The prettier a vegetable, the tastier it looks, and the more fun it is to grow and pick. Harvesting plain old green beans from the garden is certainly not as exciting as picking beans that are red-striped, gold, and purple. And plain red tomatoes are nice, but an all-in-one purple, red, yellow, and green tomato is something extraordinary. Rainbow vegetables make gardening with kids more fun.
These vegetables are as easy to grow as their standard-colored counterparts, so no added stress on adult gardeners. The rules are the same: feed your soil, plant robust plants, give them plenty of sun and water, fertilize, weed, and harvest. (Click here to read my top 10 tips for starting a successful vegetable garden.)
Short bush beans are the easiest for children to harvest, and they are the fastest to yield. Colorful varieties include Renee’s Garden Seeds’ Tricolor Bush Beans, which contains three different high-quality varieties in one packet–the yellow ‘Golden Roc d’Or’, purple ‘Purple Queen’, and bright green ‘Slenderette’. Together they look beautiful. (Note: purple beans tend to lose their color when cooked.) ‘Dragon Tongue‘ bush beans are really fun because they are yellowish with bold stripes of reddish-purple. They can be eaten fresh when young and tender or dried for winter bean soups. The dried beans are similarly colored.
The most colorful beet is the candy-cane-striped Italian heirloom ‘Chioggia’, which remains mild, sweet, and tender, even when large, but beets come in many other colors. Renees’ Five Color Rainbow gourmet beet mix has beets of dark red, red, gold, white, and candy-cane-striped. They are ready only 55 days after planting, so you can enjoy several crops over a summer. (Click here to watch a video about how to grow beets.)
Colorful carrots look and taste a little different, but all are crunchy and sweet if grown in spring or fall. Harlequin Mix has several crisp, sweet Dutch Nantes carrot varieties in shades of ivory, orange, reddish-purple, and yellow. My kids enjoy eating them fresh with a little ranch dressing to dip into.
Not every child loves greens, but the brilliant colors of Improved Rainbow Blend mixed Swiss chard look vibrant in the garden and taste good if well-prepared. (My daughters like sauteed Swiss chard with parmesan cheese.) The large-leaved vegetables are closely related to beets and have stems of orange, pink, red, white, and yellow. They taste sweetest if harvested in fall when the nights begin to grow cool.
Sweet corn is not just yellow and white kernelled. The amazing rainbow corn, ‘Astronomy Domine‘, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, is multicolored sweet corn with an old-fashioned sweet flavor. At first glance, it’s easy to mistake for colorful native flint corn, but no. What a surprise! Plants should produce ears 65 to 70 days after planting in the warm soil of late-spring.
Popcorn is another favorite for kids’ gardens. It is a crop that requires patience because the ears need to fully dry on the plants before harvest–usually by early to mid-fall. ‘Cherokee Long Ear’ popcorn has 5- to 7-inch ears with kernels of ivory, purple, red, and yellow. It generally takes 90 to 100 days to mature after planting. The popcorn it yields is a little smaller than store-bought, but it is very tasty.
Some multicolored winter squashes have the sweetest flavor! Carnival acorn squash is one, and it’s a beaut with its green, ivory, orange, and yellow stripes and flecks. Inside is pale gold flesh that’s sweet and tasty. They are good keepers that do double duty in decorative fall arrangements. The semi-bush plants are compact enough for smaller gardens. Expect them to produce squash 85 days after planting. (Click here to learn more about growing great-tasting winter squash.)
There are so many wonderful wildly colored tomatoes these days, it’s hard to know what tastes as good as it looks. Here are some varieties and mixes that are pretty and delicious.
I cannot resist the Renees’ Garden combos because they are great for gardeners on a budget. The three-variety packet Rainbow’s End Mix, which contains the red ‘Brandywine’, yellow and red ‘Marvel Stripe’, and pale and dark green ‘Green Zebra’, is a perfect example. All three tomatoes are beautiful together and very flavorful. A superb multicolored slicer is Berkeley Tie-Dye Green, which has sweet-tart yellowish-green tomatoes with stripes of scarlet. The mind-blowing grape tomato, Brad’s Atomic Grape, is a surreal mix of black, orange, purple, red, and yellow with various hues in-between. Each offers a punch of sweet flavor.
Planting a handful of these festive vegetables will encourage even picky vegetable eaters to try a taste. Kids tend to eat more vegetables if they grow their own!