Nearly every county in Oklahoma listed vegetables as a crop in the last Census of Agriculture. Oklahoma is a great place to grow vegetables. We have a long growing season and good soil. Many communities around the state have active farmer's markets from April through October where you can purchase locally grown vegetables. Some markets even operate year-roun. Locally grown vegetables are also available from roadside stands and "pick-your-own" farms.
Nutrition experts tell us we should be eating five servings a day of fruits and vegetables. With all the variety available to us, that shouldn't be difficult. Eating vegetables in season is a great way to get the most nutritional value and usually the best price as well. Vegetable also taste best in season, so offering veggies in season may be the best way to get kids to appreciate them. There's no comparing a tomato from the farmer's market or home garden to one bred for shelf life rather than flavor, picked while still green, trucked thousands of miles and then placed - still green - in the grocery store. The same goes for many other kinds of produce.
Many Oklahoma farmers who formerly grew more traditional crops like wheat and cattle have started adding fruits and vegetables to their operations for the sake of diversity. That way if one crop fails, it's not a total loss. And consumer concerns about health have helped make growing vegetables and slightly more lucrative business. Vegetables are more difficult to grow than traditional crops because they require more attention day by day.
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- Asparagus grows well in Oklahoma gardens. In the spring, tiny asparagus tips poke their noses out of the ground. If you don't pick them right away, they grow into big lacy ferns.
- Beets originate in the coastal regions of Europe, Africa and the Near East.
- The beet is a member of the goosefoot (chenopod) family, along with spinach, chard and quinoa. Wild foods in the chenopod family were probably eaten by ancient hunter/gatherer people on the North American continent before the development of agriculture.
- Beets are a unique source of phytonutrients called betalains. Betalains provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification support.
- Betanin pigments from beets have been shown to lessen tumor cell growth.
- The wild beet is thought to have originated in North Africa and grew wild along Asian and European seashores.
- In earlier times people just ate the the beet greens and not the root. People today eat both.
- Although typically a beautiful reddish-purple hue, beets also come in varieties that feature white, golden/yellow or even rainbow color roots.
- Broccoli has been served up for dinner for at least 2,000 years.
- By 2010 Americans were eating 900 percent more broccoli than they were eating in 1990.
- Thomas Jefferson, often called the farmer president, was an avid gardener. He kept a detailed garden diary and recorded his planting of broccoli on May 27, 1767. It is likely that he was the first person to grow broccoli in the United States. Americans have grown broccoli in their gardens for about 200 years, but it was not popular until the 1920s. The first commercially-grown broccoli was grown and harvested in New York, then planted in the 1920's in California.
- The name "broccoli" comes for the Latin word brachium, which means "branch," or "arm." Roman farmers called broccoli "the five green fingers of Jupiter."
- Broccoli was first grown in the Italian province of Calabria and was given the name Calabrese. Today there are many varieties. In the United States, the most common type of broccoli is the Italian green or sprouting variety. Its green stalks are topped with umbrella-shaped clusters of purplish green florets.
- Broccoli consumption has increased over 940 percent over the last 25 years.
- Ounce for ounce, broccoli has as much calcium as a glass of milk and more vitamin C than an orange! A 1/3 pound stalk of broccoli has more vitamin C than 2 1/2 pounds of oranges or 204 apples.It is one of the best sources of vitamin A and has more fiber than a slice of wheat bran bread. Broccoli is also a good source of potassium, folacin, iron and fiber. It contains a few important phytochemicals: beta-carotene, indoles and isothiocyanates. Phytochemicals prevent carcinogens (cancer causing substances) from forming. They also stop carcinogens from getting to target cells and help boost enzymes that detoxify carcinogens.
- Broccoli is a cool season vegetable. It grows well in Oklahoma gardens in early spring and in the fall.
- Cabbage is one of only a few vegetables available fresh in the winter time. It is a cole crop, related to broccoli, cauliflower, kale and brussel sprouts. Cabbage is a cool weather vegetable that grows fine in Oklahoma gardens, as long as it is planted very early in the spring or in the fall.
- Carrots are members of the parsley family, characterized by the feathery green leaves. Other members include parsnips, fennel, dill and celery.
- Carrots are a taproot, a type of root which grows downwards into the soil and swells. Carrots come in many sizes and shapes: round, cylindrical, fat, very small, long or thin.
- Carrots are an excellent source of beta-carotene, which our bodies turn into vitamin A. Carrots provide 30 percent of the vitamin A in the US diet.
- Carrots only need a small amount of space and are very easy to grow. They need well-worked, sandy soil so they will grow long, straight roots. Lumps and stones in the soil will cause the carrots to grow crooked.
- Carrots taste best when grown in cool weather. When the weather is too hot, the carrots grow bitter. In Oklahoma, some people grow carrots in their fall gardens.
- Carrots originated in Afghanistan and possibly northern Iran and Pakistan. The first carrots were purple and yellow. Orange carrots did not appear until the 1700s, when Dutch plant breeders bred them to match the Dutch flag. Orange carrots are the only carrots with beta carotene. Today most carrots eaten around the world are orange. In 2002 European farmers began growing purple carrots again.
- Carrots are worth approximately $300 million per year to US growers.
- In the US carrots were allowed to escape cultivation and subsequently turned into the wild flower, "Queen Anne's Lace."
- In the reign of James I, it became the fashion for ladies to use Wild Carrot flowers and its feathery leaves and stalks to decorate their hair, their hats, dresses and coats. This was especially fashionable during the autumn months when the leaves took on a reddish coloration.
- When the British Navy blockaded West Indian sugar from entering Europe in the 18th century, chemists made sugar from organic carrots.
- An extract of carrots was used to colour oleos (margarine) during the fats rationing that took place during WWII.
- Cauliflower probably originated in Asia Minor, but was available almost exclusively in Italy until the 16th century when it was introduced to France and eventually to other areas of Europe. It was first grown in North America in the late 1600s.
- Today, thick cauliflower soups are popular in France and Eastern Europe. Sardinian cooks combine garlic, olive oil and capers with it to make zesty salads and hot dishes. In India, it's cooked with potato and onion to make a rich vegetable curry.
- Mark Twain called cauliflower "a cabbage with a college education."
- Cauliflower is formed from the natural flowers of a variety of cabbage plant encouraged to gather together, unopened, to create a mass which becomes a large head over time. Depending on type, the heads can be pale green, white or even purple. The cauliflower was once described as resembling a bridal bouquet.
- Purple Cauliflower is wild and is actually better for us. The color is caused by anthocyanins (like those found in red cabbage and red wine), an antioxidant.
- The buds of the cauliflower head are kept white by carefully covering them to prevent the formation of chlorophyll that sunlight would cause. Cauliflower that is green has simply not been covered.
- Cauliflower is an excellent source of Vitamin C, a good source of folacin and a source of potassium.
- Cauliflower is a cool season crop, grown in Oklahoma gardens early in the spring and in the fall.
- Fresh cauliflower keeps well and can be refrigerated in the plastic wrapping in which it was purchased.
- Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, related to broccoli. It has has a milder flavor than broccoli and tastes good in raw veggie platters and cooked dishes.
- The cucumber is believed native to India, and evidence indicates that it has been cultivated in western Asia for 3,000 years.
- From India it spread to Greece and Italy, where the Romans were especially fond of the crop, and later into China. It was probably introduced into other parts of Europe by the Romans.
- Records of cucumber cultivation appear in France in the 9th century, England in the 14th century, and in North America by the mid-16th century.
- The Spaniards brought cucumbers to Haiti in 1494. In 1535 Cartier found "very great cucumbers" grown on the site of what is now Montreal. Captains Amidas and Barlow found cucumbers in Native American gardens in Virginia in 1584. They were also being grown by the Iroquois when the first Europeans visited them.
- Although less nutritious than most fruit, the fresh cucumber is still a very good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and potassium, and also provides some dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin B6, thiamin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese. The pickling process removes or degrades much of the nutrient content, especially that of vitamin C.
- A common belief is that cucumbers contain a substance that helps to reduce the swelling around eyes or the bags under the eyes. They can reduce swelling but not for the assumed reason. More than 90% of the cucumber consists of water, and it is the cooling effect of the water in the cucumbers on eyes, together with increased humidity, that reduces the swelling.
- Greens are the first vegetables to come up in the springtime. If well-protected, some will stay alive through the winter and begin growing once the days start to warm. Spinach that overwinters is sweeter than that is planted later.
- Spinach is probably the best known of the greens, but there are many others, including young dandelion greens! Swiss chard grows very well in Oklahoma as do mustard and beet greens. Other greens available in the grocery store this time of year are collard greens, kale and an assortment of Oriental greens.
- Lettuce, a member of the sunflower family, is one of the oldest known vegetables and is believed to be native to the Mediterranean area.
- In the US lettuce ranks second only to potatoes as the most popular vegetable. Average US consumption in the 1990s was 30 pounds of lettuce per person per year.
- There are four main types of lettuce - head lettuce, romaine, loose leaf and butterhead. Head lettuce is better known as iceberg lettuce. Up until the 1920s it was known as "crisphead" but was renamed when California growers began shipping the lettuce under mounds of ice to keep the heads cool and crisp. Romaine lettuce was named by the Romans who believed it had healthful properties. In fact, the Emperor Ceasar Augustus put up a statue praising lettuce because he believed it cured him from an illness.
- Iceberg lettuce doesn't offer much nutritionally, but romaine and loose leaf lettuce are nutrient rich. In fact, romaine and looseleaf provide five to six times the amount of vitamin A and five to ten times the vitamin A compared to iceberg. Romaine and butterhead also are good sources of folate, which helps prevent birth defects and may decrease risk of heart disease.
- In Oklahoma, lettuce is grown early in the spring in home gardens. It is a cool weather crop and tends to bolt in our hot summers. Lettuce is a good vegetable to grow in classroom gardens because it is ready to eat 40-50 days after it is planted.
- In Louisiana okra is called "gumbo" because it is an important ingredient in a kind of soup by that name.
- Okra is more common in Oklahoma and other southern gardens than it is in other parts of the country. That's because it needs plenty of sunshine and won't even poke its head out of the ground unless the weather is very warm.
- One bell pepper has more vitamin C than an orange or a cup of strawberries.
- Peppers love warm soil and cannot tolerate frost.
- The pepper was introduced to Europeans by natives to the Americas.
- Bell peppers belong to a different family from that of black pepper, but they belong to the same family as the pepper from which chili powder is made.
- Chilies can make foods safer. Tthey are known to reduce harmful bacteria on foods.
- The Mayans rubbed hot peppers on their gums to stop toothaches.
- The Incas believed that eyesight was improved by eating chilies.
- In New Mexico, chili is spelled c-h-i-l-E. In 1983, New Mexico Senator Pete Dominici made it official by putting it in the Congressional Record. He rose and addressed the United States Senate, declaring that even though the word was "chili" in the dictionary , New Mexicans refused to spell it that way, and so, he said, he was standing before the full Senate, with the backing of his New Mexican constituents, to state unequivocally that the dictionary was wrong.
- Inhabitants of the New World had chili peppers and the makings of taco chips 6,100 years ago, according to new research by the Smithsonian Institute that examined the bowl-scrapings of people sprinkled throughout Central America and the Amazon basin. The chili pepper is the oldest spice in use in the Americas, and one of the oldest in the world.
- The researchers believe further study may show that the fiery pod was used 1,000 years earlier than their current oldest specimen, as it shows evidence of having been domesticated, a process that would have taken time. If so, that would put chili peppers in the same league (although probably not the same millennium) as spices such as coriander, capers and fenugreek.
- Within decades of European contact, the chili pepper plant was carried across Europe and into Africa and Asia, adopted widely, and further altered through selective breeding.
- Today, the chili pepper is an essential cooking ingredient in places as different as Hungary (where paprika is a national symbol), Ethiopia, and China.
- In all seven New World sites where chili pepper residue was found, the researchers also detected remnants of corn. That suggests the domestication of the two foods -- still intimately paired in Latin American cuisine -- may have gone hand in hand.
- The cultivated potato, Solanum tuberosum, is one of around 1,500 species in the flowering plant genus Solanum, which also includes the tomato, eggplant and woody nightshade.
- There are some 190 species of wild potatoes, all found in the Andes. From these a single species has been domesticated and spread throughout the world.
- Botanically, the potato is a tuber, a swollen piece of underground stem where the plant stores starch.
- Wild potato plants and local primitive varieties have tubers, but they are often small and oddly shaped.
- One acre of potatoes will produce 52,000 servings of French Fries.
- The word "spud" was a 14th Century term for a short knife or dagger and came to mean potato because of its use in digging holes for planting potatoes.
- Potato is the world's most widely grown tuber crop, and the fourth largest food crop in terms of fresh produce — after rice, wheat, and maize.
- The potato originated in the area of contemporary Peru.
- Potato was introduced to Europe probably in the 1570s, or approximately eighty years after the first voyage of Columbus in 1492, and subsequently by European mariners to territories and ports throughout the world as European colonization expanded in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
- Thousands of varieties of potatoes persist in the Andes, where over 100 varieties might be found in a single valley, and a dozen or more might be maintained by a single agricultural household.
- Once established in Europe, potato soon became an important food staple and field crop. Potatoes can feed a family well from a very small plot of land, improving offspring survival and thus driving population growth. Pushed onto marginal land by large landowners, Irish peasants thrived by growing potatoes. They were desperately poor but not starving.
- Lack of genetic diversity, due to the fact that very few varieties were initially introduced, left the Irish potato crop vulnerable to disease. In 1845, a fungal disease, Phytophthora infestans, also known as late blight, spread rapidly through the poorer communities of western Ireland, resulting in the Great Irish Famine. The resultant starvation killed more than a million Irish people and led to the emigration of millions more.
- Following the Irish Potato Famine, most Americans regarded the potato as food for animals rather than for humans, until an effective fungicide against potato blight was found in 1883 by French botanist Alexander Millardet.
- Potatoes arrived in the Virginia colony of Jamestown in 1621 when the governor of Bermuda, Nathaniel Butler, sent two large cedar chests containing potatoes and other vegetables to Governor Francis Wyatt.
- The first permanent potato patches in North America were established in 1719, most likely near Londonderry (Derry), NH, by Scotch-Irish immigrants. From there the crop spread across the country.
- The potato is also strongly associated with Idaho, Maine, North Dakota, Prince Edward Island, Ireland, Jersey and Russia because of its large role in the agricultural economy and history of these regions.
- In recent decades, the greatest expansion of potato has been in Asia, where as of 2007 approximately 80 percent of the world potato crop is grown.
- Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, China has become the world's largest potato producer, followed by India.
- The potato is a cool season crop and can be grown in Oklahoma gardens early in the spring or late in the fall.
- Pumpkins originated in Central America. Seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico, dating back over 7,000 years to 5500 B.C.
- The name pumpkin orginated from "pepon" – the Greek word for "large melon." Native Americans called pumpkins "isqoutm," their word for "squash."
- The pumpkin is one of only a few foods we still eat today that is native to North America.
- The Pilgrims and other early New England settlers liked to use pumpkins, because uncut pumpkins would keep for several months, if stored in a cool, dry place. Pumpkins were a main part of the early settlers daily diet.
- Colonists made the first pumpkin pies by slicing off pumpkin tips, removing the seeds and filling the insides with milk, spices and honey, then baking it all in hot ashes. Pumpkins were also used as an ingredient for the crust of pies.
- Pumpkins were used for many different things. Dried pumpkin shells served as bowls or containers for storing grains and seeds. Native Americans flattened strips of pumpkins, dried them and made mats from them.
- Native Americans used pumpkin seeds for food and medicine.
- The pumpkin is a vegetable, but most pumpkins grown today are sold for decorating and carving.
- Pumpkins range in size from less than a pound to over 1,000 pounds. The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,469 pounds and looked like "a pale version of Jabba the Hut."
- Some pumpkins are gray or pale green, but most are yellow or orange. Some are even white.
- The Connecticut field variety is the traditional American pumpkin.
- Pumpkins are 90 percent water, high in fiber and contain potassium and Vitamin A.
- Pumpkin flowers are large and yellow. They are also edible.
- Pumpkins are cucurbits, related to cucumbers, squash, melons and gourds.
- Some kinds of pumpkins are grown for cattle to eat.
- The largest pumpkin pie ever made was over five feet in diameter and weighed over 350 pounds. It used 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and took six hours to bake.
- Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites.
- Eighty percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October.
- The tradition of carving pumpkins at Halloween started with the Irish, but the original jack-o-lanterns were made from turnips. When the Irish immigrated to the U.S., they found pumpkins a plenty, and they were much easier to carve.
- The town of Goffstown, New Hampshire, holds an annual pumpkin regatta each October, in which giant pumpkins are hollowed out to make room for a single passenger, then fitted with trolling motors and paraded on the Piscataquog River.
- Squash is usually divided into two categories - summer and winter. Summer squashes are harvested and eaten while their skin is still tender. Winter squash grows a thick skin, which helps it keep longer.
- The most common summer squashes are scallop, or patty pan, constricted neck and zucchini. Patty pan is round and flattened like a plate with scalloped edges. It is usually white. Constricted neck squash is thinner at the stem end than the blossom end, and is classified as either "crookneck" or "straightneck.' It is usually yellow. Zucchini squash is cylindrical to club-shaped and is usually green.
- Pattypan squash was the squash of choice among Virginia gardeners, including Thomas Jefferson. An American native developed by eastern North American Indians, it was known to Virginia gardens as the American Cymling. It was integral to the gardens of enslaved African Americans but was also the universal squash among white Virginians in the age of Jefferson.
- Zucchini squash is so prolific in home gardens that there is an official night designated for getting rid of it: National Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Night (August 8).
- Archaeologists have traced squash origins to Mexico, dating back from 7,000 to 5,500 BC, when they were an integral part of the ancient diet of maize, beans, and squashes.
- The colonists of New England adopted the name squash, a word derived from several Native American words for the vegetable which meant "green thing eaten green."
- Eventually summer squash made its way to the warm Mediterranean regions of Europe where it thrived and was renamed zucchini by the Italians and courgette by the French. Both names mean "small squash," which implies that they were eaten at their small, young stage.
- George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were squash enthusiasts who even enjoyed growing them.
- Summer squash is very low in calories and high in fiber. It is rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C, folic acid and calcium. One cup of summer squash has nearly as much potassium as a banana. It also contains the valuable mineral nutrient phosphorus.
- There is ample archaeological evidence to show that the diverse varieties of squash and pumpkins grown today throughout the world originated from wild Cucurbita gourds cultivated in the Americas for thousands of years by native Indians.
- According to Smithsonian archeologist Bruce Smith and archaeologist Wesley Cowan of the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History, a variety of squash native to the Ozark region of Arkansas and Missouri may be the living ancestor of today's many varieties of summer squash and related gourds. Their research indicates that is was cultivated in this area by native Indians more than 3,000 years ago.
- Sweet potatoes are members of the morning glory family and native to the American tropics.
- Native Americans were growing sweet potatoes in the New World when Columbus arrived in 1492.
- By the 16th Century, sweet potatoes were being cultivated in the southern colonies, where they became a staple in the traditional cuisine.
- Today sweet potatoes are used in cuisines all over the world as a satisfying and versatile vegetable with a well-earned reputation for nutrition.
- Sweet potatoes are not the same as yams, which are native to Africa and Asia and are starchier and drier than sweet potatoes.
- They are a winter crop, so they provide fresh vegetables when many other vegetables are unavailable.
- A sweet potato is a root tuber, a fleshy root that stores food for a plant.
- Sweet potatoes are an important source of beta carotene, an organic compound that helps to prevent Vitamin A deficiency.
- The heaviest tomato ever grown weighed 7 lb 12 oz. It was of the cultivar 'Delicious' and was grown by Gordon Graham of Edmond, Oklahoma in 1986.
- The scientific name for tomato is lycopersicum, which translates "wolf peach."
- The tomato probably originated in the highlands of South America. From there it migrated to Central America, where Mayan and other peoples in the region used the fruit in their cooking. By the 16th Century it was being cultivated in southern Mexico. The large, lumpy tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated and was encouraged in Central America. This variant is the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes.
- The earliest reference to tomatoes in British North America is from 1710, when herbalist William Salmon reported seeing them in what is today South Carolina. They may have been introduced from the Caribbean. By the mid-18th century they were cultivated on some Carolina plantations and probably in other parts of the South as well. It is possible that some people continued to think tomatoes were poisonous at this time, and in general they were grown more as ornamental plants than as food. Cultured people like Thomas Jefferson, who ate tomatoes in Paris and sent some seeds home, knew the tomato was edible, but many of the less well-educated did not.
- La Tomatina is a festival held on a Wednesday towards the end of August at Buñol, Valencia, Spain. Tens of thousands of participants come from all over the world, fight in a harmless battle where more than one hundred metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets.The tomato fight has been a strong tradition in Buñol since 1944 simply for fun - there is no known political or religious significance.
- Botanically speaking a tomato is the ovary, together with its seeds, of a flowering plant. This would mean that technically it would be considered a fruit. However, from a culinary perspective the tomato is typically served as a meal, or part of a main course of a meal, meaning that it would be considered a vegetable. This argument has led to actual legal implications in the US. In 1887, U.S. tariff laws, which imposed a duty on vegetables but not on fruits, caused the tomato's status to become a matter of legal importance. The U.S. Supreme Court settled this controversy in 1893, declaring that the tomato is a vegetable, along with cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas, using the popular definition which classifies vegetables by use, that they are generally served with dinner and not dessert. The case is known as Nix v. Hedden.
- In England during the 1500s, the most prosperous people ate from plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.
- The term "winter squash" dates back to a time when refrigeration and cross country transportation was not as readily available as it is now. Fresh produce was not available on grocery shelves year round to the extent that it is now. "Good keepers" became known as winter vegetables if they would "keep" until December. Winter squash have hard, thick skins and will keep for up to a month if stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place.
- Winter squash is in the cucurbitae family, along with other gourds - pumpkin, cucumber and summer squash.
- Winter squash can be used as a substitute for pumpkin in pumpkin pie. Most people can't tell the difference. Many cooks prefer winter squash, because it is not as fibrous as pumpkin.
- Butternut is the most common winter squash in grocery stores. This squash has a peachy orange skin and bright orange flesh color. It has a long neck with a round base which holds the seeds. Those with thick necks and small round bases have the most edible flesh.
- The acorn squash is dark green with a series of deep ridges, narrowing to a tapered point.The flesh is golden yellow, The best ones are dark green and are available late in the fall.
- The flesh of spaghetti squash is very fibrous and stringy. Some people actually eat it like spaghetti. The stringy flesh is a creamy white color, and not too sweet.
- Squash plants produce separate male and female flowers and rely on bees for pollination.
- Winter squash is a tasty source of complex carbohydrate (natural sugar and starch) and fiber. It is also a source of potassium, niacin, iron and beta carotene.
- Modern day squash developed from the wild squash that originated in an area between Guatemala and Mexico. While squash has been consumed for over 10,000 years, they were first cultivated specifically for their seeds since earlier squash did not contain much flesh, and what they did contain was very bitter and unpalatable. As time progressed, squash cultivation spread throughout the Americas, and varieties with a greater quantity of sweeter-tasting flesh were developed. Christopher Columbus brought squash back to Europe from the New World, and like other native American foods, their cultivation was introduced throughout the world by Portuguese and Spanish explorers. Today, the largest commercial producers of squash include China, Japan, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, and Argentina.