Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Year-End Varieties Report

As the seed catalogs begin to roll in, many gardeners start to think about next year’s garden. A good place to begin is with what did well last year (even though the 2009 gardening year had some pretty freakish weather). Another good place is with what did well in gardens nearby. In the spirit of sharing, here is my 2009 garden report:

Tomatoes: Cherokee Purple beat my “emergency back-up” hybrid Better Boy plants by a mile in both productivity and flavor. For canning, Rutgers was best, but Wuhib (a paste type) was surprisingly early and productive, so I will probably grow it again. The Mortgage Lifters succumbed to one of the wilts early in the season, which hasn’t happened before. I am guessing that the Incredibly Wet Spring allowed the verticillium wilt to be extra prolific. The best cherry type for me was Matt’s Wild Cherry. The Yellow Marble cherry tomato that I had growing in a container was productive and early, but its little tomatoes were more tart than I prefer.

Peppers: Spanish Spice, which turned out to be excellent for grilling, was plenty productive, and so were the Jimmy Nardello and a yellow banana pepper I bought at a garden-supply store. I will be growing these again. California Wonder tasted good but was not especially productive this year. I haven’t yet decided whether to try a different bell pepper this year, or to just stick with this variety even though its production is so variable from year to year. Our jalepenos were almost too hot to eat. No idea what happened there, because they are from the seed packet I used the year before. I am going to grow a different pickling-type pepper as a replacement this year. I also grew some MiniBelles, and they were extremely cute, but they didn't have much flavor and I won't grow them again.

Eggplants: Rosa Bianca was beautiful but not especially productive for me; Casper White did great. I grew these in containers.

Okra: Louisianna Short did just fine; it gave lots of okra that tasted great, but the plants got hilariously tall before finally falling over into the road. I will probably go back to Cajun Jewel this year, since it stays short.

Melons: I am still looking for the perfect open-pollinated melon for my yard. So far, the hybrid Sugar Nut is reliably sweet and productive, but any babies springing from its seed will vary from its parents. Schoon's Hardshell was pretty good---not as sweet as Sugar Nut, but flavorful. Sakata's Sweet was a bust. I am going to grow Sugar Nut again, along with the Schoon’s Hardshell, and add yet another melon to the mix this year.

Corn: I grew Dakota Black popcorn this year. I like to think that seeing corn in my front yard makes the neighbors laugh, but I could be wrong about that. The good news is that this variety isn’t very tall, but it still gave me a quart of shelled popcorn from a 15 square foot space, even after a rabbit ate a couple of my plants.

Beans: I keep trying different varieties of beans, hoping that my family will like them, but I keep coming back to Burpee's Tenderpod bush bean. It isn't as productive as a pole bean would be, but we still had plenty of green beans this summer from the patches that I planted. I will not be growing the Roma-type or the wax beans again, since they got a family veto.

Southern Peas: I grew Pigott Family Heirloom Cowpeas (crowder peas) in a small space and ended up with a little more than a quart of dried, shelled peas. These are the best tasting crowder peas I have ever eaten, so they will definitely be growing in my garden again next summer.

Greens: I keep growing the chard variety called Perpetual Spinach, because it’s the one we like to eat. It really does work pretty well as a spinach substitute in a large range of recipes. The Italiko Rosso chicory was just as good this year as last, so I will be growing that again, too. For collards, I grow the variety called Georgia, and haven’t ever seen a need to switch. I grew two spinach varieties, Space and Bloomsdale Longstanding, with about equal results. Both did horribly in the Very Wet Spring and again in the Very Wet Fall. My favorite lettuce is still Tom Thumb, but the oak-leaf types (both a green and a red) have done better in the weird weather.

Beets: I grew Early Wonder Tall Top, and we have enjoyed eating the leafy tops, but I am going to try a golden beet this year alongside the old standard Detroit Dark Red. I finally learned how to cook the actual beet roots this year, and I want more roots than Early Wonder Tall Top is likely to provide.

Squash: The Raven zucchini (a hybrid) did just as well as usual, and we enjoyed eating every single squash that we got until the borers felled the plants. The winter squash wasn’t very productive this year, but I will grow zucchetta (the zucchini substitute) and Seminole Pumpkin squash again this next year, since these usually do better. I think they just didn’t like this year’s weather.

Carrots: I grew a tiny carrot called Little Finger that matured well in the spring. It is still trying to make mature roots from the fall planting, but it is almost ready to harvest. These are sweet little carrots. I also grew a yellow carrot called Jeune Du Doubs that has performed almost exactly like the Little Finger: fine in the spring, but struggling a bit this Fall. I finally pulled a couple to eat last week, and they were very carroty and sweet. I am going to add back the Nantes type that I have grown before, though, in hopes of getting a more reliable crop next fall.

English peas: I grew the last of a packet of Miragreen peas in the spring. They were very good, but I am going to go back to shorter vines that I won’t have to set out stakes and strings for this coming spring. I will probably just grow Wando, since I have grown those before and know that they work in my yard.

Sweet Potatoes: Beauregard is amazing. It makes more roots than seems possible under the soil, and they taste just fine. I also grew the heirloom variety Puerto Rican, a strain that has been in a friend’s family for more than 100 years. These were less productive than Beauregard, but I think they are sweeter. The texture is different, too (drier), but I will be growing both varieties from now on.

White Potatoes: I grew the Red Pontiac that was available at the local feed store. It did better in the ground than in containers. Since this was my second less-than-spectacular attempt to grow potatoes in containers, I am going to just plant them in the ground in the future. The year before, I grew a variety called White Cobbler that I got at my Mom’s grocery store (the store was selling certified seed potatoes!) in Oklahoma, and it did just as well as the Red Pontiac. One year, I grew a variety called Garnet Chili that out-produced and out-tasted any other potato I’ve ever grown, but it cost a small fortune and it didn’t keep to the next spring. I will likely just get whatever is available locally again this year, unless I decide to use the seeds that I saved from a trial patch of potatoes 3 years ago.

I grew more, but that seems like a long enough report. If anyone else has a great variety to recommend, I would love to hear about it!

5 comments:

  1. This post is a great idea, I should have done it myself before seed-ordering time was upon us again! Since (I think) we may be in the same zone (8), there are a few I had great successes with... Eggplant - "Purple Rain" was hugely successful, although I don't eat it myself, I was told it was really good, and it was gorgeous in the landscape, I planted it among ornamentals in my border. Beans - the old standard "Kentucky Wonder" did well here, Italian Flat Beans did not! I also grew "Rose Finn" fingerling potatoes in cages with straw and they did fantastic. Although all these suggestions are probably a little late, since us "real gardeners" have already ordered seed, right?!! LOL

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  2. Thanks for the suggestions! I haven't chosen a purple eggplant yet, so I will look for 'Purple Rain.' Can't wait to see what you choose to grow this year. Be sure to post your list!

    -Amy, NW of Atlanta
    (My yard is on the edge between zones 8 and 7b. If you look at the new zone maps, there is a little island of 7 in the midst of a large 8-sea in NW Georgia. I live right near there.)

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  3. The Purple Rain Eggplant was actually a Burpee Seed, which I am not that fond of but it was given to me. I see in Baker Creek, Fedco and others that there is a comparable eggplant that wouldn't have any connection to GMO's, if that's a concern. I think all gardeners have dealt with Burpee at some beginning stage or another, and then move on to the smaller companies the more we learn, I know I have!

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  4. also interesting about the zones! We are in a tiny island of Zone 8 in the midst of zone 7 & 7b. Since we are a small coastal region (I'm sure you know from the Eastern Shore!) we are like the red-headed stepchild to the Va Tech Extension Service.... they never know what to recommend, lol! I tend to use the NC State Extension website for advice instead of ours!

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  5. Erin, About Burpee, there is still one variety of bean that I can get only through them, so I still order every second or third year from the Burpee catalog, when I am running low. They don't actually offer the seed every year (Burpee's Tenderpod bushbean), so I just wait until it's back in the catalog.

    About the Eastern Shore: that was a great place to garden. I have never seen soil so wonderful anyplace else, and the wild raspberries were spectacular. We lived in an area called Wallops Island, by the Coast Guard station (not far from Chincoteague). The mosquitoes were just as amazing as the soil, in their own way. I do understand that NC would have more useful advice than VA! I hope your mosquitoes are less amazing than ours were.

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