Sunday, November 27, 2016

Veg Variety Winners for 2016


Every year we attempt to identify the top varieties that were grown on the farm during the year.  Criteria include production, quality of fruit, taste and plant health.  Additional factors that may increase the rating for a variety might be performance as compared other varieties of the same type or one that surprised us by doing far better than anticipated.  You might also note that we will give a tie break to a variety that has not been awarded a top slot over one that has.

 For those who want to see what has gone before:
About 2016's Growing Season
We had a reasonably good start to our growing season, but wetter than usual conditions starting in late July, through August and into the Fall challenged many of our crops.  If you spent much time outdoors this year, you might have noticed that a high percentage of mornings during this period had foggy conditions and nearly all of them had a heavy dew on the ground.  This situation was perfect for a number of blights and fungal conditions that limited production for a wide range of things.  The weather conditions also promoted heavier weed pressures that needed attention - preempting some of our normal late Summer/early Fall planting.  Add to it some suspicions about other factors and our final result is that our overall production was about 2/3 of what we had last year at this time.

In the end, we had a very diverse set of crops do well enough that we were able to provide yet another fine CSA season for our customers.  This could be our most balanced shares to date, giving our customers the appearance of a year of bounty.  And, for their part, it was that - and we are pleased by this.  On the other hand, the ability to sell surplus was down this season, though we do still have garlic, onions and potatoes that will help us at the tail end of the year.

But, even if the over-all production levels were down, there were still outstanding producers on the farm - and that is what we want to focus on - the stars of the 2016 GFF growing season!

15. Komatsuna
There probably hasn't been a season where we haven't tried something new to us.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.  This is one of the years where the trial worked out pretty darned well.  We liked how komatsuna did in the Fall a bit better than the Spring, but I don't think it will stop us from doing a bit more with it during either period.  We are thinking we might do a bit more of the komatsuna and a bit less of the pok choi in the future, especially in the high tunnels.  This isn't a knock on the choi mind you.  It's just that these are a bit less bulky, a little sweeter and people are reporting that they have been able to eat these up a bit better than some of the nice big choi we grow.
photo from Evergreen Seeds

14. Thelma Sanders Acorn Squash
We have been telling people about Thelma for many years (both growers and consumers).  In our opinion, we think the quality of this tan acorn squash is better than most green acorns and Tammy and I prefer the less stringy texture.  Even better, the production numbers are quite favorable.  This past season we had 285 marketable fruit from 120 row feet of plants (approx one plant per row foot at transplant).  This happened even though we were late getting them in this season.  What's not to like about that?
Thelma Sanders is showing up in more seed catalogs!
We have had a difficult time having consistent winter squash production on our farm over the years.  The two most prominent issues have been excessive moisture in the Spring preventing us from getting the plants in the ground and excessive moisture later in the year preventing us from cultivating and keeping weeds down.  This year, the excess came late and we were able to address issues to give Thelma a pretty good situation for 2016.  But, even in the difficult years, Thelma gives us some production.

13. Pride of Wisconsin
This wasn't the melon year that last year was.  We can link it to the field, to the time of planting and to the timing of the wet weather in late July through August.  On the other hand, production levels for all melons were actually reasonably good.  It's just that you can't help but compare the current year against the record setting season that came just prior.
Pride of Wisconsin landed at #15 in 2015
It is interesting to note that Pride of Wisconsin was on our list last year as well, something that actually doesn't happen all that often.  That's likely in part to some handicapping that occurs since we don't want to give you the same top varieties every season.  But, it is also a testament to how different every year is for us as growers of produce.  Pride of Wisconsin's main competitors on our farm for melon superiority are Minnesota Midget and Eden's Gem.  The former produced at half the levels we saw last season and Eden's Gem was similar to last year, just not enough to dethrone Pride.

12. Marconi Red
This is a variety that we have been growing since our first years in Tripoli as the Genuine Faux Farm.  Early on, we only got a few peppers off of our Marconi plants - proof positive that sometimes you need to learn your variety in order to get production out of it. 
A Marconi plant before the fruit is um... red.
Marconi Red reminds me of a stretched out bell pepper in shape since it does have lobes, unlike some of our other sweet peppers (see Chervena Chushka later in this list).  You can certainly eat them green, but if you do, I might suggest that you are missing out on a real treat since the taste matures when they are red.  Great taste and excellent texture are the norm and we have had consistent production since 2012.  But, this year, Marconi set a record for it's best production levels on the farm.  That's enough for us to give it a GFF Veg Variety Winner showing in 2016.

11. White Wing
Once again, it was hard to feel great about the onion production because our expectations have increased dramatically over the last three years.
Early onions in your shares courtesy of White Wing
White Wing showed up in the end of year awards in 2014 and did equally well in 2015.  This year, they continued to be consistent, earning a slot here.  We don't know how well these onions store because they never stick around all that long.  We've found them to be a good addition to the high tunnel as well as in the field.

10. Bronze Arrowhead
I tell you we tend to favor veg varieties that haven't appeared here before and now I show you Bronze Arrowhead.  It has been at the top of the list in 2010, in the top five the year after that and in the top ten in 2013 with an 'Honorable Mention' in 2014.
One of our favorite varieties to grow - period.
Well, we had better have a good reason then, hadn't we?  First, we can grow Bronze Arrowhead very early, very late and in the middle of Summer.  We can pick them small and we can pick them at full size.  They are easier than many lettuces to clean when you do full head harvest like we do.  We like the taste and texture and our CSA members agree.  Over the last five seasons, we have harvested twice as many of the Bronze Arrowhead as any other lettuce variety we favor at the Genuine Faux Farm.  Reason enough to be in the top ten.

9. Helios
Helios is a new entry into the list even though we have grown it for many years.  A quick look shows it on our grow list in 2009, but I seem to recall we might have had it even earlier than that. 
A handful of Helios is a radish lover's delight.
Helios can be picked at normal radish size, but we tend to favor letting them get a little bigger.  They can hold a bit longer in the field than most radish and they don't get pithy.  Helios can handle warmer weather when most other short season radish quit and Tammy favors them for taste over French Breakfast.  We got a nice batch in the last Spring and in the Fall this year.

8. Touchstone Gold
This is another repeat from 2015.  But, unlike Pride of Wisconsin and White Wing, Touchstone Gold exceeded last year's production.  In a year where most crops ran at levels under prior year production numbers, a crop that exceeds the prior year needs to be rewarded by showing up on the list.
Last year's photo, but better results in 2016.
We had a similar root count for our high tunnel production of Touchstone gold this year, but the harvest weight (without greens) nearly doubled.  We attribute this to how we harvested this time around, but you still can't help but be impressed with these great tasting beets.  A great treat this summer was sauteed golden beets with the greens added at the end.  That meal included some steamed green beans, so the farmers were pretty darned happy.

7. Black Cherry
We will grant that our Black Cherry production per plant this year did NOT match last year.  On the other hand, we had more plants and production amounts were double last year.
There are no Black Cherry tomatoes here, the taste testers ate them all!
As a result, they appeared as an option for our CSA members frequently - which meant we had some pretty happy people.  We really can't argue about the health of the plants and the production levels were just fine.  But, with Black Cherry it is really only about the taste.  And, for our farm, it is about the ability to pick them fairly quickly without a significant number of split fruit.  Black Cherry is a winner at GFF.

6. Chervena Chushka
Chervena was number five last year and takes a tiny step back to number six this season.  Production numbers were down a tiny bit, but it seemed to us that the taste was actually better.  There isn't much we can do to verify our taste perception from year to year, but we can say that Chervena Chushka got more positive reviews from our CSA members this year than most of our peppers.
One of our prettiest peppers too!
We are wondering if some of this season's growing conditions led to higher sugar content for many of our crops even if it reduced production levels and storage times.  Whatever the case may be, this pepper has been solid since we gave it full production status in 2014.

5. Marketmore 76
What more can we say about this vegetable variety?  It is a consistent producer on the farm each season.  We normally harvest them when they are 3/4lb to 1 lb in size.  They typically have a nice straight barrel shape that is attractive on the table.  The spines are easy to rub off and the quality remains good even if the fruit exceeds a pound in size.
I should have picked one more for an even 1000 this season.
I am actually shocked that Marketmore has never cracked our top five.  Perhaps I just haven't wanted to 'jinx it' by putting it here?  No, I think it will do just fine next year, even after it's appearance at number five.

4.  Bunte Forellenschus
Larger quantities of seed for Bunte Forellenschus other than gardener packets have not been consistently available, so it should not be a surprise that it hasn't made our list before.  Add to that the slightly limited peak production window and you don't typically have a recipe for a top veggie variety on our farm.
I'm ready for a BLT right now!
But, what happens when you hit the production window perfectly?  Well, then you harvest beautiful heads of lettuce that you almost feel you want to play a fanfare for as you set it out for your CSA customers.  It is no secret by now that I favor some of the smoother/softer textures for lettuce and this one fits the bill.  But, feedback from all lovers of lettuce was positive for Bunte this season.

3. Rio Grande
It has been FAR too long since a potato made it to our top vegetable variety list (2012).  We like our taters and it is always disappointing when they don't do as well as we would like.  We tend to set our goals pretty high, which often means we are disappointed - even if the yields were reasonable.
Rio Grande in the center
Rio Grande was not available in 2015, much to our dismay since it has been a consistent producer of Russet potatoes on our farm.  It returned to the seed availability list this season and we immediately reinserted it into the lineup.  Production exceeded any prior year (458 lbs) for Rio Grande on our farm and the taste/texture combination was fantastic.  Tammy tends to favor the Mountain Rose, Purple Majesty and Carola, but she has also been enjoying Rio Grande this year.  We did note some issues with hollow heart in the very large tubers, but it really isn't hard to deal with, so we didn't hold it against it.

2. Waltham Butternut 
We realize many growers are turning their heads for some newer butternut cultivars, but we are happy to stick with Waltham.  This year, we had over one fruit per row foot of production and an average size around three pounds.
Waltham Butternut
The solid vine of a c.moschata squash, of which butternuts are one, helps these vines to survive vine borer attacks far better than many other winter squash.  Hence the reason organic producers find it easier to produce them than other cultivars of winter squash.  This season, the taste of our butternuts have been sweeter than we've ever encountered - just amazing eating!  On the other hand, the high sugar levels are reducing the storability of the crop.  I guess that's not a horrible issue because people are going to want to east them up as fast as they are able anyway!

1. Gold of Bacau romano bean
One would think that the farmer would manage to get a picture of the number one crop for the season.  He didn't, so you all have to deal with a field picture that has the bean plants in it.

Gold of Bacau beans climbing the fence on the right.
We tried Gold of Bacau in the past on a trial basis and we (and others we got to try it) enjoyed the taste of these romanos very much.  We put the production at 90 feet last year and failed to get them weeded.  Not to be daunted by failure, we tried 90 feet of production this year and got 130 pounds of beans for our efforts.  Everyone in the CSA was given a nice batch of them to try and we have to admit we had to do a fair amount of encouraging.  After all, Gold of Bacau is... gold colored.  And, the beans are harvested fairly large, with the beans clearly showing in the pod.  If you are looking at green beans this size, you typically say they are past peak. 

We were persuasive enough to get people to try them and now we have a large number of fans for Gold of Bacau in our CSA.

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We hope you enjoyed our 2016 Veg Variety Winner blog post.  Please feel free to ask questions or make comments regarding these varieties in the comment section and we will happily engage you in discussion if you wish.

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