Top 10 Summer Veggies and Fruits

Serve fresh produce from your garden at every barbecue when you grow these top 10 summer veggies and fruits.

There’s no better time to be in the garden than summer! Long days and lots of sunshine mean you can grow a thriving plot of summer veggies and fruits for fresh salads, healthy snacking, and canning and preserving for winter. Tomatoes are always popular, of course, but there are plenty of other summer veggies to try, including these 10 favorites.

Cucumber

Cucumber

Cucumis sativus

There’s nothing quite like a refreshing cucumber salad on a hot summer day. Or garden greens topped with cool, low-calorie cucumber-yogurt dressing. Or pickled cukes—or raw ones, eaten right off the vine. Any way you cut them, they’re a great treat to beat the heat. Just don’t remove the rind or you lose this veggie’s best stuff: fiber and vitamin A.

Planting Advice: It’s best to sow seeds outdoors in full sun and well-draining soil, 1/2 to 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart, two weeks after the last expected frost and when soil warms up. When seedlings are about 3 inches tall, thin them to one every foot or two, depending on the variety. For extended harvest, plant another cuke crop in mid-
or late summer.

Harvest Tips: They’re ready to pick in 50 to 100 days, depending on the variety. Harvest when the fruits are green and firm; smaller is better.

Top Picks: Burpless, Caroline (pickling), Salad Bush (compact bush), Sweet Success

Tasty Heirlooms: Boothby’s Blonde, Double Yield, Japanese Climbing, Longfellow, True Lemon,
Mini White, Poona Kheera, Snow’s Fancy

Eggplant

Eggplant

Solanum melongena

Baba ganoush, that tasty Middle Eastern dip, is just one of many delicious dishes you can make with eggplant. Bonus points: The fruits come in different colors, which make them striking landscape ornamentals.

Planting Advice: Transplants work best. Start seeds indoors two months before soil warms. After last frost and when soil warms up, set transplants every 18 to 24 inches in full sun; space rows 30 to 36 inches apart.

Harvest Tips: Ripe in 50 to 80 days. Pick when 6 to 8 inches long and shiny; keep green “hats” and a bit of stem attached. But fruit length doesn’t always signal maturity, so use the thumb test: If the flesh rebounds when gently pressed, it’s ripe. Handle with care; eggplants bruise easily. They spoil fast, too, so cook them quickly.

Top Picks: Black Bell, Ghostbuster (white), Slim Jim (compact), Easter Egg (yellow ornamental).

Tasty Heirlooms: Applegreen, Casper, Guyo Kumba (red), Lao Green Stripe, Listada de Gandia, Rosa Bianca, Round Mauve, Udumalapet

Corn

Corn

Zea mays

No sweet corn in summer? Boy, what a bummer. Few things taste better than fresh sweet corn on the cob, slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt. Or try brushing on olive oil and your favorite seasoning blend. Don’t forget the napkins!

Planting Advice: When frost no longer threatens, plant seeds 1/2 inch deep and 9 to 12 inches apart, with 30 to 36 inches between rows. If you plant more than one variety, plant two or more rows of the same variety side by side—not in one long row—to promote cross-pollination.

Harvest Tips: Pick in 75 to 100 days, when kernels are smooth and plump, usually three weeks or so after silk strands appear. To test for ripeness: Prick a kernel with a fingernail; milky juice indicates it’s ready to pick.

Top Picks: Earlivee (early), Honey & Cream (multicolored), Jubilee, Pearl White, Sundance.

Tasty Heirlooms: Blue Baby (miniature, good for containers), Golden Bantam. Reid’s Yellow Dent, Stowell’s Evergreen (white)

Beans

Beans

Phaseolus vulgaris

Commonly known as string beans or snap beans, these veggies are one of the most popular around—and for good reason. They’re easy to grow, delicious and nutritious. And if it’s a more colorful garden you seek, good news: Beans come in more than just basic green, thanks to yellow, purple, gold, reddish, green-and-purple and purple-and-yellow heirlooms.

Planting Advice: After the last expected frost date, when the soil is warm, plant bush-bean seeds 1 inch deep and 2 to 4 inches apart, in rows 18 to 24 inches apart. For pole beans, sow seeds 4 to 6 inches apart, with rows 36 inches apart.

Harvest Tips: Ready to pick in 45 to 60 days. Harvest when the pods are firm and crisp, before the seeds in the pods grow too big and get tough. To store, refrigerate in airtight plastic bags.

Top Picks: Blue Lake, Gold Rush, Greencrop; Kentucky Blue

Tasty Heirlooms:
For bush beans: Arikara Yellow, Dragon’s Tongue (purple/yellow pods), Red Swan, Royalty Purple Pod. For pole beans: Cherokee Trail of Tears, Hidatsa Shield, Rattlesnake Snap (green/purple pods), Purple Pod Pole. Kentucky Wonder works as both a bush and pole plant.

Tomatillos

Tomatillos

Physalis philadelphica

Commonly used in many Mexican dishes, the tomatillo (pronounced “toh-mah-tee-yoh”) is a small, green (sometimes yellow or purple, too), tomatolike fruit covered with a tan, papery husk. Its lemony, herblike flavor adds a distinctive, bright tang to salsas—particularly salsa verde—and other Mexican dishes.
Tomatillos are delicious when boiled/steamed or grilled, then added to many dishes, from salsas and sauces to stews and dips. Or use them in stir fry and salads—anything that needs a tangy little zip.

Planting Advice: Sow seeds indoors about six to eight weeks before the expected last-frost date. Transplant hardened-off seedlings after danger of frost passes and when soil is workable; plant 18 to 24 inches apart with rows 3 to 4 feet apart.

Harvest Tips: Tomatillos mature in 90 to 100 days. Pick them when the husks turn brown and break open. Younger fruits taste tart; the more they mature, the sweeter the flavor. To store, remove the husks and wash the fruits. (Don’t worry if they’re sticky—that’s normal.) Keep in a cool, dry place.

Top Picks: Cisineros, Verde Puebla.

Tasty Heirlooms: Dr. Wyche’s Yellow, Green Husk, Pineapple, Purple, Purple de Milpa, Toma Verde

Peppers

Peppers

Capsicum annuum

From crisp bells to molten-lava-intensity jalapenos, peppers add color, zest and nutrition to recipes. Bells offer vitamins A, C and K and chilies contain capsaicin, which fights inflammation and arthritis pain. Peppers also add color to gardens.

Planting Advice: When soil is warm and frost danger passes, set transplants 18 to 24 inches apart, in full sun and well-draining soil; water deeply, consistently and uniformly. Use stakes and cages as needed. Note that despite their final color, most bells emerge green, then change color as they mature.

Harvest Tips: Pick bells in 65 to 75 days; chilies in 70 to 85 days. Pick all bell pepper varieties at any size; select firm fruit that breaks away easily. Pick often to encourage more blossoms.

Top Picks: Bell Boy, Cayenne, Jalapeno, Purple Belle, Sweet Banana.

Tasty Heirlooms:
Sweet: Chocolate Beauty, Golden Treasure, Sheepnose Pimento, Tequila Sunrise, Tollies Sweet.
Medium hot: Beaver Dam, Black Hungarian, Aurora, Candlelight.
Hot: Georgia Flame, Red Cap Mushroom

Okra

Okra

Abelmoschus esculentus

In the South, gumbo and okra go together like fried and chicken. Typically used to thicken stews and soups, or in salads, this little-known veggie also is tasty pickled, steamed or deep-fried. And you don’t have to live down South to grow it.

Planting Advice: In warm regions, sow seeds when soil warms to 65 to 70 degrees. Soak seeds in water overnight; plant them 1/2 to 1 inch deep in full sun and well-draining soil, 3 to 4 inches apart. Thin to 18 to 24 inches apart. In cool regions, start seeds indoors several weeks before soil warms. When soil is warm, set out transplants 1 to 2 feet apart; keep rows 3 or 4 feet apart.

Harvest Tips: Wear gloves/long sleeves to avoid skin-irritating pod hairs. Cut off young, tender pods when 2 to 3 inches long. They grow tough quickly, so check daily.

Top Picks: Annie Oakley, Dwarf Green Long Pod.

Tasty Heirlooms: Clemson Spineless, Hill Country Red, Red Burgundy, Silver Queen, Star of David

Melon

Melons

Cucurbitaceae

From Crenshaws to cantaloupes to honeydews and everything in between, juicy melons are a refreshing treat. Sweet and tasty, melons also provide fiber, potassium and vitamins A and C.

Planting Advice: In warmer regions, plant seeds when soil is warm, in full sun and well-draining soil, 1 inch deep and 4 inches apart; leave 6 to 8 feet between rows. When plants touch, thin weaker ones, leaving plants 2 feet apart. In cooler regions, sow seeds indoors three to four weeks before last expected frost; select quicker-maturing varieties. When soil is warm, plant seedlings 2 feet apart.

Harvest Tips: Melons generally mature in 80 to 100 days. Great taste relies on proper ripening, which enables sugars in the melon to fully develop. When picking, select fruits whose rinds have turned yellow between the textured “netting” pattern; when ripe, stems should separate easily from vines.

Top Picks: Ambrosia, Casaba Golden Beauty, Early Crenshaw, Early Dew, Gold Star, Jenny Lind, Limelight, Saticoy, Sweet Dream.

Tasty Heirlooms: Amish, Banana, Bidwell Casaba, Charentais, Delice de Table, Early Hanover, Emerald Gem, Green Nutmeg, Healy’s Pride, Hearts of Gold, Minnesota Midget, Petite Gris, Pride of Wisconsin, Queen Anne’s Pocket, Sweet Granite, Tigger

Watermelon

Watermelon

Citrullus lanatus

There are melons… and then there’s watermelon! Sweet slabs of juicy watermelon are a staple at summer picnics. It’s healthy, too: This succulent fruit is second only to tomatoes in lycopene content, a plant chemical that fights heart disease and some cancers.

Planting Advice: In cool climates, start seeds indoors three weeks before last-frost date, and opt for early-maturing varieties. In warmer climates, after frost danger passes, sow three seeds 1 inch deep in 2-foot-high mounds of soil and compost, in full sun. Place mounds 6 to 8 feet apart. Thin out weakest seedlings. Water liberally for three or four weeks; cut back when plants are established.

Harvest Tips: Pick in 70 to 85 days, when curly tendrils on stem turn brown and dry, or when underside turns a creamy yellow.

Top Picks: Sugar Baby (small fruits, early harvest), Crimson Sweet, Queen of Hearts (seedless).

Tasty Heirlooms: Chelsea, Chris Cross, Cream Saskatchewan (white flesh), Golden Midget (small, early harvest), Moon and Stars, Mountain Sweet Yellow, Picnic, Small Shining (small, early harvest), Sweet Siberian (yellow flesh)

Zucchini

Zucchini

Cucurbita spp.

Zucchini is a member of the squash family, and so easy to grow that most folks wind up with piles and piles of these summer veggies. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to prepare this vegetable, making it welcome all summer long.

Planting Advice: Zucchini need full sun and well-draining soil. Sow four or five seeds in a 1-inch-tall hill after last frost. When seedlings reach 2 or 3 inches tall, thin to two healthy plants per hill. For bush-types, plant seeds 1 inch deep every 3 inches, then thin to one every 24 to 36 inches.

Harvest Tips: Pick when fruits are immature, or they become tough and woody. Harvest long, narrow varieties before they’re 2 inches in diameter and are about 6 to 8 inches long.

Top Picks: Aristocrat, Classic (compact), Cocozelle, Elite, Embassy, President (upright plant), Vegetable Marrow White Bush.

Tasty Heirlooms: Black, Black Beauty, Dark Green, Golden, Grey

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.