The old adage “variety is the spice of life” was never more true than in the vegetable garden. If you’ve been planting the same varieties of tomatoes, bell peppers, bush beans, and lettuce for years, it’s time to try something different.
I try new varieties of the old favorites (tomatoes & peppers) just about every year. But recently, I’ve expanded my range a bit so that I try a whole new variety of vegetable each season. There have been failures (bronze fennel was not my favorite, black turtle beans were delicious, but not very productive, and I’m still trying to come up with a variety of cauliflower that is edible in our hot, hot climate!), but there have also been some vegetables that have moved from a garden trial to an annual favorite.
There is an element of the unknown in trying new vegetables, so start small with just 1-2 new types. A whole garden filled with vegetables you haven’t grown before could mean disaster in the form of total crop failure.
Here are a few vegetables that I have tried over the past five years or so that now make a regular appearance in my garden:
Rhubarb – Although my husband is not a huge fan, Lily, Gabriel & I love the tart taste of rhubarb. I have a plant that was well-established when we bought our first house in 1999 and it made the move with us to Lyons. It is so tasty that I nursed it almost 9 months in a pot before it could find a permanent spot in our new yard. Although I’ve grown rhubarb–which was a mainstay of the traditional vegetable garden–for years, I often hear that people haven’t tried it either because they didn’t know it would grow here, or because they thought it was hard to get established. OK, it is a little difficult to get established, but like asparagus, once established it will produce with very little help for many years.
Fennel – Unlike its more ornamental cousin, bronze fennel, Italian style bulb fennel is tender, tasty, not invasive, and easy to grow. I’ve grown fennel both from seedlings that I started indoors or from direct-sowing in the garden and have had success both ways. This year, I’m trying two new varieties (Zefa Fino and Finnochio) of Italian fennel and am looking forward to grilling it all summer long. This bulb is a good keeper too if kept wrapped tight in plastic wrap in the fridge, and its crunchy texture will be welcomed in January!
Fava or Broad Beans – I was introduced to Fava Beans when I lived in England from 2001-2003 and, although the seeds are difficult to procure (even if you find them, they seem to sell out fast!), I have noticed that they seem to be catching on in Boulder County and now several farmers sell them at the market. Planted with peas in early spring, these large beans are delicious sauteed with garlic and sage and tossed into your favorite pasta dish, onto bruschetta, or as a stand-alone side dish. I’m growing Ianto’s Yellow and Windsor this year, having grown Windsor last year with fair success (especially considering that I mistakenly planted them with the beans in May last year instead of with the peas in March!).
And new this year…Celeriac – I can’t necessarily recommend growing celeriac since my very first crop just went into the ground this weekend. But I do know that I love its crisp, mildly-celery-flavored root and that this is another crunchy vegetable that will keep all winter long if stored properly. A common salad vegetable in Europe, Celeriac is another vegetable that I find occasionally here and hope to see more of in coming years.