One of my absolute favourite things about growing our own food is the variety we can grow. When you start growing food you realise how restrictive buying from the shops can actually be. Most varieties of fruit and vegetables grown for supermarkets are primarily grown for productivity and shelf life. Furthermore, many varieties don’t make it to the shelves because they aren’t ‘normal’ looking.
When you grow your own food there is an endless selection to choose from, so it is worth experimenting and trying to grow different varieties so you can find your favourites. Growing a range of varieties is also great for the planet too. It encourages biodiversity and also helps preserve seed varieties for future generations. This is so important, because since the beginning of the last century, we have lost a whopping 94% of seed variety. If this is of concern to you, then I recommend trying to grow heritage varieties as much as possible and avoiding F1 hybrids. I go into more details on the pros and cons of F1 varieties here.
This year, I am growing a large range of varieties for an experiment to see which work best for me. Hopefully in future years I can select my favourites and narrow the list down a little, but this will definitely provide a great opportunity to compare varieties. Please note that I am growing many more varieties than mentioned in this post. The ones that have made it on here are the ones I am most excited about. I am aware that many varieties may be out of stock at this time, or for many it is too late to sow, but there’s nothing stopping you adding them to your list for next year 😉
Tomatoes are possibly my favourite vegetable (or fruit?) to grow. In the UK, shop bought just doesn’t come close to homegrown so they should definitely be a top priority on everyone’s list. This year I am growing lots of tomato varieties which I am very excited to try. I could easily write a whole blog post just on the tomatoes I’m growing, but instead I’ve narrowed down a few that I am the most excited about.
I am growing a few different varieties from the American company Wild Boar Farms. The variety Black Beauty is the tomato that I am THE most excited about. I saw it all over Instagram last year and every single person who grew it raved about how good it was. The variety Crushed Heart is a beautiful heart shaped tomato with a supposedly excellent flavour and meaty texture. I look forward to trying this both fresh and in sauces. The final variety from Wild Boar Farms is Brads Atomic Grape. This variety is a beautiful multi-coloured tomato which is supposed to be very tasty and productive.
From Real Seeds I bought a variety called Gardeners Ecstasy. Many older gardeners have told me how Gardeners Delight is not how it used to be (thanks to seeds not being properly maintained by seed companies). I love Gardeners Delight but Gardeners Ecstasy is supposedly how Gardeners Delight used to taste so I cannot wait to try it. The final variety of tomato on this list is a variety called Green Zebra. This is a green tomato which looks fantastic to brighten up salads. It is also supposed to have a fantastic flavour, which isn’t what you’d expect from a green tomato! I look forward to testing these to see if their looks really are deceiving.
French bean heritage varieties are great to grow because they are so easy to save seed from. Beans are one of my favourite green vegetables, and can also be used for drying beans too. Because we eat a lot of beans both green and dried, I have decided to grow a lot of them. I’ve done a terrible job at narrowing this list down, I’m just too excited to grow lots of beans.
From the Heritage Seed Library I have two climbing bean varieties: Red and White, and Kew Blue. Both varieties are good for eating fresh or as dried beans. Red and White are beautiful red and white beans (I bet you didn’t see that one coming), which when dried are supposed to have a butter bean flavour. Kew Blue are purple French beans which have a nutty flavour when dried.
I have also been given some former Heritage Seed Library varieties from home-saved seed of fellow allotmenteers. Black Coco is a dwarf French drying black bean. We eat a lot of black beans in this house, so I’m very excited to grow my own! Another variety is called Major Cook. I have been told by many fellow allotmenteers that this is the best bean they’ve ever tasted. Lastly (but not least!) is a variety called Lazy Housewife. I was going to buy these from Real Seeds, but luckily someone at my allotment already had them. Lazy Housewife is supposed to have an incredible buttery flavour. Unfortunately the former two varieties are currently difficult to get hold of in the UK so it may be a case of searching for them and doing a seed swap with someone.
Squash comes in closely after beans and tomatoes for me. Growing your own gives you so many more options than just the standard butternut you find in supermarkets. Last year I grew Crown Prince F1, which is delicious and stores really well. This year I’m trying lots of new varieties. The two that I am most excited for are Queensland Blue and Marina Di Chioggia.
Queensland Blue is becoming more popular since being restored to the national list thanks to the work of the Heritage Seed Library. It’s supposed to produce good size fruits with a nice and sweet flesh. I also just quite like the look of them if I am being completely honest. I was given a Marina Di Chioggia plant last year which sparked my interest, however I was given it a bit late in the season and it never got the chance to fully grow and ripen. So a year later I look forward to growing it again and seeing what it is actually like when grown and ripe.
We only ever really see long green cucumbers in the UK, or occasionally you might find ridge cucumbers. This year I am excited to try growing a variety called White Wonder. This white cucumber is supposed to be great for growing outdoors and apparently has a sweet citrusy flavour. Many people may be put off by its appearance but I am so excited to try it.
Cucamelons are something I have never seen in the UK. In fact, until last year I had never even heard of them. These originate from Central America but I have seen many people grow them outside in the UK. They look like mini watermelons, are around the size of grapes and supposedly taste like limey cucumbers. What’s not to be excited about?
Peppers and chillies
We eat a lot of spicy food in this household so of course I am excited to grow my own chillies. One day I would love to never have to buy chilli powder or flakes again. This will be very difficult to achieve on an allotment with two 6’x8’ greenhouses, so until I get more space and a polytunnel this will have to be a distant dream.
I am excited to grow my own cayenne peppers. Because it is a spice you usually use in small amounts, I am hopeful we may yield enough so I will not have to buy cayenne pepper powder. We also like using arbol chillies in Mexican food, which can be difficult to find and expensive, so I look forward to growing these too. Finally, I can’t not be excited about my own homegrown jalapenos for all my salsa needs.
I am also growing a variety of pepper called Semaroh. This is a long pointy pepper variety I found from Real Seeds. It is an early fruiting variety which is supposedly rare for peppers of this shape. I am hopeful I can enjoy these through the summer instead of having to wait until it is nearly autumn. I will keep you updated on how this one goes.
Other varieties I am very excited to grow this year include a quick heading calabrese, which is also from Real Seeds. I am hopeful that this fast growing variety will allow me to maximise the use of my space by enabling me to grow another crop after it. Read my recent post on succession planting here. I also managed to get my hands on some East Freisian Palm Kale from Real Seeds. This variety is supposed to crop through a long period, and provide food even during the hungry gap.
Finally I am also excited to grow Purple Dragon carrots and Red Strawberry popping corn. Purple Dragon carrots are such a stunning colour and they are supposed to be sweeter than other purple carrots. The red strawberry popping corn is just a bit of fun, because why wouldn’t you want to try growing your own popcorn? This is a red heirloom variety and looks like much more fun than the standard popcorn you buy in the supermarket.
There are so many varieties out there to try – it is actually mind-blowing. It is definitely worth looking at smaller companies for seeds, the Heritage Seed Library or doing seed swaps. These can all be great ways to find harder to come by varieties. There will be a follow up post on this later in the year so I can let you know what varieties I found worked best for me, what we enjoyed the most and also if we had any failures! I would also love to hear from you about any of your favourite heritage varieties you’ve grown in the past or varieties that you’re excited about this season! 🙂