Since we have four or five growing seasons here in the great American Southwest, we’re able to ask the question that gardeners in many other regions only wish they could, what do you want for your fresh fall/winter salads?

The time for growing fruiting vegetables will soon be over. Say farewell to peppers and eggplants until next year. Now we’re heading into the season for edible leaves and roots.

Everybody wants lettuce, for sure, but that does not mean we all need to be trying to grow acres of iceberg. Instead, why not look at some of the many different varieties available to home horticulturists?

Personally, I like to mix up the vegetable plants I grow. So, I’ll have golden beets and blue potatoes. Why not?

I’m able to find those varieties easily, and it’s not because I’m a professional horticulturist. They’re available in seed catalogs from all over. It’s a wonder every gardener isn’t using alternatives to the tired old traditional varieties. 

For instance:

Anyone can plant and grow radishes. They’re perfect for people who want as close to instant gratification as possible in gardening: thirty days from seed to maturity. The round root with red skin and white flesh is the most common type. Occasionally, adventurous souls will grow the white icicle type or even one of the Spanish varieties. Those’re black skinned with a white interior. That doesn’t exhaust the possibilities, though.  One is often called a “watermelon” radish, since the interior is red, and the outside a pale green. There’re even purple or green radishes!

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Now, if radishes have this much diversity, surely other vegetables would too.

Which takes us back to lettuce.

Iceberg isn’t something I’d recommend for a home garden. You can’t usually get the firm heads that commercial growers can, and besides, who wants to grow that when there are so many other varieties - with taste!

Try something like Boston lettuce. It’s also called butterhead or bibb. Its leaves are succulent, and it does form a loose head. You’ll see this variety in those overpriced hydroponic containers at the supermarket.

You can grow butterhead more affordably, in either red or green. Catalogs have several, including some they claim are “heat tolerant”, but I doubt that means summer in the Mojave.

Then there are the leafy types. You can find one or two kinds in local grocery stores, but the intrepid Mojave gardener can choose from an enormous selection.

How about something like oakleaf lettuce?  In a single catalog, I found five different cultivars of red oakleaf lettuce. One of them’s supposed to take only 31 days from seed to maturity.

There’re dozens of other leaf lettuces, mainly green, but you can also find them with red-tipped or red-speckled leaves, and some that are completely deep maroon.

I haven’t mentioned romaine lettuce, which is essential for Caesar salad, but you can grow either red or green varieties of that type, too.  

Carrots are mostly bright orange but they don’t have to be. White carrots are not parsnips, neither are yellow carrots. The carrots with purple exteriors are my favorites, because I like to think they’re more nutritious than the usual kind. You don’t even need to choose the standard long shape; you can find spheres and blocky shapes, as well!

When it comes to onions, it’s important to know a few things, especially if you want bulbs. If you just want scallions, or “bunching onions”, then you have no worries. But for a full sized onion, be prepared to wait. They’re slow. It’s also good to know where they’re from, because a variety that develops well in northern areas might not produce a bulb here at all, because of a difference in the length of the day. Candy is a sweet cultivar that doesn’t appear to have day length requirement.

It’s up to you to decide which of the dozens of types and colors you want.

Nice thing about the garden – it’s your little world. Why not fill it with vegetables as unique as you are?

For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

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