can be milled into flour in my kitchen grain mill. This flour’s flavor is amazing!
I was a fan of the Morden Early Cucumber from early on. But one year I decided to try growing another pickling cucumber, just to see if there was something better out there. Grow them I did, and preserved several dozen jars of little cucumbers in a brine.
It just so happened that I opened the first jar when we had guests over for lunch after church. Their faces were a study when they ate my homemade dill pickles. And when I had one myself later in the week, I found that my cucumbers were exceedingly bitter!
After opening several more jars to test them, I found they were all very bitter! I decided then and there that Mordens were good enough for me!
And the next time I saw the couple who partook in my bitter cucumbers, the wife gave me a jar of her pickled cucumbers that were absolutely perfect in flavor and texture. I suppose she thought I needed to know what good pickles tasted like? 🙂
That put an end to my experiments with pickling cucumbers. I learned to let well enough alone!
Living in a northern climate, I’ve only ever grown hardneck garlic varieties. And I haven’t tried enough varieties to say with 100% certainty that the two I currently grow are my favorites. In the future, I’d like to try a few more types and possibly even a soft neck. Currently, I grow Russian Reds and Chesnok Reds.
Russian Red-are commonly grown here in our community. I got the seed from a local gardening friend. These spicy, pungent bulbs are delicious, spicy and will last 6+ months in storage.
Chesnok Reds-more recently, I’ve tried the Chesnok at the recommendation of an acquaintance. I can’t decide if I like this variety more than Russian Reds? Cloves tend to be a bit smaller and the flavor seems sweeter and milder. Lovely garlic, this!
Learn more about growing, curing and storing garlic here!
I’ve only recently started growing my own leeks from seed. Currently, I don’t grow an heirloom variety. Instead I grow an organic, open pollinated Tadorna Leek for late summer-early winter harvesting. Here where I live, leeks aren’t as common among gardeners as onions and garlic. But I absolutely love the leek’s sweet and mild flavor in eggs, soups, mashed potatoes and many other savory home cooked dishes.
You might say I favor them over onions.
It seems like I’ve tried growing a hundred different types of loose leaf lettuce in the past 4 years! From fragile to tough, green to red, early to late and everything between…there are so many types you can choose from it’s overwhelming!
But my criteria for a good lettuce?
1) It needs to be slow to bolt in the heat.
2) Lettuce can’t turn bitter if the sun happens to shine for too long (am I the only one who gets tired of growing finicky lettuce types?!).
Last year I found my new favorite. It’s an old heirloom variety called Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce. It grows well, tastes mild, is slow to turn bitter and go to seed. And I love it!
When it comes to onions, I’m still not 100% certain what my favorites are. But I think the Australian Brown Onion might just be rising to the top in my estimation as the best heirloom onion.
It has excellent white flesh, a brown paper peel and seems to be very hardy in the garden. It’s also a wonderful winter keeper. I’m a fan. A real fan!
But I can’t source them as sets here in the northland. So I either have to plan way ahead and seed start onions early in the year or grow my own sets in the garden for the following year’s harvest.
Discover more heirloom onion talk in these posts
When it comes to parsnips, there really aren’t that many heirloom varieties to choose from. I generally grow the Hollow Crown Parsnip. The roots are long, but not too long and store well in the ground or in the cold room.
I’ve tried growing a wide range of peas, and I find myself going back to Amish Snap Peas and sugar snap varieties. Truth be told, I only grow peas for my man. 🙂 Every year, I’m amazed at how much space they take in the garden and how little they produce.
Maybe I’m just not good a growing peas! But if it wasn’t for him, they probably wouldn’t make their way into my vegetable garden at all.
I love me some ‘taters! Home grown spuds always taste so much better and have far more complex flavor than what you get at the grocery store. Every year, a large part of my garden is dedicated to growing a few varieties of these tubers. I’m always trying new types and so to date, I only have 2 absolute favorites.
Sieglinde-this russet potato has a brown peel and buttery yellow insides. So far I would say this variety is a tough one and does well when some of my other varieties have come down with scab and other skin blemishes.
Learn about growing and storing potatoes here!
Yukon Gold-I love this yellow skinned potato because it produces earlier than many other potato types, but it also stores well for winter. It is more prone to developing hollow centers than russet types, but I can forgive it for this because I love having an early-producing potato in my garden!
Hands down, my favorite pumpkin to grow is the Small Sugar Pumpkin. These don’t keep as long in storage as some varieties, but I love the orange-yellow sweet flesh. It’s excellent in baked goods and pumpkin pies!
Here’s my tutorial on storing winter squash and pumpkins!
As with lettuce, I like spinach that acts as little like spinach as possible! I find that Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach is slow to go to seed when the sun warms is up in the spring. As a result, it’s the primary variety I grow.
I’ve grown many different types of winter squash. My current favorite is a winter keeper called Red Kuri. Unlike some winter squash varieties, these are small and yet keep well in a dry, semi-cool place.
There are literally hundreds of heirloom tomatoes you can choose from and try growing in the garden! I usually go for 1-2 new varieties every year. Over time, I’ve found myself gravitating to cherry tomatoes for fresh eating and paste tomatoes for my preserving efforts.
Pink Bumble Bee-this open pollinated cherry tomato is a newfound favorite. While technically not heirloom, I love it’s color, sweet flavor and resistance to cracking. And like heirloom varieties, you can save seed from these little beauties and they’ll reproduce true to type.
Amish Paste Tomato-tried and true, these paste tomatoes always produce full, meaty tomatoes that are excellent for making juice, puree, sauce or just good old, home canned tomatoes.
Oplaka-this paste tomato is probably my favorite for making salsa or dehydrated tomatoes. Of all paste varieties I’ve tried, they have fewer seeds and the lowest water content, which makes for thicker salsas and faster dehydrating.
In spite of (or perhaps because of) the low water content, these paste tomatoes still have a full, rich flavor.
I love turnips, but I don’t often grow them because of grubby white worms. It’s a constant struggle here, both with turnips and radishes.
When I do grow some, I usually choose the Purple Top White Globe. Sweet, hot and juicy, I love eating turnips fresh and I also grate and ferment them with dill (get the recipe here).
Year after year, I find myself returning to and growing the Black Beauty Zucchini. But another variety I’d like to get back to is Zucchinio Rampicante Squash.
Don’t ask me how to pronounce it; all I know is that it’s curvy, green when tender and yellow when mature. It has firmer flesh than other summer squashes and as a result, I love adding it to stir fry because it cooks in about the same length of time as carrots.
Want to preserve zucchini for winter eating?
For those of you who were wondering what my favorite heirloom vegetables for the garden are, now you know!
Oh, I’m aware that this list doesn’t include everything. Some years I grow broccoli. Other years, I grow ground cherries. Sometimes, I grow sweet corn. And sometimes I don’t. I haven’t grown these enough to say for certain that I have favorite varieties. But with some, I think I’ve found my favorites. And with others? I’ll just keep experimenting!
That’s the fun of being a gardener. There’s always something new to try, if you so desire. Who knows what you’ll find?!