Regional Picks: Best Edibles – Southwest

Fine Gardening - Issue 131

1. Purple Tomatillo

Maturity: 80 to 90 days

Yield: 5 to 15 pounds of fruit per plant

Needs: Full sun; rich, loose soil (but will tolerate heavy clay soil)

A gorgeous addition to any garden, tomatillos can become small trees if the conditions are right, so plan accordingly. Planted in late spring through early summer, purple tomatillo is a stout, upright plant with yellow flowers, and produces husk-covered purple fruit. Sweeter than green varieties, the 2-inch-long fruit are a vivid addition to salsa. Fruit are ripe when they break through the husk, showing their purple skin. If there’s a threat of frost, be sure to pick even husk-covered fruit; slightly underripe fruit can still be used as you would use mature fruit, though they are not as sweet. Plants can become brittle as they mature and fill with heavy fruit, so be careful when harvesting or working around them.


2. ‘Chinese Red Noodle’ Bean

Maturity: 50 to 60 days

Yield: 1 to 4 pounds of beans per plant

Needs: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil (but will tolerate heavy clay soil)

This is a fun and tasty bean, producing attractive,18-inch-long red pods. Thriv­ing in summer heat, this strong, vining plant sends out large, unusual purple-pink flowers before forming its pods. Eaten whole (pod and all), ‘Chinese Red Noodle’ beans are sweet and tender, retaining some of their color even when cooked. Pick the beans when they feel solid or when they have slightly loose skin. Make sure to harvest often because mature pods will slow further bean production. Beans can be used dry.


3. ‘Santa Fe Grande’ Pepper

Maturity: 80 to 90 days

Yield: 2 to 5 pounds of fruit per plant

Needs: Full sun; rich, loose soil (but will tolerate heavy clay soil)

Mildly spicy, this heirloom pepper thrives in the heat of southwestern summers. ‘Santa Fe Grande’ can be direct-seeded or transplanted. To germinate in the ground, seeds will need warm soil and air. To start producing fruit, the plant needs really hot temperatures. It produces high yields of 4-inch-long peppers throughout the growing season and is an excellent pepper for roasting.


4. ‘Green Striped Cushaw’ Winter Squash

Maturity: 80 to 90 days

Yield: Five squash (weighing 5 to 10 pounds apiece) per plant

Needs: Full sun; rich, loose soil (but will tolerate heavy clay soil)

A Native American heirloom, ‘Green Striped Cushaw’ is a huge, vigorous vine, so give it plenty of room when planting. Direct-sow in late spring to early summer. If the fruit are exposed to a cold snap, their thick, pale orange flesh will become sweeter. Fruit weigh 5 pounds on average but can get as heavy as 20 pounds. They store well at cooler room temperatures, gaining flavor through the winter.


Eric Luther runs Desert Greens, a community-supported agri­culture farm in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Photos: David Cavagnaro

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