Thinking About Vegetables - part 2 - Oh, the Variety!

Thinking about vegetables (due to the Microsoft Rewards quiz) led me to research vegetables, and I was overwhelmed by just how many different sorts of each there are.  I've seen many selections in seed catalogs, but even the 88 tomato seed offers in one catalog don't come close to the varieties in existence!

Vegetables (here, meaning, what we grow, eat, and call vegetables, regardless of what they are botanically) have been in cultivation for thousands of years, so it's only expected they would have been crossbred for generations, leading to more and more varieties.  Even today scientists, and backyard gardeners, study and dabble in vegetable genetics, striving to develop something "new," whether it be for looks (Berkeley Tie-Dye pink tomato), early production (Oregon Spring tomato), heavy production, or cultivars to withstand less than optimal growing conditions.

Just how many are there?  No fixed number is known, unfortunately far fewer than there used to be. But the good news is heritage types are being rediscovered in their lands of origin each year.  Many seed companies are offering more choices as the demand from gardeners grows.  To find these heritage and heirloom seeds, use those words in an Internet search.  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ( is a good start, and they offer free shipping to North American addresses. For an amazing selection of tomato seeds (hundreds!), see
  • Tomatoes:  it's thought there could be as many as 25,000!  That's how many the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) lists, but other sources downgrade that number considerably, to closer to 7,500.  I can currently doubt many things told to me by my government, but the number  of tomatoes in existence worldwide isn't one of them!  I will assume the USDA keeps a list.  93% of US gardens include tomatoes, making them the number one most popular homegrown crop.  (Below top row from left - cross-pollinated Yellow Brandwine (tomato seed parent would have been crossed last year to bear this type of fruit, they bear true to type first year cross-pollinated), Hoskins-Barger, unknown volunteer canning type (grew in compost pile from discarded kitchen scraps).  Lower row from left - Golden Jubilee, mixed cherries)

  • Cucumbers: cucumbers are classified into two groups, slicing for eating fresh, and picking for canning.  They are also available in two growing forms, vine and bush.  There are hundreds of types of cucumbers, literally A (Armenian) to Z (Zipangu).
lemon cucumbers
  • Squash: over 300 types of squash exist, and that is probably a low estimate.  50 are commercially available in the US.  If you grow your own the sky's the limit!  Any squash growers already know there are two varieties, winter and summer squash.  That doesn't have to do with the season they're grown, or harvested, but their keep-ability.  Summer squash can be kept for only a few weeks, winter squash for months, stored correctly, even up to a year.  (Below from left - acorn squash volunteer, a cross-pollinated with smooth orange flesh and pretty salmon rind, Small Sugar pie pumpkin)

  • Watermelon: since there are approximately 1,200 types of watermelon, it's not surprising to learn they are grown in 96 countries.  200-300 are grown in the US, although I'd be hard pressed to find that much variety in seeds to grow.  Even the mail order company boasting "We're #1 in watermelon varieties..." only carries 32. 
  • Potatoes:  that humble lump has around 200 or so edible types in the US alone, and WOW are they nutritionally power-packed!  Did you know that potatoes have more vitamin C than oranges?  That potatoes have more potassium than bananas?  That potatoes have more fiber than apples?  Those facts floored me!  Here's another astounding fact about potatoes: One can live on just potatoes and milk.  Milk is needed for the vitamins A and D.  Now, I'm not saying you'd live the healthiest life, and it would certainly be boring, but just potatoes and milk...  Think of that!  Potatoes are not given the respect due them!   And, speaking of milk, potatoes come in second as the most consumed US food product, after milk.
  • Carrots: of the edible carrots, Cornell University has identified 146 varieties (which sounds rather conservative to me).  Edible meaning there are plenty of wild carrots, but even wild rabbits don't eat them!  Queen Anne's Lace, a non-native weed (in the US) with beautiful butterfly attractant flowers, is also known as wild carrot.  Carrots are categorized as either western or eastern, having to do with their genetic origins.  They are further categorized by shape and storage abilities, but that's really getting into it a bit far for me!  If you missed a prior post with the link to the World Carrot Museum, here it is again. There is actually some pretty interesting and amazing stuff there, as well as some really weird and creepy too!  
I've decided to try to grow at least one heritage, heirloom, or new-to-me tomato from seed annually.  I only decided that this year, as last was the first time I successfully grew tomatoes from seed at all!  Last year I grew Hoskins-Barger (I am unable to find any seeds this year.  I did save some of my own, although they got mixed with Blue Chocolate cherry! ), Golden Jubilee, and Ditmarsher along with some old favorites.  In 2019 I will be trying Tappy's Heritage, Dad's Sunset and Black Vernissage in addition to a canner (San Marzano Lungo No. 2) and of course, Sungold.

I stick with good old lemon cucumbers.  This year I grew the nice Galeux D'Eysines squash, and will again, making it the only squash I grow, to avoid cross-pollination. I do not grow potatoes (tried it, check out my disastrous results here:
I also do not grow carrots, I don't do well with root vegetables. I did get a nice harvest from some a few years ago that grew in a deep cat little pail.  They aren't worth my trouble. 

If you've been growing the same things year after year, why not try even one new variety?  There are sure plenty to choose from!  


  1. Our hopes to grow gourmet purple potatoes was a big fail, as well, so I feel for you. I'm astonished at how many varieties there are of all these. Even 32 watermelon types is surprising. I believe they grew wild in Africa as teeny tiny fruits eaten by wild boar before mankind intervened. I think I read that, anyway. Tomatoes are my favorite crop to grow as they taste so superior fresh off the vine. Be well!


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