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The Holiday season is filled with all kinds of observances, some festive and some solemn, some well-known and some obscure. Although one won't find this on any calendar, between Christmas Day and New Year's Day the United States Postal Service will begin to deliver gardening catalogs to anyone who has placed a mail order for a packet of seed in the past half-decade. And what a delight it is to paw through the bright, glossy pages, thick with radiant photos of fruits and vegetables! Page-after-page of dazzling new cultivars from the proving grounds in the Pacific Northwest, obscure and ancient heirlooms saved from the brink of extinction from some Hungarian grandma in the wilds of New Hampshire and the tried-and-true customer favorites sure to be the center piece of any family picnic, barbeque and cookout.

What a jolly time it is to spend hours plotting and planning away at your garden-to-be while the ground lay frozen outside under a blanket of snow, I know. But what about someone new to gardening? There seems to be so much to choose from. The seed catalogs and online sites seem to promise a cornucopia of healthy fruits and vegetables for your family table. Few, however, have the luxury of land available to grow everything and anything they set their hearts upon. If you did have a thousand square feet to sow your Victory Garden, believe me, doing all of the preparation and the sowing and the transplanting and weeding and watering and harvesting throughout the year takes a lot of time and effort. Anyone who has kept a garden for more than a few consecutive years has learned to temper their aspirations with a mind for conservation and economy.

With this in mind, I would like to share with the gardeners of the upper-Midwest, a selective guide to gardening vegetable crops. Herein are some practical considerations for why you might want to allocate your time, money and efforts to some crops and why you might want to consider abstaining from these. This, of course, is a entirely subjective list and based not only from my own experiences, but of a culmination of my own mind and tastes. Good harvests to you!





REASONS TO GROW THIS VEGETABLE REASONS NOT TO GROW THIS VEGETABLE
SWEET PEAS Vastly superior homegrown flavor. Not readily available in supermarkets or in farmstands. Easy to grow and one of the first crops to flower and mature. Short window to pick for peak sweetness. Soil must be workable very early in spring.
ONIONS Easy to grow from transplants. Many different cultivars, very productive yields possible, many with excellent storage. Delicate plants with shallow roots can require patient hand weeding. Onions must cure in a large, very well ventilated area for over a week once harvested. Growing from seed is cheaper but more difficult and time consuming.
GREEN BEANS/LIMA BEANS Prince of the early summer side dish. Good variety, many of which cannot be found in stores. Pole beans can climb fences allowing for vertical gardening. Bush Beans are extremely prolific. Easy to grow. Other varieties can be grown for dry bean production. Some bean cultivars must be protected from Japanese Beetles
TOMATOES Easy to transplant. Exceptional variety to choose from. Reknowned homegrown flavor. Very productive and continuous yields possible in late Summer. Difficult and slow to grow from seed. Susceptible to disease, especially if crowded or if there is a wet Summer. May not thrive if the Summer is insufficiently hot. Supermarket and farmstand availability of superior tasting and heirloom varieties are becoming seasonally abundant.
KALE/COLLARDS Relatively easy to start from seed indoors. Many heat tolerant cultivars will last until the ground freezes in the Winter. Many varieties require a lot of garden space. Cold, overcast Springs may result in insufficient growth and sudden warmth will cause pre-mature bolting in sensitive varieties.
GARLIC Easy to grow from transplants. Many different cultivars. Very productive yields possible and many with excellent storage. Transplants require starting beds the previous fall, which may complicate crop rotation plans. Growing from seed is cheaper but more difficult and time consuming.
BROCCOLI Easy to start indoors from seed. Large plants are easy to weed. Choose varieties with good side-shoot production for continuous yields. Cold, overcast Springs may result in insufficient growth before heads develop. Individual plants require a lot of garden space.
OKRA Uncommon in supermarkets and at farmstands. High Yields when tended to properly. Requires a lot of space. Performs poorly during cool Summers.
SPINACH Satisfaction of sowing seed as soon as soil thaws and harvesting something in May. Many varieties are very cold resistant and can survive hard freezes. Soil must be workable very early in spring. Cold, overcast Springs may result in insufficient growth and sudden warmth will cause pre-mature bolting. Short harvest season and common year round in supermarkets.
CABBAGE Easy to start indoors. Large plants are easy to weed. Many heat tolerant cultivars. Cold, overcast Springs may result in insufficient growth in some varieties before heads develop resulting in poor yields. Requires a lot of garden space. Large harvests require unrealistically large refrigeration space. Many varieties are common in supermarkets year round and inexpensive seasonally at farmstands.
BROAD/FAVA BEANS Hard to find in stores. Makes a good cover/nitrogen fixing crop if sown in late Summer even if beans are not harvested. Requires a lot of space. Low yielding in my experience. Hulling the beans is labor intensive.
SUMMER SQUASH/ZUCHINNI Extremely prolific. Good variety in cultivars. Very susceptible to total crop loss from disease carrying insects such as the squash bug. Many varieties are common in supermarkets year round and can be found at farmstands everywhere. After heavy rains, every neighbor who has a garden will be giving oversized fruits away.
CUCUMBERS Extremely prolific. Good variety of cultivars. Very succeptible to total crop loss from disease carrying insects such as the cucumber beetle. Many varieties are common in supermarkets year round and dirt cheap seasonally at farmstands.
PEPPERS Unparalleled variety of cultivars to grow. Heavy and continuous harvests are possible in late Summer. Very common seasonally at farmstands. Many varities available year-round in supermarkets. Performs poorly during cool Summers. Personally, I tend to have healthy plants that don't produce fruit.
EGGPLANTS Many different cultivars to choose from. Continuous harvests are possible in late Summer. Must be protected from Flea Beetle damage. Performs poorly during cool Summers. I personally have failed to experience heavy harvests.
POTATOES Heavy yields are possible. Stores well in a cool dry place. Easy to grow from tubers. Very labor intensive to cultivate beds and to harvest. Poor yields are possible.
LOOSELEAF LETTUCE Continuous production is possible in late spring. Many different varieties to choose from, many of which are heat resistant. Cold, overcast Springs may result in insufficient growth and sudden warthm will cause pre-mature bolting. Large yields require a lot of refrigerated storage space.
RADISHES Easy to grow. Soil must be workable very early in spring. Satisfaction of harvesting something in May. Can be used as a trap crop for Flea Beetles. Do you even like radishes?
RUTABAGA/TURNIPS Easy to start indoors from seed. An easy Autumn crop, provided you protect transplants from slugs and caterpillars. Stores well in a cool dry place. Transplants must be protected from slugs and caterpillars. Require a lot of space in the garden.
BEETS/CHARD Easy to grow from seed, especially in a seed tape. Many different varieties. Can be used for the leaves in a salad or for the root. Roots can spend a longer time in the soil without splitting (like carrots) so do not have to be harvested all at once. One root makes a lot of juice for cheap. Beets and chard are a nutrient hog. Common beets can be bought rather inexpensively.
SWEET CORN King of the summer side dish. Many different varieties to choose from. High yielding. Easy to grow. Requires a lot of space: pollinated by wind, many plants must be planted for uniform pollination. Tall plants will cast a long shadow into other crops which will then get blown down in high winds and thunderstorms. Birds and varmints may then wreck harvests. Some varieties have a very short harvest window for optimum sweetness. Large harvests all at once require unrealistically large refrigeration space. Many varieties are common in supermarkets year round and inexpensive seasonally at farmstands.
HEAD/ROMAINE LETTUCE Easy to start indoors from seed. Cold, overcast Springs may result in insufficient growth before heads develop or bolt. Large harvests require unrealistically large refrigeration space. Many varieties are common in supermarkets year round and inexpensive seasonally at farmstands
BRUSSELS SPROUTS If timed correctly, can produce heavy yields. Transplants must be protected from slugs and caterpillars. Requires a lot of space. Tricky to get the timing right: started too early and the sprouts may bolt on the stalks, too late or too cold or cloudy of an autumn and the plant won't have sufficient growth to yield. Seasonally common at farmstands and supermarkets.
MUSKMELONS/CANTELOUPE Vines will climb wire fences to save space. Many uncommon cultivars cannot be found in supermarkets. High yields are possible. Rambling vines require a lot of space to grow. Very succeptible to total crop loss from disease carrying insects. Many varieties are common in supermarkets year round and inexpensive seasonally at farmstands.
ASPARAGUS Once established, a large bed will produce for close to a decade. Perennial beds require a lot of room (hundreds of crowns) to yield large enough to make a meal out of and take several years to develop. Very labor intensive to prepare these beds which then cannot be a part crop rotation plans. Seasonally very common at supermarkets and farmstands.
WINTER SQUASH Excellent storage properties. Rambling vines require a lot of space to grow. Succeptible to total crop loss from disease carrying insects. Many varieties are common in supermarkets year round and inexpensive seasonally at farmstands.
CARROTS Heavy yields possible. Many varieties to choose from. Small seed and slow growth makes this difficult to start and to weed. Many heirloom varieties are have become popular in supermarkets year round and inexpensive seasonally at farmstands. Must harvest before the roots split and heavy harvests take a lot of room to refrigerate.
CAULIFLOWER Many unusual varieties to choose from that won't be found in stores. Otherwise, common varieties can be found year-long in supermarkets. Cold, overcast Springs may result in insufficient growth before heads develop resulting in small yields. Plants require a lot of room.
WATERMELONS Pass. Watermelons require consistent warmth uncommon in the upper Midwest for heavy, sweet melons. Rambling vines require a lot of room. As with other melons, susceptible to diseases. It is more fun to go hunting n strange neighborhoods for that guy who has a pickup truck full of really good melons from down south.
BROCCOLI RAAB Hard pass. Cold, overcast Springs may WILL result in insufficient growth and sudden warmth will cause pre-mature bolting.