A truly wonderful vegetable garden does not just need plants that are healthy and pest-free; it should have variety, too.
Fortunately, there are plenty of vegetables out there that will help you get the most out of your garden space. While some require a lot of room and don't return much in the way of quantity, a number of vegetables will make the most of your space.
There are more than 1,100 different varieties of tomatoes; no matter how you like them, there's a variety for your preference. The vegetables themselves can be a traditional red or green and even come in shades of yellow, orange, purple and black. They can be the size of a cherry or weigh up to 2 lbs. Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables in the United States, second only to their close relative, the potato. Even though they originated in Peru, they're now grown all over the world.
Tomato plants don't need a lot of space in the garden, and as a general rule, a healthy plant will bear bushels of vegetables during the growing season. Some varieties, called "indeterminate," will continue to grow until they are killed by cold weather or frost and will keep producing throughout.
As an added bonus, tomatoes are being looked at as one of nature's preventatives of cancer. In a 1995 Harvard study, researchers found that tomatoes contain a chemical called lycopene, which is thought to protect cells against cancer.
There are five different types of lettuce - loose-leaf, cos (romaine), stem (asparagus lettuce), crisphead and butterhead. Most of the lettuce planted in gardens is of the loose-leaf type; these are rows of lettuce where the leaves bloom (loosely, as the name suggests) from a single stalk. The lettuce that is most frequently found in grocery stores is iceberg, a type of crisphead lettuce that is popular because of its ability to withstand being shipped long distances.
However, fresh lettuce has its advantages over grocery store iceberg. Iceberg lettuce has almost no nutritional value; it is made mostly of water. Its taste comes from whatever is put on it. Fresh lettuce from the garden, however, means a summer-long supply of crispy, flavorful leaves that can be made into salads that don't even need dressing and contain fiber, vitamin A, carbohydrates and potassium.
Lettuce does not do well in cooler temperatures and should be planted in the spring after the last frost. Many types of lettuce will continuously produce leaves throughout the summer, and the lettuce can be picked as soon as it's deemed large enough.
The radish is a low-maintenance root vegetable. Because they are so durable, a number of different crops can be planted throughout the growing season. Radishes planted in the cooler spring weather will mature during the summer, and late crops can even be planted at the end of summer to mature in the early fall. Not much room is needed for the radish, making it ideal for small gardens, window boxes and even city roof or balcony gardens.
Take care when harvesting radishes; because they are woody root vegetables, they can turn bad quickly. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, as long as they are in plastic bags.
The roots of the radish are full of potassium, fiber, folate and vitamin C. Most people also forget that the leaves are edible as well.