If you are as tired of the winter doom and gloom as most of us are this time of the year, you are anxiously awaiting the official return of the spring season and all the glory it brings: flowering bulbs bursting forth in yards, trees budding out, lawns returning to their vibrant green hue, baby critters popping up left and right, longer days filled with sun, and, of course, vegetable gardening.

Over the past few years, backyard vegetable gardens have become a trendy preoccupation throughout the United States. According to a recent study sponsored by the North Dakota State University Extension Office, 58 percent of Americans say they plan to grow some of their own food in 2015, up from 35 percent in 2010.

From cultivating hobby farms to putting in raised beds in the backyard to container gardening on the patio, growing your own food and eating as locally as possible is hot right now. Much of this growth is spurred by the millennial generation, which has been quick to jump on the bandwagon of eating better, being kinder to the earth, and sourcing food more locally and more humanely than had their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

One great byproduct of the increased interest in growing one’s own food is an interest in returning to cultivating heirloom fruits and vegetables.

“Frankenfood” developed by Big Ag is beginning to fall out of fashion with consumers. While those perfectly round, uniformly sized, bright-red tomatoes at the grocery store might have looked appealing in 1997, consumers today realize the fruits and vegetables of years past are not only more appealing-looking for an Instagram photo, but also taste much better.

Plus, nurturing plants with your own hands makes one feel like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed!

If you are like many of us and are planning to sow a vegetable garden in 2015, now is the optimal time to start thinking about doing so. Cool-weather crops that thrive in spring and late fall can likely be seeded any time (either started indoors or directly in the garden), and gardeners who like to grow starts for warm-weather crops indoors or in the greenhouse can do so immediately.

Here are five easy steps to make your vegetable-growing operations a success this year, as well as recommendations on the most fun varietals to try in 2015.

Edible-gardening cheat sheet

1. Plan, plot and shop: Find a spot in your yard or patio that gets a minimum of six hours of sun per day. Sketch up a quick plan, and try your best to take into account how large the plants will be once they are fully grown. Spend some time visiting local shops and nurseries and checking seed company magazines and websites to figure out what appeals to you and will grow well in the area. (Semipro tip: The seed packages or plant tags will tell you anticipated spread and height, and suggested spacing.)

2. Amend that soil: Whether this is your first time planting or your 20th, it’s always beneficial to amend the soil to ensure it is rich with nutrients for plants. Adding a nice layer of compost and peat moss and mixing it deeply into the soil will ensure your new vegetables will achieve their full potential.

3. Plant, plant, plant: Whether you are sowing seeds or planting seedlings, try to plant either in the early morning or later at night, once the heat of the day has passed. Try to plant seeds no deeper than the seed packages suggest, or, if starting with seedlings, ensure the root ball is slightly below your soil level. Make sure to water after planting.

4. Tend your garden and watch it grow: Throughout the growing season, you’ll want to ensure your plants are watered and weeded regularly to ensure all the water and nutrients are benefiting the crop. Try to avoid watering during the heat of the day. Stick to early mornings and the evenings. Consider investing in drip lines to reduce water waste.

5. Harvest and enjoy: As a rule of thumb, harvest your fruits and vegetables when they look the way they do at the local farmers’ market or grocery store. Pea pods should be lush, but not exuberant; lettuce should be harvested before going to flower; tomatoes should be colorful and have a slight give to the flesh — yet not mushy; zucchini should be picked before they become monsters (which can literally happen overnight!); and winter squash should have their stems dying off before harvest.

Vegetables to invest in for 2015:

It seems as though every year, seed companies have more and more “It” vegetables for consumers to check out. For the past decade, consumers have been the clear winners, as many of our forefathers’ favorite varietals are coming back into fashion. In addition to the great taste heirloom vegetables have, they, more often than not, also have striking colors, patterns and shapes that had fallen by the wayside in the modern agricultural community.

If you are hunting for some unique and delicious additions to your garden this year, consider the following options. Many of these seeds can be sourced from local stores and nurseries, while you might need to procure others from seed companies.

Cool-weather crops — greens, brassicas and more

Dragon’s Tongue arugula

Broccoli raab 

Romanesco broccoli

Savoy cabbage

Snowball cauliflower

Flamingo Pink Swiss chard

Georgia collards

Mustard greens

Red Mizuna greens

Nero Di Toscana kale

Russian Red kale

Buttercrunch lettuce

Flashy Butter lettuce

Oakleaf lettuce

Tom Thumb lettuce



Giant Noble spinach

Catskill Brussels sprouts

Chinese pak choi

Peas and beans

Lincoln garden pea

Wando garden pea

De Grace snow pea

Golden Wax bush bean

Aquadulce fava bean

Kabouli Black garbanzo bean 

Christmas Pole lima bean

Sunset runner bean

Asian winged bean

Chinese Red Noodle bean

Tongue of Fire bean

Pink Quartz bean 

Root vegetables

Chiogga beets

Golden beets

Atomic Red carrots

Cosmic Purple carrots

Cipollini onions

Walla Walla Sweet Onions

German garlic

Hollow Crown parsnips

French Breakfast radish

Watermelon radish

Golden Globe turnip 


Chinese Yellowr

Crystal Apple 



Amish Paste

Arkansas Traveler

Black Krim

Black Plum

Cherokee Purple

German Pink

Lemon Boy

Mortgage Lifter

Mr. Stripey



Purple Bumble Bee 

San Marzano

Sungold Cherry

Yellow Brandywine



Early Black Egg

Listada de Gandia


Albino Bullnose

Goat Horn

Golden Cayenne


Red Marconi

Rooster Spur

Sheepnose pimento

Thai Red chili

Summer squashes

Golden Crookneck squash

Yellow Scallop squash

Black Beauty zucchini

Lungo Bianco zucchini


Arkansas Black watermelon

Dixie Queen watermelon

Golden honeydew

Charentais melon

Healy’s Pride melon

Winter squashes

Long Island Cheese pumpkin

New England Sugar Pie pumpkin

Acorn squash

Blue Hubbard squash

Buttercup squash

Butternut squash

Delicata squash

Fordhook squash

Mini Red Turban squash

Red kuri squash