OLATHE, — K-State Research and Extension has updated its recommendations of vegetable varieties that have consistently proven themselves to be hearty, resistant to drought and disease, while producing good amounts of fruit.

These last few weeks of winter are a time of planning and preparation for home gardeners. Gardening catalogs arrive in mailboxes, while email accounts are filled with special offers from online retailers.

“I have so much admiration for the copywriters that write those three- or four-sentence descriptions found in gardening catalogs,” said Dennis Patton, horticultural agent for K-State Research and Extension’s Johnson County office. “Everything's wonderful, juicy, flavorful, ‘performs better than the next.’”

“You never pick up a garden catalog and read ‘this variety of tomato is a dog, it won’t produce,” she said.

That’s not to throw shade on seed catalogs — they couldn’t stay in business very long if they consistently sold poor products. It’s not that a new variety of tomato is a risk because it may not produce; the bigger question is, “where will it grow best?”

“Kansas has ever-changing weather patterns and conditions,” Patton said. “We may start the day as hot or cold or wet or dry, and all that can change within a matter of 24 or 48 hours.”

Vegetable and plant varieties recommended by K-State Research and Extension have been tested in many of the research farms scattered across Kansas. “These are varieties that we know, through repeated plantings, consistently perform well year in and year out. That’s a solid first step on the road to success.”

In addition to visiting your nearest extension office for a list of these vegetable varieties, there are some electronic options. The official list of Recommended Vegetable Varieties (https://www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/l41.pdf ) has been maintained for many years, and was updated in October 2017. The Horticulture Information Center maintains a list of recommended plants (http://hnr.k-state.edu/extension/info-center/recommended-plants/) that covers not only vegetables, but fruits, ornamentals, trees and more. Finally, if you want an in-depth look at a particular vegetable, start with this list of available vegetable publications (https://hnr.k-state.edu/extension/publications/vegetables.html)

Patton added that there’s no reason to completely ignore those seed catalogs.

“Make the K-State varieties the backbone of your garden, and maybe save space for one or two new things that interest you. There are so many unique, unusual fruits and vegetables out there — go ahead and put something new in, add a little bit of variety,” he said.

Preparations Before Planting

Before you get garden seeds in the ground, there are still some things to consider, according to K-State Research and Extension horticulturist Dennis Patton.

Patton, who works out of the Johnson County office in Olathe, says there are three or four things gardeners can do right now that could make a difference later in the year.

1) Move things around

— Most of us have heard of the effectiveness of rotating crops, or planting different things in different areas every year. Even George Washington practiced crop rotation at Mount Vernon. Crop rotation in the home garden isn’t always feasible on that scale, especially with today’s smaller gardens.

“But it’s always a good idea to try to move those crops about so you’re not always putting tomatoes in the same spot year after year, or peppers, or potatoes, because those crops do pull out different nutrients from the soil,” Patton said. “You can also potentially increase insects and diseases going back to the same spot.”

2) Too much of a good thing —

Stories are still told about the Zucchini Bandit, the mysterious stranger who sneaks into unlocked parked cars in the summer and leaves bags of zucchini squash.

You won’t have to be the next Zucchini Bandit, Patton said, if you follow one simple rule: “Plant what your family’s going to eat and going to enjoy. If they’re not crazy about okra, don’t plant okra, no matter how well it grows.”

Think about how much of a fresh vegetable your family will likely eat, and add a few more plants if you intend to can or freeze some for later. 

3) Get the dirt on what’s happening —

While the soil is still dormant, it’s a great chance to take a soil sample, and deliver it to your local extension office. Your sample will be sent to the labs at K-State, and you’ll get a report detailing what your soil has, and more importantly, what it needs.

“Before you put that first seed in the ground this spring you’ll already know if there’s any recommendations for fertilizer, pH adjustments that need to be made,” Patton says. “A soil test will help you hit the ground running for a wonderful season.”