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Vegetable “Types” Explained

Here are some descriptions of different types of seeds:

Beans – Shell vs. Dry – Carol Deppe has the definition listed in her book The Resilient Gardener.  Shell beans are types of beans that grow from pod to developing green bean seeds rather quickly, but they delay maturity somewhat.  So you can pick them in the green bean seed stage for a long while without them drying out.

Dry bean seeds, on the other hand, mature much quicker to the dry bean stage.

Many varieties will have interchangeable characteristics and the flavors will change during different stages.

Carrots – Many seed catalogs mention the terms Imperator, Nantes, Danvers, Amsterdam and Chantenay type carrots.

Imperator types are long and tapered and preferred by supermarkets. Some people feel that their flavor is least appealing of all the types of carrots.

Nantes have the highest sugar, but lowest starch. This means that they don’t keep well but are sweetest for fresh eating. Nantes are cylindrical. They’re best sown in spring for eating in summer.

Amsterdam type is the same type of carrot as a nantes.

Danvers types have higher fiber but lower sugar content. They make good summer sown carrots for winter storage and are better cooked.

Chantenay types are short and wide, and are the best varieties for heavy soil.

Corn – Here’s the difference between Normal Sugary (su), Sugary Enhanced (se) and (se+), Synergistic, and Supersweet (sh2) hybrid corn varieties:

Normal Sugary or SU corn varieties are essentially old-fashioned corn varieties that have no shelf life. You have to pick them and eat them right away or all of their sugar will be converted over to starch. (Note that freezing corn stops the conversion process, so freezing right after picking will prevent sugar loss).

Sugary Enhanced or SE and SE+ hybrid corn varieties have a gene that slows down the conversion of sugar to starch. SE+ is a touch sweeter and more tender than SE.

Supersweet or SH2 corn is bred to have the longest shelf life possible, but it isn’t as tender or flavorful as the other varieties. Supersweet corn is typically grown by market gardeners.

Synergistic corn is a combination of Supersweet (25%) and Sugary Enhanced (75%). So you would get the benefit of the longest shelf life plus the flavor and tenderness of Sugary Enhanced.

Please note that if you are planting hybrid corn, you will need to isolate it from other corn varieties. See this article for more information


Romaine – These form loose heads of long, broad leaves that mature in 50 to 70 days from seed.  If you want your salads to be most nutritious, this is the lettuce to grow.  Romaine lettuce ranks almost as high as spinach and kale in nutrients.

Leaf – These fast-growing, easy lettuces take only 45 to 60 days from seed to full-size plants and are also called cutting and looseleaf lettuce. Many cultivars are available, and leaf edges can be wavy to curly, very frilly, or lobed (like oak leaves).  These do well in early spring as the first lettuce.  Leaves can be allowed to mature, or can be cut small for salads in just a few weeks.

Butterhead – Also called Boston or bibb lettuce, these form a loose head and have exceptionally tender, succulent leaves. Plants take from 50 to 75 days to mature from seed.

Crisphead – Also called iceberg lettuces, these produce firm, solid heads of crisp, juicy leaves. Older cultivars need 75 days of cool weather to form heads, but newer ones released for home gardeners make this crop easier to grow. Still, crispheads ideally need about 2 months of days in the 60s/15.6-20.5°C to form a head. Batavian or summer crisp-type cultivars usually form heads (and will not bolt) as long as temperatures don’t exceed about 75°F/23.8°C during the day and stay above 50°F/10°C at night.

Summer Crisp – Also listed as French crisp lettuce, summer crisp lettuces are intermediate between Butterhead and Crisphead lettuce. They have crisp leaves that eventually form a firm head and generally take 50 to 75 days to mature from seed. Pick the leaves individually, or wait to harvest the entire head.

For bolt resistance, my favorite varieties are Nevada, Sierra, and Cherokee.  Grow these three types, and you will have lettuce well into summer.

Onions – The most important thing to understand as gardeners is that onion bulbs grow in response to daylight. The onion must make its vegetative top-growth before the bulbs will form. If they haven’t grown much green foliage above ground, they won’t form much of a bulb.

Long day onions will begin to form a bulb once they receive 14-16 hours of daylight each day. These onions should be planted in the north where there is this much daylight.  Short day onions will form bulbs at 12 hours of sunlight.

Below are some other onion definitions:

Bunching–these are green onions.

Cipollini–are a type of onion that forms a flat-ish bulb. They are semi-sweet and do not store long.

Hard–are those that form hard outer papers. These hard outer shells are typically found in storage types of onions.

Green–onions are grown for their stalk. They can be onions that are harvested before they mature into a bulb or some varieties are bred to not form a bulb.

Pearl onions–are a type of walking onion.

Scallions–are green onions.

Potatoes indeterminate versus determinate

Some time ago I noticed that some of the growth characteristics of my potato plants behaved differently than others. In my garden, I noted that one variety (labeled as “Yukon gold” by the seller) grew a long vine and kept growing and growing and never stopped. But other plants stayed contained. I got quite the yield from the plants that grew very large.

After some research, I received this information directly from a potato grower:

“Usually the terms indeterminate and determinate refer to the growth habit of a plant in relation to the apical meristem (terminal bud). When the term is used in comparing potatoes, it refers to the setting of stolons under ground that produce the tubers. Determinate types will only produce one set (or flush) of stolons, while indeterminate types will produce multiple sets of stolons. The determinate types are usually early maturing varieties and the indeterminate types are typically the long season types.” 

So what is the implication for us, the home gardeners who are trying to figure out how to grow potatoes? Well, obviously, many of us are attempting to grow potatoes in buckets or towers or some vertical device. In order for this system to work, or to work the best that it can, we need to choose varieties that will grow the way that we expect them to.

If you do not want to bother with hilling up your potatoes much and want them to grow close to the ground, a short-season variety is going to work best for you. If, however, you are expecting your potatoes to grow vertically in a tower, a long season variety will probably be best.


Cucumbers are grown to eat fresh are called slicing cucumbers. They are mainly eaten in the unripe green form, since the ripe yellow form normally becomes bitter and sour.

Pickling cucumbers are shorter, thicker, less regularly shaped, and have bumpy skin with tiny spines.

Burpless cucumbers are sweeter and have a thinner skin than other varieties of cucumber, and are easy to digest. They can grow as long as 2 feet.  They are nearly seedless, and have a delicate skin.  They are sometimes marketed as seedless or burpless, because the seeds and skin of other varieties of cucumbers are said to give some people gas.

Armenian cucumbers (also known as yard long cucumbers) are fruits produced by the plant Cucumis melo var. flexuosus. This is not the same species as the common cucumber (Cucumis sativus) although it is closely related. Armenian cucumbers have very long, ribbed fruit with a thin skin that does not require peeling, but are actually an immature melon. This is the variety sold in Middle Eastern markets as “pickled wild cucumber”.

Winter Squash

Acorns and the red squashes are delicious right from the field, but only last a maximum of 3 months.

Spaghetti Squash is ready to eat when picked and will keep up to 3 months.

Delicata and Sweet Dumplings can be enjoyed immediately after harvest, and store for 4 months.

Buttercups are sweeter after a few weeks of storage, and will keep up to 4 months.

Kabochas get sweeter with a few weeks of storage. The green ones will keep 4-5 months.  

Butternuts and Hubbards are better after a few weeks in storage and will keep to 6 months.