Ask a Foodie: Which veggies, fruits and herbs grow best in the Midwest?

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By: Geoff Lesar
glesar@flavor574.com

torbakhopper/Flickr

The fertile fields of Michiana fall directly within the nation’s Farm Belt, a region known for its commercial agriculture industry.  

However, warm days and cold nights specific to our area can sometimes make for tricky, inconsistent growing conditions. Michiana farmers also face shortened seasons in comparison to those of southern climates.

Ask a Foodie answers reader-submitted questions regarding all things food, nutrition and cooking.

This week’s installment seeks to answer the question, “What kinds of vegetables, fruits and herbs grow best in our area during the spring and summer?”

“Right now, what we’re planting in the soil, like direct seeding, are the root crops: carrots, radishes, onion starts, potatoes, turnips and beets,” said Theri Niemier of Bertrand Farm in Niles. “Those are what we’re planting now and they all grow really well around here.”

Niemier, like many Midwest farmers, has springtime crops that are started in greenhouses and then transferred to outdoor soil near the end of April. 

“We’re almost to the end of our indoor starts right now and we’re transferring to planting cool-weather things outside,” she said.

Included in the upcoming transfer are members of the brassicas family like broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage and kale. Lettuce and romaine will also find their way to the soil soon.

“When we talk about something growing well, we have to acknowledge that we have to start those indoors,” said Sara Stewart, executive director of Unity Gardens. “Our season is too short to grow them from seeds very well.”

“One of the things I like to talk about is strawberries, because strawberries are perennials, so they come up every June,” Stewart said. “They’re one of the earliest fruit.”

Stewart points to peas, potatoes, cauliflower and cilantro as being early springtime crops that can be seeded outdoors beginning in March or April. Radishes can also sustain current outdoor conditions and take only 30 days to fully mature. 

“If you want to plant tomatoes, peppers and eggplant by seed, you’re going to want to do that now indoors,” Stewart said.

Most peppers, tomatoes and corn varieties will hit their growing peaks during the humid summer months. 

For amateur green thumbs, Niemier recommends starting small with an outdoor 12- by 4-foot raised bed.

“I always tell people they should grow greens first, like heavy lettuces, Swiss chard, kales and collards, mostly because they’re the most nutrient-dense foods and the kind of food you’re hopefully eating every day,” Niemier said.

For more growing advice throughout the season, check out the Purdue Extension’s yard and garden calendar.

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