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Exciting new vegetables for your summer garden

Scarlet runner beans
Hugowolf at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Scarlet runner beans

It’s that time of year where many of us are getting summer seedlings in the ground. And I don’t know about you, but my excitement is usually bigger than my garden — I can’t fit everything I want to plant. So the other day I sat down with my friend and Truro farmer Dave Dewitt to try and edit my list by asking what his top picks are this season. The first thing on his must-grow list right now are Scarlett runner beans.

"It's a very tall, plant with incredible red flowers that the hummingbirds seem to just flock to," explained Dave.

"So it's a big flower for a bean. Enough so that the hummingbird can get in there. And the bean is a little bit flat, like it's a string bean, and we pick that when it's about 4 to 6in. And then after that, we just let them go to dry. And it has a nutty flavor that is just delicious."

Dave says Scarlett runners are just as good as dried beans as they are fresh, which is why he lets a lot of the crop go to seed. And they need something to climb like a trellis or an arbor and if they get high enough, Dave told me, the beans themselves will hang down, making for easy and prolific picking. The next seedlings he’s excited about are from Mexico:

"I got some heirloom stuff from Oaxaca, which I've been trialed last year, Oaxacan Tomatillo. And we’ve got some Oaxacan red epazote."

Epazote is an herb central to many Mexican and Guatemalan dishes. People describe the flavor as a mix of oregano, anise, citrus, and mint, and traditionally, it’s believed to help reduce gas.

"The Oaxacan red epazote is used in a lot of the bean dishes that they cook, and it is used as a fresh green rarely, it’s mainly used to cook, it’s also dried and then used in a lot of moles, different mole recipes."

It sounds like such an interesting mix of flavors. Dave’s next pick he’s growing partly because it tastes good and is productive but mostly for its beauty.

"Dazzling Blue Lacinato kale, which has been, a typical like dinosaur lacinato kale, but it's like this purplish-blue color that's really very beautiful looking. It's almost hard to pick and eat because it's so pretty looking."

Dave puts the dazzling blue kale in his salad mix, which I think has something like 30 different greens at this point. He says he likes having a variety of colors, but if you’re growing mixed greens for cutting it’s a good idea to skip most of the red lettuces — they tend to rot first and spoil the bunch. The last thing he’s excited about planting this year is a new to him cultivar of delicata squash called Candy Boat.

"It took a little bit less space, but had the same amount of, squash and delicata being my favorite squash. I was glad to find a home that can be a little bit more condensed. I mean, it still runs and spreads, but it's like half the size. So instead of taking over like acres, you can get a lot more production in the smaller space."

As a farmer, Dave is trying out new veggies all the time. I feel like I do this but in a very unscientific way so I was curious, how does he organize a real plant trial on the farm?

"I will usually grow it next to something similar that would and it's kind of replacing. So I would use my normal tomatillos that I've been growing for years and then try it right next to in the same location, same area and look at yield, flavor and growth habit."

Sometimes, when he does this, the results are unimpressive. But other times, like with the new tomatillos he tried last year, it’s a game changer.

"This Oaxacan one just is much larger and sweet to the point where it's almost getting towards tomato sweet. So when we I ended up making some salsa with it, it was phenomenal. And, it held up," he explained.

"I like to roast my tomatillos. And it just held up to roasting, where the other ones that you buy at the store kind of just melt real quick where this had a little bit more meat to it and a little bit more substance. So they're able to, like, really take more of a char and get a little bit more of that smoky smoked flavor of getting roasted. So it was it definitely is a winner. So I didn't even grow the old ones anymore. Down to the new ones."

That’s how I’m feeling about a cucumber variety I tried last year — which actually Dave recommended — called Suyo Long. It was so much more productive and so much less seedy than any other cucumber I’ve ever grown that I immediately swore off all other varieties. Who knows, maybe this year it’ll be dazzling blue kale that steals my heart or some new to me variety of heirloom tomato.

Most weeks you can find Dave at both the Truro and the Wellfleet Farmers Markets where if the line’s not too long, you might get a chance to pick his brain.

Oaxaca Red Epazote

Dazzling Blue Kale

Candy Boat or Honey Boat Squash

Scarlett Runner Bean

Suyo Long Cucumber

An avid locavore, Elspeth lives in Wellfleet and writes a blog about food. Elspeth is constantly exploring the Cape, Islands, and South Coast and all our farmer's markets to find out what's good, what's growing and what to do with it. Her Local Food Report airs Thursdays at 8:30 on Morning Edition and 5:45pm on All Things Considered, as well as Saturday mornings at 9:30.