One of the things I like most about gardening and growing veggies is trying new varieties every year… just waiting for something to come along and blow me away. And once it does, it makes the permanent list– my “must grow every year” list. That’s what this is. My very favorite vegetable varieties, that I’ve collected through trial and error over 15+ years of gardening!
I get asked about my favorite vegetable varieties all the time, and I am finally putting them all in one place (instead of being smattered all over my Instagram page and largely unsearchable.)
Of course, everyone will have different success with different varieties depending on their climate, soil-type, and gardening karma. I’m in Zone 4 Wisconsin with one main growing season. We grow the majority of our veggies in the ground (as opposed to raised beds). And if you’re curious, I think my gardening karma is average to slightly above average. :)
My favorite tried and true vegetable varieties:
These are a reliable producer and are prolific with large, tender beans. Of all the varieties of green beans I’ve tried, I think these freeze the best.
One of the deepest green snap beans I’ve ever seen. These are a pole bean, so they grow wonderfully straight and uniform plus they’re a joy to pick. They turn even deeper blue-green once cooked or even blanched.
A purple French filet-type, these have the most brilliant purple color with an almost metallic quality. The only thing I don’t like about these, is that they cling tighter to the plant than other varieties, so they often require two hands to pick, lest you rip the whole plant out of the ground.
Beurre de Rocquencourt
Beautiful sunny yellow color, these are large, easy to pick, and are perfect for fresh eating and sautéing. They don’t freeze well, but they do make good canned dilly beans.
Rosso di Lucca
These dried beans are so beautiful with varying shades of pink, rose, and salmon with dark purple-brown stripes and speckles. I love these for minestrone soup and chili… anywhere you would use a kidney bean, these are fantastic! Bonus: they grow on sturdy plants that don’t tend to flop over and get covered with mud and rot!
Eye of the Goat/Ojo de Cabra
Once cooked, these are velvety smooth and seriously so creamy! They have fantastic flavor all on their own and don’t need much else. They are a great choice for a bean side dish where they are the star, but I typically use them in soup and for refried beans.
Good Mother Stallard
One of the first beans I ever grew, these beans are stunning with swirls of purple-y magenta on a background of white, in a way that reminds me of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. These are similar to Eye of the Goat in that they are nutty, full-flavored, and really don’t need much else. I’ve heard Good Mother Stallard referred to as “everybody’s favorite bean!”
I never loved a broccoli variety until I grew this one. It does great in my garden every year. It puts out a nice-sized main head, but the reason I adore it is for its epic side shoots. Once the main head is harvested, it goes to work putting out softball-sized side shoots all summer long, performing decently even during the heat of summer.
Santee Purple Sprouting F1
As a sucker for purple veggies, I’ve tried at least 4 different varieties of purple sprouting broccoli over the years. They’ve never produced well for me until this one. It takes until Fall to get a harvest from it (so not a great choice if you only have a small gardening space where the real estate is extremely precious) but this broccoli is wildly stunning and worth the wait!
The most gorgeous beet with golden glowing orange skin and yellow flesh inside. It’s sweet and has only just a hint of that beet “earthiness.” A great variety to try if you’re not crazy about beets but want to like them.
These are red beets that are elongated and “cylinder” shaped instead of round. They’re easy to cook and process, and make lovely uniform round slices for things like pickled beets.
Pointy like a gnome’s hat, these cabbages are on the smaller side and are quick to finish. Incredibly sweet and tasty, this is the variety I plant in the early spring for harvesting in the middle of summer to make slaw and cabbage salads (though they make a mighty fine kraut too).
The best carrot I’ve ever had, these are as tasty as they are beautiful. They store really well too, which is important to me. The trouble with this variety is that some years the seeds are almost impossible to find. If you ever see them, nab them up!
Danvers 126 Half Long
Old faithful in my garden, I let these grow longer than needed and they produce the biggest, most epic carrots! They last a long time in storage and remain sweet until the end. I always grow a lot of these.
I keep trying other purple carrot varieties and am continually disappointed by them. Cosmic Purple is an old reliable favorite. It is deep purple, sometimes almost brownish purple on the outside, with a yellow and orange center. They are stunning when cut into coins, and they’re always delicious! Not a great keeper though.
This has been another reliable producer for me. It has a beautiful shape, good flavor, and holds its sweetness in storage. This is the variety I typically grow when I can’t get Nectar seeds.
Sometimes called Pennsylvania Dutch Butter as well, this variety has lovely light yellow kernels. In our popcorn tasting trials, this variety had good corn flavor and some of the least prominent hulls.
Cherokee Long Ear
The most gorgeous multi-colored corn, these ears double as falltime decor. They are similar to glass-gem but pop much better in my experience. In our tasting trials, this variety had above average corn flavor and moderately prominent hulls.
A fantastic choice if you’re in a colder climate or have a shorter season– these are always the first variety to finish and are ready a couple weeks before the other two I mentioned above. The kernels of this corn are deep black with a sheen of purple and red in the background. This variety has the most corn flavor, but also the hardest hulls of the three that I routinely grow.
This sweet corn has big sweetness without tasting unnaturally sweet, or lacking in real classic sweet corn flavor. My favorite thing though, is its ability to hold on the plant. Typically, once sweet corn is ready, it’s ready and you pick it all. These ripen, and then keep their flavor and sweetness while holding on the plant for weeks… so we can have fresh corn on the cob for an extended period of time!
CUCUMBER (Slicing/Fresh Eating)
Always tender and sweet, with thin skin and small almost non-existent seeds. I’ve tried quite a few specialty (and expensive) slicing cucumber varieties over the years and this remains my favorite. Seeds for this variety can sometimes be hard to find.
Another variety I’ve been growing for years, these blonde, almost-anemic looking cukes are incredibly sweet and tasty– they’re our favorite for snacking on!
Unlike any cucumber I’ve seen, these have lots of little warty bumps, giving them a unique and interesting appearance. They’re very tasty and can be eaten fresh, though I usually use them for refrigerator pickle slices.
The most gorgeous purple variety, this turns florescent pink in the center when the weather turns cold– it’s quite the looker! After a frost, this variety sweetens and develops a lot of broccoli notes. You’ll always always find this in my garden.
Scotch Blue Curly
Trusty and reliable, this one always makes an appearance in my northern garden because it’s the most cold hardy variety I’ve found… we’re sometimes digging it out of the snow to eat in December! It’s a beautiful blue-green color and very ruffly, which I find charming.
This is a dinosaur or lacinato (flat) kale, but it’s unique because the ribs are purple. It’s a fun and stunning kale!
My other favorite dinosaur-type, this is just a really nice, beautifully dark green kale. It makes the best kale chips and is great in salads.
There are a lot of lettuces that I usually grow, but this is the only one I absolutely must grow every year. It’s a romaine-type, with the leaves being mostly green on the bottom and transitioning to red and purple at the top. It’s called “eruption” because the center heart, not unlike a volcano, has a pink core.
My top favorite onion to grow, these are golden glowing copper orange like the dessert sunset. This is a long day onion, which are the only ones I grow because of my latitude. (Make sure to find out which type you should be growing!) These are great keepers and have wonderful flavor.
Rossa di Milano
A close second place, these are a unique pink color on the outside, and light purple on the inside. Also a great keeper, but not quite as great as Sedona. You know the compounds in onions that make them good for you? This variety has been reported to have the highest amount of some of those good things!
Red Carpet F1
Another good keeper, this is the red variety I grow every year. It’s my preferred type for eating raw in things like salads and salsa.
Purple Lady Bok Choy
Deep dark violet purple on top, with green on the underside of the leaves, these are remarkable in looks and taste. A great little mini bok choy perfect for stir frying or eating fresh in salads.
A really fantastic, classic bok choy. I plant this early in spring and late in fall because it withstands the cold weather very well.
Scarlette Napa Cabbage F1
One of my very favorite things of all time to grow, this is an unbelievably gorgeous pinkish-purple-magenta napa cabbage. It’s wonderful sautéed or eaten raw in salads. Another variety that I grow early in spring and late in fall because it loves the cold and doesn’t love the heat.
I just adore this golden yellow podded pea. I always grow an assortment of colors, and I always include this one. It’s tasty and looks lovely in a basket with purple and green varieties.
This is a vibrant purple snow pea from Row 7 Seeds– which is a company that partners with chefs and breeds varieties for flavor. It’s a great pea pod, and a pretty one too!
Candy Cane Red F1
The only specific pepper variety I must grow (I always grow bells, jalapeños, and poblanos too, but am not married to any particular variety with those). These are sweet, full of amazing flavor, and are uniquely striped with colors from red and orange to yellow and green. The foliage of the plant is variegated too– everything about this pepper is just wonderful.
If I could only grow one potato variety, it might be this one. It’s an all-purpose potato, which means it’s great for just about anything you want to make with it. The flesh inside is sunny butter yellow. This is a medium keeper– it lasts a good long time in my root cellar, though not as long as the Russets.
A really unique very large fingerling potato, these are the size of a child’s arm and they look like red bananas coming out of the earth when you dig them! The flesh inside is mostly white or cream colored with some streaks of pink. I love these for soups and for pan-frying.
Norkotah & Burbank Russet
I’ve grown both of these for years, and I can’t really tell a difference between them in either taste or production, so I just continue to grow both. They are common varieties in the upper midwest and are my first choice for baked fries and mashed potatoes. Fun fact: Burbank is the same variety that McDonalds uses for their fries.
Very mild, very easy to grow, and fast growing. It’s not spicy, and it’s not super fast to bolt when the heat of late-Spring sets in.
A classic radish, this one has just a touch more heat than Pink Beauty. It’s elongated instead of being round, so it looks extra fancy and elegant.
I’ve tried a lot of green zucchini varieties over the years, and this is the one I’ve landed on as having good flavor and good productivity. I like that it doesn’t seem to get too leathery or pithy inside when it gets a little bigger.
The coloring of this squash always blows me away– it has a light green color with almost a netted look to it. Good flavor and good productivity too.
This was the squash that turned Karl from a squash-hater to a squash-liker! This is a highly sweet and flavorful variety, and my only gripe with it is that it requires a little bit longer growing season than we typically have– so it’s always a race to see if it will finish here.
Autumn Frost F1
Probably the most stunningly beautiful squash variety I’ve grown, these compact squash are ribbed and light orange in color with a white-washed frosted bloom overtop. They’re great tasting too!
There are many different varieties of delicata available, and this is the one I’ve landed on. It grows well for me, and I like that it has a little deeper caramel beige color rather than being brighter yellow on the outside.
A new variety for me last year and a definite keeper! First of all, they were prolific and were ready for harvest before our first frost. The flesh inside is dense like a kabocha squash (because they are a type of kabocha) and has tons of complex squash flavor. The interesting thing about this variety is that it actually sweetens over time in storage– in fact, you’re not supposed to eat it right away after harvest, but let it sit for a couple months first. I ate one in December and it was sweet indeed! It was up there with some of the best squash I’ve had. Its shape is also cute, and the outside is a lovely earthy blue color. Total winner!
This is a squash that is grown for its “naked seeds” and not for its flesh (the flesh is bland and we compost it). The seeds inside are superb! Think pepitas but larger and with a really nutty, buttery, almost walnut-like taste. They’re fun!
Small Wonder Spaghetti F1
These are little mini softball to melon-sized spaghetti squash, which I prefer because I’m the only one in this house who cares to eat spaghetti squash.
A juicy cherry tomato with all the deep tomato notes that most darker tomatoes have. I’m drawn to the color of this– it’s such a beautiful and unexpected color. It’s never that prolific for me, but I grow it every year anyways.
It really does look like a sunrise, with streaks of red and orange on a yellow background. Another stunner, this one is sweet and has good tomato flavor, though it’s not the most flavorful tomato ever. It looks mighty nice in a bowl of mixed color tomatoes and I just can’t stop growing it.
My favorite red cherry tomato. It’s meaty for a cherry, has very good sweetness, a nice hit of acid, and plenty of rich tomato flavor for such a small package! The most striking “true red” color, these are gorgeous and an all around great tomato.
If I could only grow one tomato, it would be this one. It’s wildly prolific– it’s the first tomato to produce in the spring, and the last to stop in the fall. She’s an absolute work horse! Juliet tomatoes are often described as a “small roma,” so they are bigger than a standard cherry tomato but smaller than most paste tomatoes. They excel at everything… I use them for saucing, making fresh salsa, slicing on salads, and they’re my absolute favorite for making oven-roasted sun-dried tomatoes.
A mighty fine tomato for making sauce, this variety has good flavor, and I love that it’s on the larger size and a little more substantial than most other paste tomatoes.
Pomodoro Squisito F1
This is another newer tomato for me, but one that I fell in love with quickly! These tomatoes are oblong and cylinder shaped… they’re just super neat looking. Good flavor and super meaty inside makes these tomatoes a joy to peel and turn into sauce.
Another classic, these have some of the best flavor of any paste tomato I’ve grown. Plus they’re super prolific! The only downside is that they aren’t as substantial and meaty as some other varieties.
My very favorite tomato for fresh eating during the summer! This is the tomato I want on my BLT– one slice fills the entire piece of bread. I love the color and shape of these– they’re really feminine with a beautiful rosy red-pink color, and have a lovely shape with ribbing at the top. They have a great balance of sweetness and acidity and amazing tomato flavor.
This was one of the first heirloom tomatoes I ever grew when I started gardening on my own long long ago, and I’ve been growing them ever since! These are huge, and mostly deep yellow or golden color with red streaks running through them inside. They’re meaty and heavy, and have a really nice acidity. They are one of the later producing varieties, often the last variety I harvest… but they’re worth the wait!
My favorite seed companies:
Folks always ask me where I like to order seeds from, and my answer is usually, “from whoever has what I want!” My gardening style has changed over the years as I’ve gotten more experienced. When I first started, I would sit down with one seed catalog, circle everything I wanted from that one place, and order. Now, I know what varieties I want to grow, and I buy from whoever has them. While I do try to order from as few places as possible (to save on shipping costs), I order from as many as it takes.
There are SO many great seed companies out there, and I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface. Here are some of my favorites!
A solid seed company with high quality seeds and a great selection. This company has one of the best selections of the things on my “must grow every year” list, and they’ve always got something new and exciting that I just have to have. I also appreciate that they give free shipping on orders over $50… which I most certainly always attain. (Linked here is my affiliate link— if you’re going to buy seeds from High Mowing, I’d sure appreciate if you went through my link!)
Between Territorial and High Mowing is where I order the most seeds from. Territorial has a really great selection of both hybrid and open-pollinated varieties. They are generous with the seed amounts, and are very high quality as well.
Always a great selection with something unique. I don’t order from Adaptive every single year, but I have them on rotation and take a look at their offerings every once in a while because they do have some neat things. A solid seed company doing great work! They specialize in seeds adapted to the PNW, so if you’re in that area, definitely give them a try!
They get a mention simply because they have some of the rarest and most unique varieties you’ll find, and I’ve been ordering from them for a long time. Every year they come out with something amazing that I’ve never heard of and never seen before. I almost always order a few things from them, and I appreciate that they have free shipping on any size order. I don’t think the germination rate of their seeds is as good as some other companies (though it’s certainly acceptable), and I also don’t love how they alter photos of vegetables in their catalog and on their website to be much brighter than they actually are– it feels misleading sometimes.
I really like this company– they offer only heirloom seeds (you won’t find any hybrids here), and the selection that they have is really solid. This is the first company I ordered seeds from long ago, and I think it’s a great option for beginner gardeners, especially if you feel overwhelmed. Seed Savers loves to share the stories that come with the seeds, and I think that is so cool! I love knowing about the family that a variety came from, or the history of how certain varieties of seeds ended up in our hands today. I know that whatever I order from them is going to be a great choice.
Maine Potato Lady
Easily the most interesting and largest selection of potato varieties I’ve seen, Maine Potato Lady has such an amazing variety of seed potatoes available. They are a little on the spendy side, and shipping costs are high, so I only order really special varieties that I can’t get anywhere else.
I’ve ordered seed potatoes from Seed Savers a few times and have always found them to be good quality. They don’t have a huge selection, but what they do have are great varieties.
… or Buy Local
There are several local greenhouses in my area that always have a great selection of good quality seed potatoes. Bonus: no shipping costs and I typically get to hand select the potatoes myself, which the type A in me delights in. I highly recommend considering somewhere local for your seed potatoes!
Filaree Garlic Farm
An amazing selection of great quality garlic! Filaree is one of the leaders in seed garlic.
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