WASHINGTON — Maybe it’s increasing inflation – higher prices in grocery stores forcing vegetable lovers to return to their roots. Or maybe some folks watched The Martian one too many times. Regardless of the reason, the humble potato is officially the vegetable that Americans are most keen to learn how to grow.
However, other vegetables were popular in other states, including cucumbers, beetroots, and zucchini.
This article is for you if you’ve ever wondered how to grow a versatile vegetable. We conferred with AllAboutGardening’s Logan Hailey, an organic vegetable specialist, to discover his top tips on growing the nation’s favorite crops.
A Deep Dive Into the Research
AllAboutGardening’s research analyzed data from Google Trends over the last five years, comparing search volume for the query “how to grow…” for various vegetables in all US states.
It found that potatoes were the most-searched vegetable in 14 states, including Montana, Connecticut, Oklahoma, and Utah.
Seven states searched for how to grow cucumbers the most: New York, Nebraska, Texas, and Iowa taking the top cuke position.
Surprisingly, beetroots came in third, with six states more interested in how to grow them than any other crop. Among the proponents were Colorado, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Alabama.
In fourth place, it was a tie between carrots and zucchini, as five states found each of the two vegetables most popular. The carrot lovers were Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, and Minnesota, while the states that preferred zucchinis were Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Ohio, and Wyoming.
As for 5th place, it was a tie between three vegetables, each capturing the attention of four states each: onions, bell peppers, and squash. Onions were a favorite in Washington, California, Massachusetts, and Oregon. Meanwhile, the preferred crop in Florida, New Mexico, Georgia, and Wisconsin was bell peppers – and squash was all the rage in Hawaii, Maryland, Mississippi, and Virginia.
Then there were a few states with more individual preferences. For example, Missouri opted for lettuce, while West Virginia was for turnips.
How to Grow These Favorites
Considering the number of people keen to discover how to grow the vegetables outlined above, it’s only fair to tell you the secrets. Below are the top tips of Logan Hailey so you can cultivate the creme of the crops.
One of the most significant differences between success and failure in growing potatoes comes before you even put them in the ground: the decision to pre-sprout them (sometimes known as “chitting”). Pre-sprouting reduces the risk of rot and waste and can even accelerate your harvest by up to two weeks.
Logan advises the following approach: “Lay your potatoes out in an even single layer on a tray or in egg cartons, place them in a light area (such as a window sill or porch) with the optimum temperature ranging from 60-70°F.”
Then, don’t even think about planting them until they’re an inch long.
If you’re more of a cucumber lover, Logan’s top tip is to trellis them instead of leaving them to vine along with the soil, which will make them less disease-prone – and have the added perk of helping you save more room in your garden. To do this: “Use a cattle panel mounted on T-posts or rebar to create a cheap, simple trellis. Then, plant cucumbers about 12″ apart and allow them to vine up the panel.”
You should also prune off any suckers (vertical growth from roots) to keep the plant healthy, ensure airflow between the foliage, and encourage fruit growth.
Beetroots can be a tricky vegetable to grow since they rely on a nutrient called boron, which some soil may lack. If this is the case, you may encounter “black heart rot” in your crops, leading to weak leaves and poor root growth.
To avoid this, Logan recommends using a foliar spray or side-dress by applying organically-approved Borax (aka boric acid), following a ratio of half an ounce per 100 square feet. It’ll also help keep some insects away.
The greatest challenge when planting carrots is germination. To ease the process, Logan suggests placing a piece of row cover or clear greenhouse plastic over the soil to keep the moisture even. He also says, “If you have noticed spindly or undeveloped carrot roots, be sure that you are using snips to thin out 2-4 inches of space between each carrot seedling.”
Zucchinis are the trickier plants to grow, thanks to being prone to powdery mildew. However, you can reduce the likelihood of this happening by taking care of the air circulation. For example, Logan places plants two to three square feet apart, keeps weeds down, and uses a diluted neem solution in moist conditions. You could also use a mulch made of dried leaves or straw to stop rain splashing on the leaves.
Logan’s best tip for onions is all about saving time. He suggests using starter bulbs or onion sets to speed up the process and reduce your workload – this can work for spring scallions, sweet onions, and other varieties.
A dash of sweet bell pepper is a staple of many meals; one recommendation can help you get as many as possible. “Boost bell pepper yields and flavor by amending vermicompost or composted chicken manure to your garden beds,” suggests Logan. Once your pepper plants flower, you could also consider adding diluted fish and fertilizer.
The squash is a perfect winter warmer, but it would be nothing without its sweetness. To ensure you get the ideal dose, you must pay attention to curing.
“As your winter squash plants thrive in the garden, prepare a cool, dry area for curing with a ventilated table, fans, and dehumidifier,” suggests Logan. Then, when harvest time comes around and the squash vines have withered and turned yellow, cut the squash until they have two to three inches of stem and let them firm up in a curing chamber for one to two weeks.
The very reason Missourians like lettuce (the crisp, cool leaves) is the biggest obstacle in growing them properly – they can bolt and get bitter when the weather is too warm. Logan recommends opting for the Salanova variety to get past this as they resist bolting.
If you’re with West Virginia about turnips being the most desirable veggie to grow, ensure you’re consistent in your methods.
“If you want crisp, tender turnips, use drip irrigation or soaker hoses on timers to ensure a slight but continuous soil moisture. Use ample compost to increase water holding capacity and ensure that the soil doesn’t dry out,” says Logan.
You Go, Green Fingers
If you’ve ever found yourself curious about how to grow a specific vegetable, don’t let your momentum stop there. As a spokesperson from AllAboutGardening points out: “Learning how to grow your own food, in particular vegetables, is not only a great skill and hobby to have but also an incredibly useful way to cut costs when grocery shopping.” Moreover, most of us could benefit from it as living costs creep up.
The only question left is: What will you try first?