The best vegetable seeds aren't always apparent when you're scanning through a seed catalog during the lingering winter weeks. Catchy names and brilliant photographs may lure you in, but will the plant produce?
To make your vegetable gardening planning easier, we reached for Derek Fell's book, Grow This!, to ID some of the best vegetable seeds available for home gardeners.
Peas: 'Sugar Snap'
One of the first seeds you'll tamp into the earth this spring, peas offer a sweet start to the growing season. Fell likes the 'Sugar Snap' variety. In fact, it's so popular it's the go-to snap pea used in frozen vegetable mixes featuring peas. It's a beloved variety among home gardeners, partly because it produces large yields.
Growing Tip: Yields are highest if you treat your pea seeds with an organic pea inoculant. Mixed with water, black powder inoculants introduce soil bacteria that spark more vigorous growth.
Lettuce: 'Marvel of Four Seasons'
A French heirloom, 'Marvel of Four Seasons' has a long track record—it's been around since 1885! The shiny green head boasts a buttery yellow inside, sure to become the star of your garden-to-table seasonal salads.
Growing Tip: Give your lettuce full sun and plenty of drainage. If you're tight on space, consider growing it in a container.
Tomato: 'Paul Robeson'
This large, maroon Russian heirloom tomato was named after the U.S. performer and athlete Paul Robeson, a champion for oppressed groups in the Ukraine. These meaty tomatoes are so delicious gardeners are known to pick the up-to-one-pound fruits and eat them raw right in the garden.
Growing Tip: Start tomato seeds indoors 8 weeks before the danger of outdoor frosts ends.
Carrots: 'Kaleidoscope Mix'
For a burst of hues, choose this seed packet; it boasts a mixture of different-colored carrot seeds that could bring a harvest of orange, whitish, purple, red, and yellow carrots.
Growing Tip: Plant carrot seeds directly in the garden, and when seedlings emerge, thin them out so plants are 1 inch apart—carrots don't like to be crowded.
Pumpkin: 'Rouge vif d'Etamps'
For a stunning Halloween decoration that you can also eat, choose this French heirloom variety. With a slightly flattened, circular and deep color, it's a unique and beautiful fall treat. The flesh can be turned into pumpkin pie.
Growing Tip: Don't let your pumpkin plants get parched during dry spells! Be sure to water them well when rain is evasive.
Radish: 'Cherry Belle'
You can't go wrong with this All-American Selections award winner. A classic red radish, this fast-growing variety is ready for harvest just 20 days after planting.
Growing Tip: Radishes tolerate mild frosts, but need their space when it comes to root development. When seedlings emerge, thin plants so there's 1 inch of space between them.
Winter Squash: Waltham Butternut
Grow a bumper crop of this reliable winter squash and store it to enjoy it straight through the winter months! An award winner for taste, yield, and size, this standard winter squash is easy to grow and its deep-orange flesh works great in recipes.
Growing Tip: If you're strapped for space and don't have room in the garden for Waltham Butternut's vines, choose the more compact 'Harris Betternut' variety, Fell suggests.