Part I: Shopping for Edibles

Before we look at the shopping list we need to think about the seed itself. “Heirloom” seeds and “species” seeds can be collected and will grow true year after year.

“Hybrid” seeds are attained when two varieties of the same species are crossed, either deliberately or by natural cross-pollination. Commercial hybrids are often bad news. The growers start by crossing two varieties of the same species then cross countless subsequent generations of hybrid results until the brightest bloom and the showiest flower is achieved. Often seed is irradiated to cause mutations that are then crossed. The same process changes a long, ungainly vine into a manageable and even miniature version of its former self. Commericial hybridizing manipulates fruit size too, how much a plant produces, and tries to engineer disease resistance. If you don’t know what GMO technology is you must, today do a Google search and learn in detail what it is. Then stand against it. This mad science holds the potential to destroy every plant on Earth. And before our beloved planet dies every human and every animal will starve to death.

Now, if you grow two heirloom varieties of tomatoes in your garden you can be certain that they will cross-pollinate and the resulting seed will be a hybrid. Two different squash, eggplant, pepper, basil, any two varieties of the same species will do this. So you have to choose between growing only one or buying new seed for the next year. But know also that one pack of seed is often enough for numerous growing seasons and will remain viable if stored in a cool, dry dark place (I keep mine in the refrigerator). Viability can be calculated at about a 10% loss per year with most varieties of seed.

So what do we lose to commercial hybridization beyond the inability to save seed? Plants often lose all of their fragrance and medicinal properties. They lose their inherent resistance to disease and infestation. And we lose as a consequence. That said, there are still many that have been responsibly bred and give us some good choices so the decision becomes ultimately yours. Not all catalogs make the distinction. The Cook’s Garden has a fabulous selection, much of which is the result of hybridizing. Seed Savers Exchange offers only heirlooms.

Please note that Seeds of Change offers only certified organic seed. Hybrid seed can be organic as well. And heirloom seed is not necessarily organic in origin. So what you will notice is that seed catalogs are carrying more and more organic seed but the seed that you want might not be available as organic. These decisions require some thought before your final choices are made.

I am going to list the vegetable contents of the Container Gardens that will soon follow to demonstrate that vegetables are often dependent on each other in order to thrive. The next blog post will take up the essential herbs and flowers I will call the Companion Group. All of the vegetable collections benefit from the Companion Group with a few exceptions that will be noted.


Lettuce, Bunching Onion, Radish, Carrot, Spinach

Pea, Bean, Carrot, Lettuce

Cabbage, Spinach, Beet, Celery

Corn, Squash, Melon, Mustard, Bean

Onion, Celery, Carrot

Tomato, Pepper, Onion

Eggplant, Cucumber

Potato, Horseradish, Pea

Grape, Pea, Mustard

The gardens are organized in this way because while the combinations enhance each other there are vegetables that do nothing but antagonize their neighbors if planted together. This list will help you determine what vegetable seed to acquire, even if you are uncertain if you will eat the produce, because the collections are companions to each other. For example, perhaps you love squash but hate mustard. The mustard is an essential companion to the squash. And I might add mustard is a beautiful plant.

Here goes.  The * indicates that some anecdotal notes will follow the list.

Lettuce > Lactuca sativa (biennial) North Temperate Zone

*Bunching Onion > Allium fistulosum (perennial) Asia

Radish > Raphanus sativus (perennial) Eurasia

Carrot > Daucus carota var. sativus (biennial) Eurasia

Spinach > Spinacia oleracea (annual) SW Asia

*Pea > Pisum sativum (annual) Eurasia

*Bean > Phaseolus vulgaris (annual) North & South America

*Cabbage > Brassica oleracea (biennial) Eurasia

*Beet > Beta vulgaris/Crassa group (biennial) Europe & SW Asia

*Celery > Apium graveolens (biennial) North Temperate Zone

Corn > Zea mays (annual) North & South America

*Squash > Cucurbita species (annual) North & South America

*Melon > Cucumis species (annual) Africa

Mustard > Brassica juncea (annual) Eurasia

*Onion > Allium species Eurasia & Africa

*Pepper > Capsicum annuum (perennial) North & South America

Tomato > Lycopersicon lycopersicum (perennial) South America

Eggplant > Solanum melongena (perennial) Africa & Asia

*Cucumber > Cucumis species (annual) Asia

Potato > Solanum tuberosum (perennial) South America

Grape > Vitis vinifera (perennial) Europe

Strawberry > Fragaria vesca (perennial) North Temperate Zone

Sweet Potato > Ipomoea batatas (perennial) South America

*Assorted Salad Greens


Sounds simple enough on the surface until you scrutinize the following list. First, we see that they include annuals, biennials, and perennials so let’s review. Both perennials and biennials can be grown or treated as annuals provided you don’t intend them to flower or intend to save the seed or intend to entice the beneficial insects that require the flowers. Mixes called Mesclan often contain a mix of annuals, biennials, and perennials. If you plan to hold over the perennials and biennials buy the seed separate and raise them in separate containers.

Even if you have no interest in salad some varieties are essential companions to the vegetables you might otherwise plan to grow. Enjoy their beauty and then give them to your neighbors or local food bank. Essential companions include mustard, chervil, chard, celery and spinach. I will do my best to manage an illusionary sense of control but at best the lists tend to slosh together a bit.

Lettuce > Lactuca sativa (biennial) North Temperate Zone

Arugula > Eruca vesicaria (annual) Mediterranean

Endive > Cichorium endiva (biennial) India

Mustard > Brassica juncea (annual) Eurasia [recommend Mizuma)

Cress > Barbarea verna (biennial) Europe

Cress > Lepidium sativum (annual) Egypt & West Asia

Water Cress > Nasturtium officinale (perennial aquatic) Europe

Chicory > Cichorium intybus (perennial) Europe

Purslane > Portulaca oleracea (annual) India

Chervil > Anthriscus cerefolium (annual) Eurasia

Corn Salad > Valerianella locusta (annual) Europe & North Africa

Chard > Beta vulgaris/Cicla Group (biennial) Europe & Asia

Kale > Brassica oleracea/Acephala Group (biennial) Europe

Cutting Celery > Apium graveolens (biennial) N. Temperate Zone

Dandelion > Taraxacum officinale (perennial) Eurasia

Broccoli Raab > Brassica oleracea/Ruvo Group (biennial) Eurasia

Sorrel > Rumex acetosa (perennial) Eurasia

Pak Choi > Brassica rapa/Chinese group (biennial) Eurasia

Italian Broccoli > Brassica oleracea (biennial) Eurasia

Spinach > Spinacia oleracea (annual) SW Asia


The Allium or Onion family is quite huge in which we find onions, bunching onions, leeks, shallots, garlic and chives. For any container group that calls for onion you can pick and choose as you please or simply use chives to fulfill the spot as an essential companion. Most are indigenous to the North Temperate Zone and are perennial except for Allium cepa, which is a biennial.

Garlic > Allium sativum (Southern Europe)

Leek > Allium ampeloprasum (Europe, Asia, North Africa)

Onion > Allium cepa (West Asia)

Shallot > Allium cepa (West Asia)

Bunching Onion > Allium fistulosum (Asia)

Chives > Allium schoenoprasum (Eurasia)


There are minor differences between peas and edible peapods, sometimes called snow peas. Sugar peas provide both edible pods and edible contents.

Pea > Pisum sativum

Peapod > Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon


There are lots of beans. Some we eat the pods. Others we dry the contents or eat the contents fresh such as limas. Bean varieties are not necessarily botanically related. This blog only includes green beans.


If you don’t like beets you can grow chard as the essential companion.

 Beet > Beta vulgaris/Crassa Group

Chard > Beta vulgaris/Cicla Group


Stalk celery is a pain to grow and cheap to buy. Nevertheless, celery is an essential companion. Substitute cutting celery instead for its leafy greens. It is not only beautiful but also a salad green and seasoning in soup and stew.


The cabbage family can be a tough call. Heads of cabbage are cheap to buy but they are beautiful to look at and the seed is believed magical. A lot of people turn their noses up at the thought of Brussels sprouts. But broccoli and cauliflower are not inexpensive. If none of these are your cup of tea note that mustard remains an essential companion.

Broccoli > Brassica oleracea/Botrytis Group

Cauliflower > Brassica oleracea/Botrytis Group

Cabbage > Brassica oleracea/Capitata Group

Brussels sprouts > Brassica oleracea/Gemmifera Group

Mustard > Brassica juncea


Bell, Sweet, Green > Capsicum annuum/Grossum Group

Chili, Cayenne > Capsicum annuum/Longum Group


Cucumber, Pickles > Cucumis sativus

Lemon Cucumber > Cucumis melo/Chito Group


Honeydew > Cucumis melo/Inodorus Group

Cantaloupe > Cucumis melo/Cantalupensis Group

Watermelon > Citrullus lanatus


Squash, pumpkin and gourd are all members of the Cucurbita family that includes C. maxima, C. mixta, C. moschata, and C. pepo. Remarkably each classification yields such a mix of squash, pumpkin and gourd it’s of little value to list all of the combinations. If you are really curious about this look up Cucurbita in Hortus III. It’s wildly complex.

I can hear you now. This has been probably more Latin than you ever cared to know. But remember you are well on your way to becoming an expert grower and at some point you might actually need this. Just file it away for a rainy day.

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