Most vegetables in the United States are bred for hardiness to weather, disease, and pests, with taste as a consideration—but what if taste was the main consideration? That’s what Lane Selman, an agriculture researcher at Oregon State University, was thinking when she introduced plant breeders to some of her chef friends in Portland, eventually founding the Culinary Breeding Network. Through the program, chefs and growers team up and throw annual tastings to evaluate plants’ taste, texture, and appearance, with the goal of creating the tastiest produce possible. Some of the chef-approved varieties have already hit Portland restaurants, and this is the first year where home gardeners can buy the seeds, produced by Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seed, for their own backyards.
To plant them at home, she suggests starting right away.
- Using a plastic garden flat, plant one seed in each cell, a quarter-inch deep into loose potting soil.
- Keep the tray outside to make sure it gets lots of natural sunlight, and water it enough that the soil feels damp but not soggy.
- After four weeks, the small plants will be ready to be transplant—plant them 18 inches apart in a garden, or in their own containers.
- Keep watering them so they stay at that damp-but-not-drenched level (just note that plants in containers will require more water).
- Thirty days after planting, you can start harvesting the individual baby greens from the outside of the plant, ideally in the morning when it’s cooler out, and try to eat them the same day.
- When the weather turns cooler at the end of the summer, kale and some other leafy greens actually improve in flavor, becoming sweeter with the onset of fall.
The question is, which types of veggies should you grow? Here are Selman’s top picks for organic greens that pair the knowledge of chefs and seed breeders. Plant them now, and eat chef-approved salads later.