Dakota Gardener: Best Vegetable Varieties for North Dakota

Tom Kalb, Horticulturist

The first step to growing a great garden is to sow great varieties.

What’s the best way to find a great variety for us in North Dakota?

Ask your neighbor. Or better yet, ask hundreds of gardeners in North Dakota who test varieties for North Dakota State University. Last year alone, 320 families tested promising varieties in their backyard gardens. We’ve been doing these tests every summer since 2008.

We’ve discovered lots of great varieties through the years. The following are a few of the finest.

The opening day of the Athens Farmers Market will feature lots of green leafy vegetables.

The best pea is ‘Lincoln.’ This heirloom produces high yields of delicious peas and is great for freezing. ‘Sugar Ann’ is our champion snap pea. This variety ripens early and produces big crops of sweet, crisp pods.

We’ve tested many bean varieties, and the one that generates the most excitement is ‘Crockett’ filet bean. Have you ever grown a filet bean? Try it! They are very crisp, slender and full of flavor. ‘Crockett’ produces amazing yields of dark green pods.

I invite you to sow burpless cucumbers. They produce the finest cucumbers for fresh eating. Burpless cucumbers have thin skins, small seeds, crisp flesh and refreshing flavor. ‘Summer Dance’ ripens early, produces a large yield and resists diseases. You will be dancing for joy.

For pickling, ‘Homemade Pickles’ is our all-time favorite. Its cucumbers are crisp, small-seeded and blocky. Its vines are productive and resist diseases.

Gardeners in our lettuce trials look for varieties that tolerate heat. ‘Buttercrunch’ is a popular classic and does well in our trials.

Try a Batavian lettuce. This type of lettuce produces crisp, wavy, delicious leaves all summer.

‘Muir’ and ‘Nevada’ are outstanding Batavian varieties. Other notable varieties of lettuce include ‘Alkindus,’ ‘Fusion,’ ‘Red Sails’ and ‘Bergam’s Green.’

Tolerance to heat is important also with spring-sown spinach. Our team prefers smooth-leaf varieties, which are easier to clean. ‘Space’ produces impressive yields of flavorful leaves in spring and summer.

Growing pumpkins is fun. ‘Neon’ is the easiest variety to grow in North Dakota. You will be amazed to see its bright orange pumpkins glowing in your garden in August, weeks ahead of all other varieties. Its vines are compact and won’t overrun the garden.

My kids like giant pumpkins, but most varieties require constant maintenance and produce big, ugly fruits. ‘Big Moose’ pumpkins will grow to 50 pounds without any special care. Its fruits are reddish orange and beautiful.

The most stunning vegetable is ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard. Its colorful stems are so vibrant they would stand out in your flower garden. It’s a showstopper!

Bio food. Garden produce and harvested vegetable. Fresh farm vegetables in wooden box

Growing melons in North Dakota is hard due to our short growing season. The best watermelon in our trials through the years has been ‘Sweet Dakota Rose.’ It was bred here, and many gardeners will tell you it is the best tasting watermelon they ever have eaten.

Another special melon that grows well here is the Galia melon. It has green flesh that is sweet and aromatic. ‘Arava’ and ‘Passport’ are reliable and flavorful.

As for tomatoes, I encourage you to try ‘SunSugar.’ Its vines produce an abundant supply of orange cherry tomatoes that are absolutely delicious.

Our list of recommended vegetable varieties for 2021 is available on our website. Do an online search for “North Dakota Home Garden Variety Trials” or go directly to the site at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/homegardenvarietytrials.

I invite you to join our team this spring to try some of these winners as well as some new vegetable varieties. We test herbs and cut flowers, too. The trials are simple, and the entire family can get involved. Go to the Home Garden Variety Trials website and sign up to receive our online catalog.

For more information about gardening, contact your local NDSU Extension agent. Find the Extension office for your county at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/extension/directory/counties.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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