Extension Educator, Horticulture
We hear it all the time. Add more color to your life, your diet, and your wardrobe. Luckily it's easy to add color to your garden and to your plate with a kaleidoscope of veggie varieties.
Carrots are already one of the pretty vegetables, but there are some new and rediscovered varieties beyond carrot orange.
'Dragon' is an heirloom carrot that is red purple with a yellow-orange center. It is reported to have a sweet, almost spicy flavor.
'Rainbow' is a hybrid containing different colored carrots of yellow, white and orange in the same planting.
'Atomic Red' is a coral red variety with an orange center that gets to about 9 inches long. The flavor is better if it's cooked.
'Purple Haze' carrot was a 2006 All-America Selections winner. It won't give you any Jimi Hendrix flashbacks, but it will give you a distinct color and rich flavor for salads. When they are cut for salads a purple halo appears around the bright orange center. Similar to many of our purple vegetables, sadly the purple color fades during cooking. In stir-fried foods, however, the color will stay purple. Any way you slice it 'Purple Haze' is tasty and sweet, fresh or cooked.
In our area carrots can be planted as early as the end of March/first of April. To get long straight carrots the soil should be loose, worked deeply, well drained and have no clods or rocks in the soil. If this doesn't describe your soil, than you will still get carrots but they will be as twisted as Hendrix at a Lawrence Welk concert.
Few vegetables are as attractive, tasty and easy to grow as lettuce. The diversity is amazing with colors and shapes of leaves. Seed packets often contain a variety.
A few red leaf lettuce varieties include: 'Lollo Rosso', mild flavor and extra frilly; 'Red Fire', ruffles with red edge; 'Ruby', darkest red of all; and 'Red Sails', slowest bolting of the red leaf. 'Freckles' is green with flecks of red.
For a unique dark red leaf Romaine, try 'Cimmaron'.
Butterhead type lettuce offers Merveille des Quartre Saisons, with its crispy, ruby tipped leaves with fine flavor and good heat resistance.
The trick to good lettuce is cool weather. Lettuce thrives when the average daily temperature is between 60 and 70 degrees. At high temperatures growth is stunted, the leaves may be bitter and the seedstalk forms quickly (called bolting). Mid to late April plantings are best.
I've never been much of a beet fan but I fell in love with 'Bull's Blood' beet when I visited Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. It was so beautiful with its deep purple leaves. It is pretty enough for the flower garden.
Also consider a multi-colored red, white, yellow, purple, and pink Swiss chard called 'Five Color Silverbeet'. Eggplant grows in numerous colors including deep purple, white, green, red, and purple striped. How about purple, yellow, or green cauliflower? Try cauliflower 'Graffiti' with its deep purple heads.
Veggies don't have to take a back seat to flowers when it comes to showing off. Many of the plants I discussed can be found through the following:
Johnny's Selected Seeds www.johnnyseeds.com PH: 877-564-6697.
Seed Savers Exchange specializes in heirloom varieties PH: 563-382-5990. Sources are listed as information only and do not serve as an endorsement.
For great information about growing vegetables, check out the U of I book Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by Chuck Voigt available at https://pubsplus.uiuc.edu/ or 1-800-345-6087. Also consult our website "Watch your Garden Grow"
Garden Day 2007 - The Garden Journey March 2 and 3 at the Holiday Inn in Urbana. registration brochure Call for more information: University of Illinois Extension–Champaign County PH: 217.333.7672