Growing New World vegetables in Vermont

Most people who garden tend to have favorite plants, and I admit I tend to be slightly obsessed with New World vegetables.  The plants of the New World, native to the Americas, are numerous and varied, many of which were brought by ship long ago to Europe.   Though we associate the potato with Ireland, the potato originated in South America, and has been grown there continuously for thousands of years.  In the 1500’s the explorer (and conqueror) Pizarro brought potatoes from South America to Europe, where it was introduced.  Most Europeans, especially the English, were suspicious of eating the potato, as it resembled a plant they knew, the nightshade, known to be poisonous.  The potato grew well there though, and they began to feed it to to their pigs.  (Apparently, they weren’t incredibly sentimental about their livestock.)   The Irish however, were either smarter or hungrier than the British, and took to the potato immediately.  Potato became a very important part of the Irish diet, and remains a staple food there.

Many New World vegetables share a similar story, traveling across the world to a new land, and putting down roots, both physically and culturally.  The tomato to Italy, beans to..well…everywhere, the peanut to Africa,  chocolate, pepper, squash, corn, strawberry, sunflower, jerusalem artichoke, amaranth…the list goes on and on.

In our garden, potato and winter squash play a central role, being such wonderful storage vegetables, and growing so well and easily here.  They are followed by the tomato, beans (both for fresh vegetable and dry beans), summer squash, pepper, and amaranth.   We grow the sunflower because it is  beautiful and attracts bees, and the corn I am growing mainly to save seed and perpetuate an ancient and heirloom variety of black aztec corn. We also grow Jerusalem artichoke, which can be eaten like a potato, and is one of the rare vegetables that is a perennial in our climate.  We have a couple of varieties of ground cherries this year, a predominantly new world plant.  And the bulk of our flower garden is planted in Hopi red dye amaranth, sunflowers, and nasturtium…all new world, and edible plants.

New world vegetables in our garden, a tour:

Below, the greenhouse tomatoes, a mix of cherry, a few heirloom varieties, and paste tomatoes.

The field tomatoes, all amish paste, for our fall tomato canning!

Tomatoes planted on straw bales in our kitchen (salad) garden, mostly cherry tomatoes, and some heirloom small and medium sized tomatoes.

Butternut squash!

The butternut squash garden (52 plants in all!)

The summer squash garden, with the Ayocote bianco beans behind them, starting to climb the fence…interplanted with hopi red dye amaranth.

The potatoes!  Just starting to come up…

The back field, planted mostly with potatoes, with a row of sweet peppers and chile peppers, and 2 rows of Peruana beans for drying  (also known as Mayocoba or canary beans)…and also some rows of  non new world vegetables, like cabbage, beets, carrots, and onions.

The Peruana beans, coming up below!

Three fences planted with Ayocote Bianco beans for drying, a white runner bean variety.

Scarlet runner beans planted along a fence around the lilac.  They are so tall now that they are starting to climb the lilac itself!  I cant wait to see them when they start to flower!

More scarlet runner beans climbing a fence between the greenhouse and the chicken yard.   Sunflowers and amaranth are coming up on their own, that self seeded from last year….so I am just letting them be!  A wild and crazy patch here, well see how it goes…

I think these are scarlet runner beans here  (I planted so many beans, Im starting to forget who I put where!)  These will hopefully create a little shaded nook, a ‘changing room’  for the kids to change between rounds of swimming….

The Ayocote bianco, in the kitchen garden….again.

These will be our fresh eating beans, a burgundy bush bean.

More scarlet runner beans, (are you sensing a theme here?  I just love runner beans…)  planted to climb the trellis that is shading the propane tank….with some Amaranth in there as well….

And, ahem, more Scarlet runner beans planted to climb the trellis in the front yard…

Below, some of the beans before planting.  The White GIANT one is the Ayocote Bianco, a white Runner variety, that I bought from Rancho Gordo…an heirloom bean company.  They sell  many beautiful (and delicious) bean varieties for eating, and I decided to try and plant them as well!  I bought both the Ayocote Negro (a black runner bean), and the Royal Corona bean (the white runner bean, Ayocote Bianco…and also the biggest dry bean I have ever seen!)   I got the Peruana beans from a Patient of Marcs, who brought them back from a trip to Mexico  (Thank you!)   And the scarlet runner beans I have been growing and saving my own seeds for a number of years now.

Below, the ‘royal corona’ beans from Rancho Gordo…presoaked for planting.  They are huge, and even bigger after cooking!

Amaranth and sunflower apparently like to grow together, here they are again…a mix of red calaloo amaranth, giant orange amaranth, and hopi red dye amaranth….with the opportunistic sunflower popping up wherever the Amaranth is planted.  I just let them do their thing.

Hopi Red Dye Amaranth to adorn our deck.  Beautiful, and edible.  The leaves are a very nutritious green (in this case red or purplish)  and the seeds are nutritious and protein rich.   I harvest the greens, steam, and then dehydrate them for a ‘green powder’ to use in smoothies, to add to our pasta dough, and various other baked goods and treats to add nutrition.  (Don’t tell my kids)

This is a patch of Hopi Red Dye Amaranth that reseeded itself from last year, which I interplanted with the black aztec corn.  The corn is too small to see now.  And i’m sure there will be sunflower in there too somewhere….just because…

This red calaloo amaranth is one of my favorites because of it’s beautiful red and green coloring, and how wonderfully tall it gets….last year over 8 feet tall.

We planted about half the flower garden with Amaranth, some sunflowers, and nasturtium,  all edible, and all beautiful once they get flowering…

The jerusalem artichoke, aka sun choke  growing in front of the fence in the front yard.  This is our only perennial new world vegetable.  It grows both a sunflower-like flower, and an edible tuber, which can be eaten much like potato.  It does not store as well and as long as potato though, so we tend to leave it in the ground until we are ready to eat it.  It can be harvested in spring, or in fall.    And it can also take over an area, so be careful where you plant it, because it will creep and spread.  But a highly nutritious and easy to grow new world edible.

And, last, but not least…the ground cherry or husk cherry.  This is an heirloom variety called ‘aunt molly’s ground cherry’.  These are similar to the tomatillo, but sweet…and tasting similar to a pineapple.  They are kind of slow to grow until the heat of the summer, and then they take off, and produce prolific little husk covered fruit.  I planted about 12 of these this year.

So, for this year we are hoping for an abundance of potato, butternut squash, tomatoes, amaranth for drying, and dried beans for winter.   I am experimenting with seeing which runner varieties produce the best here in Vermont (and Im eyeing that mess of a yard behind the greenhouse for a runner bean field for next year….) We are also seeing how much mayocoba bean production we can get in a couple of 50 foot rows.  And in expanding our growing space with the mini orchard, we are hoping to be able to to plant within the orchard next year, perhaps garlic, perhaps dry beans….Will keep you posted!

And, if you would like to try to grow some of the beautiful heirloom beans yourself…I recommend the really cool varieties over at

Happy Gardening! love, lisa

2 Comments Add yours

  1. scrosby says:

    Amazing article with a wealth of info.  How  you can find time to write and grow these vegetables and raise wonderful children is an inspiration.   Do you know where I could buy some ground cherry plants this year or is it way beyond planting time for that crop?Sue

    Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

    1. Hi sue, I cant remember which farm..(I think radical roots maybe?) had starts at the Rutland farmers market…they may still have them! I think theres still time!

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