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‘Tis the season for the garden seed catalogues. If you are like me, you are perusing through these catalogues that advertise 15 varieties of watermelon, 50 varieties of peppers, and even more tomato varieties to choose from. They all look amazing and are all claiming “vigorous!” “great flavor!” and “disease resistance!” So which one do you choose?

My solution is to ask an expert who has been gardening for decades. Chuck Voigt, now retired, was an academic at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, starting in November 1988, he has specialized in vegetables and herbs. He helped create what is now considered the vegetable gardening bible among Master Gardener volunteers: Vegetable Gardening of the Midwest.

Chuck says there are some must have varieties for the backyard gardener and he already trialed them for us:

Greens

Hybrid Savoy Cabbage originated out of Italy and grow three to four pounds. Their ornamental leaves are lacy and crinkly and have a very sweet flavor. Delicious raw leaves can be added to salads. A cool season vegetable can be planted as a transplant (baby plant) early spring and can even tolerate a late frost.

Leeks

Recommended because they are easy to grow and can be direct seeded into the ground. They have a milder taste than onions and can be eaten raw or cooked. Grow leeks four inches apart and as summer starts (pencil size) hill to get the white stems like we do with green onions. Although they are long season crops, some varieties mature faster than others.

Melon

Sugar Cube Muskmelon weighs no more than two pounds. It’s salmon-orange flesh is tender, juicy and exceptionally sweet.

Yellow Doll Watermelon reaches five to seven pounds, grown on compact vines. The flesh is energetic yellow with dense texture and sweet flavor.

Harvest Moon is a seedless watermelon that reaches 18-20 pounds with a very ornamental rind of dark green with yellow splotches. The pinkish flesh is crisp and juicy, yielding four to five melons on a short vine.

Watermelons are a warm season crop and should be planted after any chance of frost. Although most watermelons require a lot of space, the varieties chosen by Chuck are perfect for the backyard garden taking up much less space. Started by seed in pots or in the ground these can be a very rewarding harvest.

Onions

Kelsae Giant Onion holds the record for the largest onion. At 15lbs and 33 inches in diameter, these onions are not only unique but have a mild, sweet flavor and stores well.

Ailsa Craig Onion commonly reach five pounds, are easy to start from seed and have a mild and sweet flavor.

Onions are usually started as sets (dry, immature bulbs) and can be planted as early as late March. They can be grown as green onions for earlier harvest or dry bulbs for storage. Use the larger sets for green onions and space them an inch deep and almost touching each other. For bulb onions plant the smaller sets an inch deep and about three inches apart. Gardeners do a method called hilling, which means mounding the soil up around the green onions, in order to produce the white stem, we commonly associate with green onions.

Turnip

Gil feather turnip rutabaga hybrid has a sweet and creamy taste and doesn’t really get woody. Delicious despite their reputation among children, turnips and rutabaga are cools season crops. Rutabaga usually requires about four more weeks of growth till crop maturity. These crops should be planted in early spring and again in late summer to get a crop that matures in the fall.