Southeast Wisconsin has the best growing season in the state thanks to the moderating effect of Lake Michigan. Most of this corner of the state (except for the area around Holy Hill and the upland area between Burlington and Lake Geneva) has seen its last freeze by the first week in May and will be able to grow vegetables until the first week in October. Area gardens grow a diverse group of vegetables.
The Side of the Road
The roadside stand is alive and well in southeastern Wisconsin due to the large number of family farmers. Hand-lettered signs along highways and country roads provide a list of vegetables that thrive on a small scale in the area. Beginning in spring with asparagus, the summer brings beans, tomatoes, sweet corn and onions. Fall brings squashes of all varieties, popcorn and carts piled with pumpkins.
Southeast Wisconsin Farming
Soybeans and potatoes are the most-grown crops in Wisconsin and are popular in the southeastern part of the state as well. Area farmers also grow beans, peas, celery, Chinese cabbage and greens as well as cole crops including broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Root crops include carrots and beets. Hardware stores throughout the area serve up barrels of red, white and yellow onion sets in early spring. Buy them fast, though, because the barrels will be empty by the beginning of May. The Tree Farm in Cross Plains just west of Madison markets evergreens at holiday time, but during the rest of the year their offerings include acorn squash, arugula, eggplant, dai-kon, kohlrabi, parsnips, tomatillos and winter melon (or wax gourd).
Home Garden Favorites
Southeasterners grow two crops of lettuce, spinach and other leafy greens each summer in cold frames and balcony container gardens. Most gardeners will try a tomato or two, although late blight and soil-borne viruses have encouraged the use of “VFN” hybrids that are disease-resistant. Rhubarb is another backyard favorite. String and pole beans help condition garden soil as well as provide food for the table. Cucumbers, peppers and zucchini provide vegetables for pickling and baking. Horseradish is a German favorite. Local plant sales include herbs like basil, oregano, chervil, parsley and many varieties of mint, including native catmint.