- 2017 Winners
- 2016 Winners
- 2015 Winners
- 2014 Winners
- 2013 Winners
- 2012 Winners
- 2011 Winners
- 2010 Winners
- A review of 2007-2009
10 (tie). Bloomsdale spinach
#9 - 2014
This one may seem a bit odd because we have not had the spinach harvests we are used to for the past year or so. But, we're still putting Bloomsdale on here because most of the issues have been due to circumstances beyond varietal control. One of those issues is simply how much time the farmer is willing to spend harvesting spinach in the cooler months. We could probably grow much more spinach than we do right now - but it would require a different farmer attitude. If we did grow much more spinach, most of it would be Bloomsdale.
This variety can be harvested for baby leaf or full leaf production. As you let them mature, the savoyed nature of the leaf gets stronger and the taste (in our opinion) gets better. We like the texture of the larger leaves and love to eat them raw in a salad or on sandwiches. The taste gets even sweeter in the colder weather and the over-wintered spinach is absolutely the best you can get.
Our production records show us harvesting almost 100 pounds in 2012 and 2015, with most of it coming from our over-Wintered plantings in high tunnels. But, the really crazy year was 2011 when we harvested 181 pounds of yummy spinach leaves from Bloomsdale.
We are trialing some transplants this Fall in an effort to improve uniformity of production and give us a bit easier time with weeding and harvest. Hopefully this works out for us because we like eating Bloomsdale spinach as much as our customers do. We just need to make adjustments so the farmer is willing to work with it more.
10 (tie). Oregon Sugar Pod snow peas
#10 - 2013
No, Blizzard did not and will not make the list. See, that didn't take you long to find out! Instead, Oregon Sugar Pod makes the list to represent the peas. While we love Blizzard, seed sources are inconsistent, which makes them a bad year-in/year-out choice for our farm. On the other hand, Oregon Sugar Pod (and now Oregon Sugar Pod II) is consistently available, tends to germinate well and it produces for a longer season than most snow peas.
The snow pea taste of Oregon Sugar Pod fits in well with either raw eating or stir fry. If we have a choice, we think Blizzard has a sweeter taste and appreciate it more. But, we're not at all unhappy with Oregon Sugar Pod. Pods can be decent sized, but land in the 'average' snow pea size with Blizzard and Golden Sweet being smaller and Mammoth Melting being.... um... mammoth?
The original Oregon Sugar Pod, which we actually liked better on our farm, vined 4 to 5 feet tall. Oregon Sugar Pod II tends to stay a compact 3 and a half feet tall. Pods can often be hidden, so harvest is not the easiest job in the world. But, how many other harvests are there where you can snack a bit while you work?
Production numbers are pretty consistent at about a half pound per row foot each season. The exceptional monster year for peas of 2015 saw us harvesting a similar amount per row foot, but for many more row feet than we normally planted. Oddly enough, the other snow peas produced at much higher rates per row foot that season, but they tend to produce at a lower level nearly every other year. And that, my friends, is why Oregon Sugar Pod gets put on this list and the others do not.
9. French Breakfast radish
Honorable Mention - 2014
Radishes are not the first vegetable crop we think of when we contemplate our top varieties each year. The reasons become obvious once you think about it. Radish crops are in the ground for a very short period of time as compared to most other things we grow. Usually, early season is the time period for most of our radish planting - so when we work on our lists in November, they are not at the top of our mind. And, finally, radish are rarely considered the "main-event" of a veggie growing season.
On the other hand, if a radish variety fails, the knowledge sticks because we need them to help fill up early season share offerings. This brings us to the very reason French Breakfast is on the list. It germinates well. It bulbs out well. It holds as well as any radish. Simply put, it produces when we plant it. None of this "all top and no bulb" silliness that some varieties might give. And, people like the taste.
Of course, French Breakfast likes the cooler weather and the size of the radish often depends on temperatures and amounts of water. Like most crops, they don't care to be surrounded by weeds either. But, that's the joy of radish. They like the cool. They grow better than most weeds during those times of year. If you irrigate, you can solve the water problem if it is too dry. If it is too wet - well, French Breakfast will tolerate it for a time. We have tried many radishes over the past ten years and only two have consistently returned: French Breakfast and Helios. Now that's saying something.
8. Waltham Butternut squash
#2 - 2016, #3, 2017, Honorable Mention 2009
Record fruit harvest of 370 in 2017 exceeds 2007's 354.
Average fruit size around 3 pounds.
Butternut squash are favored by many growers simply because they have the solid stems that prevent vine borers from eliminating young plants. Waltham has been the standard bearer for a very long time in the squash industry, and its performance on our farm is consistent with that observation. After all, seed developers have been trying to improve on it for years. There are now some hybrids out there that claim superiority with respect to one virtue or another. But, when it comes to all-around goodness, we still see no reason to stop growing Waltham.
We prefer to grow our Walthams in two rows about five feet apart and then we surround those two rows with flowers on either side. Our hope is that the flowers help attract more pollinators to increase fruit set. Because we seed our flowers heavily and we choose sturdier flowers like zinnia and borage, these hedges of plants also tend to keep the squash vines contained in their beds.
Our farm's soil and weather situation often results in delays in our Spring planting schedule, but Waltham still produces even with a later planting. The size may be smaller and the production numbers may be lower, but we still get something. Fruit size can be variable which suits our model as well. We find that people have an idea about how big a squash should be, so it is nice to have options that run to all preferences.
In the end, I would like you to reference the factoids just above the picture. Our old record for Waltham was in 2007. It shows up again in 2017 with a similar number to just barely set a new record. Proof positive that we've stuck with this variety and that it earns its keep on our farm.
7. Jimmy Nardello's Frying pepper
#1 - 2007, #8 - 2013, Honorable Mention - 2009
Over 3400 fruit harvested from 2012 to 2017.
20.3 marketable fruit per plant in 2009
Likely record production year in 2012 negated by spray incident.
How do you know you have started taking a particular cultivar for granted? You know when you develop top 10 vegetable variety lists every year and a variety that has consistently good production of tasty fruit over a six year period hasn't been mentioned since 2013. I suspect this statement will be true of all of the varieties at some level that land above Jimmy Nardello's on this list. But, isn't that the point of creating the Top Ten for Ten list in the first place? These are all cultivars that we've come to expect that they will succeed in producing quality food for us every year.
Jimmy Nardello's is best harvested at full red. However, they turn quickly to red on the counter if you harvest them with a little bit of red on the fruit, just like several in the picture above. Fruits look a good deal like a hot pepper, so it's a good idea not to mix them up. The fruit tastes great raw and provide a little light crunch for sandwiches or salads. However, once you cook up a Jimmy Nardello's, you figure out why they are called a "frying pepper." The taste sweetens up considerably and lends itself well to all sorts of applications. For example, they are very good in a sautee mix or on pizza.
Plants are of average size and generally keep enough cover to protect fruit from sunscald. As is true for most peppers, fruit that touch the ground can have some problems, but culls (fruit that tend to get thrown) are not the norm.
6. Dwarf Curled Blue Scotch kale
#3 - 2008, #10 - 2013
Typical bunch of 10 Dwarf Blue stems is a half pound
Highest production 440 bunches in 2014.
Have never recorded a crop failure year for this variety.
I checked my last statement in our 'factoid' list for Dwarf Curled Blue Scotch five times. As a grower of a wide range of crops and varieties, it is unlikely there hasn't been a failure, no matter how good the variety is, over a period of ten (or in our case,13) years. "Why is that?" you might ask. Well, I'm not going to wait for you to ask, I'll just tell you. It's just plain HARD to grow this many crops every season and not make a mistake that ruins a crop or land a crop in conditions that the variety just can NOT handle. It's a fact of life for a highly diversified vegetable grower.
The picture to the left shows Dwarf Blue flanking Scarlet before Scarlet got MUCH taller than our curly kale friends. That is one of the things that I like and don't like about Dwarf Blue Scotch - it's dwarfness. Harvest requires that you have to get down to its level, which can get a bit old over time. On the other hand, the low growing nature tends to keep the soil shaded near its base, even after multiple harvests. As a result, you tend to maintain a more consistent soil moisture with less irrigation AND there is a solid canopy that prevents weed germination. Since my job requires that I be able to crawl, kneel and/or bend over, I guess I can handle that part.
Since Dwarf Blue Scotch is an open-pollinated variety offered by Seed Savers, it is not unusual to see a little inconsistency in the leaf structure. Sometimes you get finely ruffled leaves and sometimes they are not quite as curly as you might like. However, the texture is fairly consistent, as is the taste. The plants will sometimes send a 'sucker' up from the bottom and it helps to nip those before they go much of anywhere. Otherwise, as long as you have reasonably fertility, you're going to get good results with this variety every season.
5. Marketmore 76 cucumber
#5 - 2016, #10 - 2010, #14 - 2015
Over 1500 fruit in 2010 (the monster cucumber year) with 17.2 fruit per row foot.
2015 succession II with a production rate equivalent to 60,000 pounds/acre
Typical production before farmers give up is 7 fruit per row foot.
When we started farming in 2005, we were told by some people who seemed to know that we could not hope to grow successfully unless we adopted F1 Hybrid cucumbers (and peppers - but that's another story). We took their advice and ran a couple of hybrids. But, at the same time, we were running through the possible open-pollinated cucumbers that were available to see if we could find cultivars that worked on our farm. Marketmore is a variety that has been with us since our early farming years and we do not regret putting our faith in this variety.
At one point in time, we tried Marketmore 97 and had some trouble with the speed with which the fruit got overly large. Marketmore 76, on the other hand, tends to give us a little more time until the fruit gets too large. We feel that the fruit are best from a half pound to a full pound in size. Happily, harvesting them small doesn't destroy the taste either. Vines are healthy, but not overly aggressive and bees seem to like the flowers, which leads to decent pollination. But, the best thing about Marketmore 76 from our perspective is the fact that it helped us get to the point where we have no F1-hybrid cucumbers on our grow list. This was the variety that started that ball rolling.
4. Jaune Flamme / Wapsipinicon Peach snack tomato
Jaune Flamme: #6 - 2017, #4 - 2009, #4 - 2015 (with Wapsi)
Wapsi: #1 - 2013, #4 - 2015 (with Jaune)
Per plant production numbers in the field for 2010 41.4 (Jaune) and 21.8 (Wapsi)
Per plant production numbers in high tunnel for 2017 153.6 (Jaune) and 123.4 (Wapsi)
So, we began exploring possible 'salad sized' tomatoes as an alternative and fairly rapidly settled on Wapsipinicon Peach (that river is only a mile away from our farm), Jaune Flamme, Red Zebra and Green Zebra. It became apparent that some of these varieties would vary in production in the field depending on the season, with Jaune Flamme being the most reliable. Once we started growing them in our high tunnels, Wapsi Peach and Jaune Flamme just took off!
Wapsi Peach tends to like drier and warmer seasons, so it really performs well in the high tunnel environment. These plants produce the light yellow fruit with a fuzzy texture and a sweet taste. They are extremely juicy, so they are probably not the best for date night - unless you want to find out if your potential significant other either has a sense of humor or can handle looking a little silly while tomato dribbles down their chin. Jaune Flamme, on the other hand, also has the potential to be roasted and then frozen for future use in pizzas and other tasty concoctions. But, don't think that Jaune Flamme isn't a good snack as well! They are a bit less juicy and have a slight tang to them. Apparently, they taste pretty darn good because our workers never say "no" when Rob offers them either Jaune Flamme or Wapsi Peach as a reward for good work.
It is difficult to sing the praises of what these two varieties have done for our farm, especially since the point we moved their production space to our high tunnels. But, if you want a little bit of an idea as to what we really think of them, they were part of the motivation for naming our first high tunnel "Eden."
3. Jade green bean
#2 - 2012, #8 - 2015, #9 - 2013, Honorable Mention 2009 and 2014
1,941 pounds harvested at GFF since 2012
more than 2.5 lbs per row foot in high tunnel production, .75 lbs per row foot in field
We had the good fortune to select Jade and have immediate success growing it. But, perhaps most importantly, we found ourselves rapidly forgetting about Benchmark as Jade set for us some new standards for taste. Jade beans work well for us because the beans hold taste even when they get larger. In fact, it is best to not pick them too small. The fruit have a fantastic texture after being steamed and the two of us often will celebrate a first picking by eating a whole pot of them for dinner.
Unlike Provider, Jade doesn't mind if we run a double row in a bed and Jade rows tend to have a virtually continuous production rate. Many varieties, like Provider, will give 'flushes' of beans, usually losing quality after the second flush. Jade does provide flushes if you look carefully, but the plants actually keep going for much longer than you might think. This makes them ideal for high tunnel production where you can run the row over a much longer period during the growing season. We thought we were sad when Benchmark went away? Well, the disappearance of Jade would be far worse. It's actually enough that we are beginning to consider doing some seed selection of Jade for our own seed supply.
2. Black Krim tomato
#4 - 2012, #10 - 2015, Honorable Mention - 2013
High tunnel Spring planting averaging 20 pounds per plant and 30 marketable fruit per plant
High tunnel "Fall" planting averages 10 pounds and 20 fruit per plant.
Average fruit size between .53 and .61 pounds.
Our history with Black Krim actually goes back further than we often think since we actually grew a plant in our personal garden when we lived near Decorah. We recall having a difficult time knowing when these fruit were ready to harvest and had most of them split before we were ready to pick them.
Fast forward several years to our current location at the farm and you will find us trying to figure out if we were going to grow open pollinated heirloom tomatoes or F1-hybrids. During our first farm season, we ran a trial with German Pink and Wisconsin 55 against standards like Better Boy and Early Girl. Needless to say, the heirlooms won and here we are extolling a variety that we committed ourselves to learning how it should be grown.
The road has not been as clear cut or easy for Black Krim as it has been for many of the varieties on this list. In fact, as I write this I am trying to figure out exactly why it beats Jade (for example). The largest part of the answer is simply taste. We should probably remind you that Rob did not eat raw tomatoes prior to starting the farm. That changed after he tried German Pink and now he can tell you the difference in taste between a German Pink, a Paul Robeson, a Moonglow and a Black Krim. And, Black Krim is the champion when it comes to taste.
Black Krim actually had to defeat Cherokee Purple, Black from Tula and Black Sea Man to earn a permanent place on our growing list. We had to learn how to successfully grow the black/purple - type tomatoes and the process of learning has been a long one that has included a number of modifications in our growing system - even up to the present day.
So, why does Black Krim deserve the number 2 spot on our Top Ten for Ten list? Certainly, the taste is a primary reason. And, of course, since 2012 we have been able to produce a significant number of top quality Black Krim fruit, much to the delight of our customers. We would be more than just a little disappointed if we suddenly couldn't grow this tomato variety. And, we have had consistent production over a number of years. These are all good reasons for this ranking.
But, the biggest reason for this high ranking for our farm is how well this particular variety represents what we've been through and how we have adapted as a farm since its inception in 2005. We stuck with Black Krim because we identified how it fit with our farm's goals and ideals. We wanted to find cultivars that gave us the best tastes and textures for each vegetable on our farm. Once we identified Black Krim, we learned and adapted how we did things until we could consistently grow Black Krim reasonably well. Our farm has grown and evolved, and the production of this variety has moved through those growth steps with us.
1. Bronze Arrowhead lettuce
#1 - 2010, #4 - 2011, #6 - 2013, #10 - 2016, Honorable Mention - 2014
Over 1200 lbs and 3000 head harvested since 2011.
.44 lb per head average over that 7 year period.
Bronze Arrowhead can be grown in the high tunnel and it can be grown in the field. Bronze Arrowhead can be picked small or you can let it get bigger. Some people report that they can pick leaves off a Bronze Arrowhead plant for an extended period of time before the plant finally gives up. Bronze Arrowhead holds better than most lettuces and rarely tastes bitter. Bronze Arrowhead can be grown in cool weather, warm weather and may even make it through some of the hottest periods with some help. And, Bronze Arrowhead can, in some years, be overwintered with some shelter.
From a texture standpoint, this lettuce tends to run in the middle between the 'harder' and 'softer lettuces.' The taste is stronger in heat and milder in cold, but when it is stronger, it is not the bitter 'spit it out' taste many lettuces move towards. In short, it is really hard to go wrong with Bronze Arrowhead. And that is good enough reason to put it at the number one spot on this list for our farm.
But, we aren't going to stop there. Our CSA customers are disappointed when we don't have Bronze Arrowhead among the lettuce varieties. This variety has been so good for us that we have purposely eliminated from contention in our Top Ten lists just so we can talk about some of our other worthy varieties. Every time we seed a succession of lettuce (sometimes as many as 10 in a growing season) Bronze Arrowhead would be conspicuous by its absence.
Like Black Krim, we see a little of us in Bronze Arrowhead as well. Our farm has shown resiliency and flexibility over the years. We adapt to the seasons and the odd weather - but perhaps with more complaint than this lettuce cultivar. And, in the end, we are still here, doing the things we think we should be doing. In this case, producing good food for people who want and need it. And, Bronze Arrowhead is going to be right there with us - as long as we both are able.