Do you know what the ten most popular homegrown vegetables in the United States are? You may not be able to guess all ten of them, but I’ll bet you can guess number one…
Uh huh, it’s the tomato.
Okay, before we get too far into this post, I just want to let you know that I’m not going to be talking about the ten most popular homegrown veggies. Don’t worry, though. I’m not going to leave you hanging.
According to The National Gardening Association’s 2009 survey (and I haven’t found anything to show that the list has changed since then), the most popular homegrown veggies are:
- Sweet Peppers
- Summer Squash
- Hot Peppers
In the past, I’ve focused my efforts on growing all of these wonderful crops because they are foods that my family enjoys to eat, they are easy to grow, look pretty in the garden, taste much better than the store-bought varieties, and, well, they are the top ten varieties, after all, and there’s too much pressure not to grow them!
Over the years, I’ve expanded my horizons in the garden to include a wider variety of crops. Besides the top ten varieties, my garden also includes other goodies, such as kale, chard, okra, turnips, beets, melons, and other fun and exotic plants, like goji berries and yellow strawberries. In fact, I love growing the unexpected — they are wonderful conversation starters!
As I get ready to start planning next year’s garden, one food crop that I’m going to be planting a lot more of are protein-rich plants, like these Rattlesnake Beans and Pink Cowpeas, which I did manage to get small crops of planted in my garden, this year. In fact, these are going to become my number one crop, even surpassing tomatoes, in next year’s garden. Why?
1. They are easy to grow, care for, and harvest. Bean seeds are nice and large, making them super easy to plant. They grow with little help, other than water and a trellis. They are also one of the easiest plants to harvest, and they can be harvested in two different stages: the green stage, when they can be eaten as snap beans, or the dry stage, when they can be used in soups, stews, and other fine dishes. Because the pods are large, the beans are very easy to shell (I find it quite relaxing, too!)
2. They now make up a large part of our diet. Since we’ve switched to a plant-based diet, my gardening priorities have changed. I’m no longer merely growing foods just for salads, or for sheer enjoyment, but to provide our family with a substantial amount of our daily protein needs. Dry beans average about 22% protein in the seed, the highest protein content of any seed crop, and are a good source of vitamins and minerals. We love to eat them in burritos, tacos, soups, and even desserts (like one of our favorites – deep dish cookie pie!) It just makes sense that if we’re going to eat more, I should grow more. I’m going to have to grow a lot of beans, next year, and they’re going to take up a lot of space if I want to produce enough for more than just a few meals. I don’t know how cost-effective it is going to be for me to grow my own beans — I may not even be able to come close to producing them for what I can buy them at the grocery store for, but I’m definitely up for the challenge — seed catalogs, here I come!
3. They are a great survival food source. Although we don’t live in an area of the country that experiences many natural disasters, after attending a disaster preparedness meeting at our church, and watching the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, my husband and I have decided that the more we can do to prepare for the unexpected, the better we’ll be able to care for our family if and when that time comes, thereby putting less of a stress on our community and, possibly even being in a better position to care for others. This is probably the most important reason why I’m going to be focusing on growing more high protein crops, like legumes that can be dried, next year. According to the Utah State University Cooperative Extension, “Beans in normal polyethylene (food-grade) bags have a shelf life of 1 year or more”, and “When packaged in #10 cans or Mylar-type bags, with the oxygen removed, they have a shelf life of 10 or more years.” In fact, A BYU study indicated that “samples that had been stored up to 30 years had greater than 80% acceptance by a consumer taste panel for emergency food use.” That’s great news! When it comes to disaster preparedness, it gives me great peace of mind to know that, as I increase the amount of beans grown in my garden, that translates into more food to store in our pantry in case of an emergency where we won’t be able to rely upon the local grocery store for food supplies.
As I think through the reasons why I grow what I grow, each year, my garden keeps evolving. I don’t think there will ever come a day when you won’t see each and every one of those top ten most popular veggie crops growing in my garden. However, I do think that they will begin to occupy less space as I seek to grow more of the crops that will satisfy my family’s dietary needs, and ones that will serve as useful and necessary foods in case of an emergency.
In years to come, I think it will be interesting to see what the top ten list of popular crops, out at our Happy Homestead, will be.
How do you choose food crops for your garden? What are your favorites?