Grow Your Own Veggies!

16 Jun

Earl Nickel,
Curious Plantsman

There is no sweeter satisfaction than harvesting vegetables you’ve grown in your own garden. Not only do they often taste better than store bought veggies but you have the satisfaction of having nurtured your own edibles from tiny starts through ‘ready to pick’ maturity. Here at Annie’s, we keep adding new and interesting vegetables for you to try, everything from the latest and greatest basil, to one of the sweetest strawberries to rarities such as Itachi White cucumber, Squash ‘Ronde de Nice’ and Eggplant ‘Ping Tung.’ Many are available to purchase online or wherever our plants are sold, while some of the rarer plants are only found at our Richmond nursery. These are noted below by *** next to their title.

Veggies to Savor

Our group of perennial veggies is highlighted by two multi-use plants – ‘Richmond’s Pride Kale and ‘Glaskin’s Perpetual’ Rhubarb. Our Richmond kale, known as Purple Tree Collard, is a resilient, nutritious and delicious perennial veggie. This purple form was chosen for its sweet & tender leaves as well as its eye-catching color. A very long-lived kale, it grows to an amazing 6-10’ tall and 3’ wide. Its purple tones are enhanced by the cold and the sweetest leaves can be harvested during this time. Easily propagated by cuttings.

Our Glaskin’s rhubarb is tangy and just bursting with flavor. Growing 2-3’ tall, with big tropicalesque leaves, it is an early and heavy producer and is also reputed to be the sweetest variety. Plant it in a permanent bed or large container in full sun and let it grow for a season (clip off flowers if they appear).   You can pick some stems the second year but the big harvest is in year 3 and beyond (make sure to leave 4 stems per plant each year).

Want a great pepper for salsa? ‘Early Jalapeno’ has thick, juicy flesh and hot (but not too hot) flavor. It’s great for coastal CA gardens as it sets fruit under cooler conditions than other jalapenos. Vigorous 2’ tall plants produce an abundance of 2-3” long fruits. Pick them when green for a mild taste or let the color mature to red for muy caliente! Give this pepper lots of sun and heat and it will reward you all summer long.

Five veggies that are only available at the nursery in Richmond are tempting enough to have you come on out. That includes the always popular Lemon cucumber (***), as well as the rare but oh so delectable ‘Itachi’ white cucumber (***). The former variety produces lots & lots of always-fun-to-see yellow baseball-sized cukes.

Great for cool or short summer season areas, it doesn’t need a lot of heat to produce. And no need to peel the crisp, sweet, delicately-flavored fruit; just rinse them off, rub off the prickly bits on the skin & slice them up! ‘Itachi’ cuke may look odd, with its 10” long white fruit, but it is great tasting and highly productive. A sweet, crispy, bitter-free cucumber, Itachi holds up well to cooking and makes an excellent addition to any stir-fry. Trellising produces straighter fruit.

 ‘Ronde de Nice’ summer squash (***) is an attractive French heirloom squash, with its oval shape and speckled light green form. It’s the perfect squash for people who like a tender fruit but one that still has excellent taste. Pick at tennis ball size for steaming and sauteing. Larger squashes are excellent for stuffing.

And if you want to dazzle your dinner guests, show them the fruits from your ‘Ping Tung’ eggplant (***). A wonderful eggplant from Ping Tung, Taiwan, fruits are a vivid purple and up to 18” long but ONLY 2” in diameter! So sweet and tender and superbly delicious, it is one of the best Chinese eggplants on the market.

Lastly, how about a great conversation piece and useful veggie? Egyptian Walking onion (***) creates bulbils that eventually bow the stalk to the ground, whereupon the bulbils root, thus making it seem as if this onion has gone on a ‘walkabout.’ It possesses a strong and spicy flavor and the bulbils can be used just as you would any other onion. Bulbs are usually harvested in late summer, while the greens can be used year round.


Annie’s offers a diverse collection of unique fruiting berries and melons. Our favorite strawberry, Fresca ‘Elan’, is a vigorous Dutch hybrid with 2” fruits that are extra sweet due to a high sugar content. They also contain 30-50% more vitamin C than other everbearing strawberries.  Fruiting from Spring to Fall with many runners, you can even grow it in a hanging basket.

For something unusual, try the Ground Cherry (***). A delectable berry, the flavor is characteristically sweet/tart and very intense. Eat berries when they are golden and falling off the plant. The fruits can also be frozen for sorbet, cooked into jam or dried. If kept dry and cool and inside the calyx, the berries can be stored for months.

Two unusual melons are standouts. Melon ‘Ha’ogen’ (***) is an intoxicatingly fragrant green-fleshed muskmelon that ripens early in the season. This heirloom variety, also known as “Israel Melon”, was named for the kibbutz it was popularized at. It produces 2-4 lb. honey-flavored green-fleshed fruits on vigorous, productive vines. Well adapted to cooler climates. Meanwhile, Watermelon ‘Sweet Siberian’ (***) is a golden-flesh variety hailing from Russia and brought to Canada by immigrants. Juicy and delicious.

Lastly, we offer for you a local eating grape – Vitis ‘Emeryville Pink.’ Thanks to California Rare Fruit Growers and our own Anni Jensen, we present to you the best grape for coastal gardening. Sweetening right up here in our fog zone, this hardy variety bears an abundance of flavorful mid-size pink fruit with seeds so tiny, there’s no need to spit them out.


Basil is so popular, we have to grow lots of varieties at Annie’s. One of our favorites is Basil ‘Emerald Towers.’ This robust Genovese basil is noted for its striking columnar habit, its lush dark green foliage and naturally, its great taste. Plants are taller (2-3′) than wider (1′), perfect for a container or squeezing in beside your tomatoes. Bred for resistance to downy mildew and fusarium. Fast growing and tidy, you’ll be harvesting leaves for yummy caprese salads, flavoring soups and of course for the best pesto ever! Basil ‘Thai Siam Queen’ (***) is the perfect choice for authentic Thai cooking. This basil has the anise undertones necessary to evoke authentic flavor in a variety of Thai dishes. And fresh picking your own leaves is the best way to ensure that the essential oils are at their most potent!

Not into cooking but still love the look of basil? Check out our new ornamental Basil herbalea ‘Wild Magic’ (***). Its purple-black foliage adds wonderful color to the edge of a garden. And its dense 18”x24” habit always seems to be in bloom and buzzing with bees. And unlike many edible basils, it holds its good looks, compact form and multitude of blooms all summer and into the fall.

Shiso ‘Britton’ (***) offers vibrant, yet refreshing. aromatic leaves that reward the senses with a complex fusion of basil, mint and cinnamon, with notes of cumin and cloves. Fast growing, it reaches 30” tall in a hurry. There are many ways to add shiso to your recipe collection. A few ideas include: using it to make delicious Japanese-style Shiso pesto; employing it as a wrap for tuna sandwiches; adding chopped shiso to fresh fruit (esp. plums); adding leaves to green tea for a little extra zest; frying the leaves in a tempura batter or even using shiso oil to drizzle over gazpacho.

Growing Veggies

To paraphrase that famous real estate maxim (location, location, location), when growing veggies it’s all about the soil, soil, soil. Whether in the ground or in a pot, give your veggies loose and good draining soil. Clayish & compacted soil is usually hard on vegetables so avoid that environment.  Many veggies are also heavy feeders. They need more nutrients in order to grow and produce crops quickly, so you will likely need to fertilize several times throughout the season. Although most veggies will want sun, check each veggie’s recommended sun and watering conditions. Most veggies will want a bit of regular water to get their roots established. After that, one can usually water more deeply but less often. 


Just so everyone knows, some of the Annie’s Annuals plants mentioned here might not be available on the week that you’re reading this blog article. In the case of veggies in particular, many of the more unusual varieties discussed are only available in our retail nursery in Richmond CA.  This is generally due to us only being able to grow small crops or the fact that the particular veggie does not ship well.  A quick look at that plant’s page will let you know if it’s available. If not, just click the Add to Wishlist button and we’ll notify you when that plant is ready to take home.

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