The First Time Gardener: Selecting Vegetable Varieties
Choosing what to plant every year is an exciting (if somewhat frustrating) process. Ever since I was a child, I remember being excited when the new seed catalogs would start to arrive. I would flop down on the floor or the couch and scour them for what I thought we should buy and plant. Usually I’d end up with a long list of flowers along with the list of the same vegetables we always planted. As I have moved into fruit and vegetable gardening, especially from a professional standpoint, I find myself much more excited about the different varieties of vegetables available.
In the last 5-10 years, heirloom varieties have been making a comeback, so the available options have expanded. Commercial seed breeders have also responded to the market’s desire for more colorful and interesting vegetables, so there are many options for both hybrid seed and open-pollinated seed.
As a beginning gardener, where should you start when choosing varieties to grow? How do you wade through the oodles of seed options? How can you determine what will be successful and what won’t?
Here are some guidelines to consider:
- Expense – some seeds are simply more expensive than others
- Disease resistance – often varieties that have been developed for disease resistance will thrive more than others.
- Days to maturity – this tells you how long after planting (either seeding or transplanting) to expect a harvest
- Seed or Transplant? – Know if the vegetable should be planted outdoors from seed or transplants. If you aren’t ready to try starting seeds indoors, pass up buying those seeds and stick with plants from a local garden center.
- Mature plant size – As tempting as that heirloom tomato might be, the vines take up a LOT of space. A compact variety might be a better choice.
- Fun for the kids – If you will be gardening with kids, choose a couple varieties that are colorful or otherwise unique and interesting.
It is always a good idea when you are starting out (or even if you have been gardening for years) to try several different varieties of each vegetable. Select one or two “tried and true” varieties, but then branch out. Try at least one or two new and different varieties of some type of vegetable every year. You may find something better, or you may just have a good story to tell!
If you are just getting started, we have a list of Recommended Vegetable Varieties (pdf) that can be your guide for the “tried and true” varieties.
For a more extensive list of tomatoes (including some heirlooms), we also have the Recommended Tomato Varieties for Kansas 2009 (pdf).