As with life, years of gardening experience yield knowledge—so remember that there'll be mistakes and learning along the way! Here are three crops that have always been winners for me.
The more you grow, the more you know.
An old-time once shared this adage, after I’d recounted a series of crop failures in my early gardening days. Back then, I simply followed the directions on the backs of seed packets and queried other gardeners when things didn’t go as I’d hoped. The old gardener had given me a couple of good tips, but at the time, I took his parting comment as slightly patronizing.
The more you grow, the more you know.
By now an old-timer myself, I’ve come to appreciate his blunt wisdom. The best part of being a longtime gardener: having slowly accumulated a genuine abundance of deep, detailed knowledge about the specific needs of each crop I grow: the fertility and pH requirements, when to plant and transplant, what (if any) support it needs, how much space to give each individual plant for best growth and productivity, the most critical times to water, the diseases and insect pests they’re likely to attract (and how to prevent or get rid of them), when to harvest, how to preserve for winter.
Equally important, I know a lot about choosing varieties with just the right combination of plant characteristics and flavor.
Here are three examples of varieties I discovered along the garden path:
Sugar Cube cantaloupe
Sugar Cube is a small, deep-orange melon, with exquisite flavor, due in part to its 14 percent sugar content, higher than that of any other cantaloupe. It's a short-season melon-grower's dream:The plants are compact (don’t take much space), highly productive over a long season, and more resistant to disease and insect predation than other melons I've grown.
I freeze a lot of melons for winter use when fresh fruit is pricey, and this is where Sugar Cube comes into its own. While the flavor of the many other melon varieties I’ve grown tend to wash out after months in the freezer, Sugar Cube maintains nearly all of its mouth-watering flavor frozen and partially thawed. We’ve been eating them for breakfast almost every day for a month.
E-Z pick beans
I’ve been growing this bush bean as my only green bean for many years. The plants grow upright (no staking) on strong stems; they resist bean diseases and the Japanese beetles that ravage other bean varieties. The long, slender pods arrange themselves in long stem clusters high on the plant and pull easily from the main stem. They tend to set their pods all at the same time—which is great for gardeners like me who like to freeze a lot of them. I stagger several plantings over the season so I have them for fresh eating from mid-July until late September.
E-Z Pick has a refined beany flavor and a deep green color that makes them look especially inviting on the plate. I try to pick them while they’re still slender and tender, especially for freezing. If they get a little big for freezing whole, I use my bean slicer to slice them lengthwise, which retains better flavor in the frozen product.
This gem of a berry combines large size (even the largest ones never get punky or hollow), huge yields over a short picking season, hardiness, and superior flavor, especially when frozen whole. I freeze about three-quarters of my harvest as whole berries. Other varieties taste as good, produce as well, and freeze well, But Jewel tends to produce its whole crop over a brief two-week harvest season, which means buckets to wash and freeze at once, but an end to the strawberries just when the raspberries begin bearing in early July.
I could go on: Carmen peppers, Bel Fiore radicchio, Muir lettuce, Juliet tomatoes.
Gardens are places to learn, to try, to struggle, to celebrate, and to fail. I’ve played the long game, and it’s worth it. The old-timer was dead right, The more I grow, the more I know.
Not just with gardening, either. I find it’s an apt metaphor for most of life, don't you?