Friday, January 7, 2011

Highly Recommended

To continue our mini-series of vegetable variety posts, we thought it might be interesting to play a game of 'lifeboat' with the different varieties we grow.  After all, the seed catalogues have arrived and we (and many of you) are looking at them with thoughts of beautiful, weed-free gardens to come.  What better way to celebrate this feeling than to consider and share what we feel have been some of the best varieties we can recommend?

The biggest difficulty?  Limiting what we put here.  We could do a top ten, we could choose the best of each type of vegetable...we could do any number of things.  Regardless of what we do here, there will be others we would happily recommend - but such lists lose some of their interest if we just list everything we think is a good choice.

So, the rules of this list are as follows:
1. It must be a variety we have three or more years of history growing.
2. Crop failures due to weather that resulted in crop failures of all of that vegetable do not count against a variety.
3. To make the list, the variety must be the ONE variety we would grow at GFF if we were FORCED to grow only one.
4. We must balance productivity, taste, reliability, etc to make our choices.  Choices are not necessarily the one variety we might recommend to a new gardener, nor are they necessarily our absolute favorites for taste.  Selection does not mean we wouldn't miss other varieties.  But, it does mean that, when push came to shove, we would pick this one over others.

Tomato: Italian Heirloom
No surprise here if you've read other things we've written.  But, with all of the other great varieties we grow, this was NOT an easy choice.  But, we still couldn't see ourselves selecting any other if we had to choose only one.
Lettuce: Pablo
The taste is fabulous.  The plants are beautiful and they seem to work pretty well in most weather.  We might not recommend this one to a beginning gardener, and it doesn't give Tammy the romaine she would like.  Suffice to say, we had a good debate about Bronze Arrowhead and Crispmint for this category.  In the end, Tammy lets Rob win the argument - but barely.  Please note that we avoided breaking lettuce down into types of lettuce to get around the difficult selection!
Sweet Pepper: Golden Treasure
So many wonderful peppers with so many different things to offer.  But, like the tomatoes, one variety defines all that is good about the vegetable.  We just hope that nobody actually makes us grow one variety!
Hot Pepper: Wenk's Yellow Hot
This one was also very difficult because there are so many types of hot peppers.  And, each has their uses.  But, we went with one that we felt might get the most general use of the group.  These don't leave an aftertaste like jalapenos, but can be used in their place.  They're not too warm, look good, are easy to grow and have a great taste. 
Eggplant: Rosa Bianca
Not even close here.  Rosa Bianca all the way.  The best taste by far and very much the 'gateway' eggplant that encourages people to try others.
Garlic: German Xtra Hardy
We like Music, but rather than a few large cloves, German Xtra has more cloves per head at a more moderate size.
Kale: Red Russian
The best all around kale with the widest temperature range for production.
Green Beans: Jade
Beans that taste better even when beans are on the bigger side.  Plants that just keep producing once they start.  An incredible gourmet taste. I don't remember what encouraged us to grow these, but thank goodness they made our grow list when they did.
Dry Bean: Arikara
Consistent production with dry beans that can be used for most any recipe.  We have to admit that dry beans have not been given the serious attention they deserve.  We grow them as much for their companion effect with potatoes than anything.   But we do use the dry beans much more on the farm as a winter staple. There was a strong vote for Lina Cisco's Bird Egg and Jacob's Cattle.  But, in the end, we went with the one that is most consistent on the farm.
Winter Squash: Waltham Butternut
It's awfully difficult to say no to Burgess Buttercup or Marina di Chioggia, but we find ourselves doing so here.  Waltham tends to store better and be much more reliable for production.  The solid stems of the moschata prevent losses to borers.  And, of course, they taste good too.  Tammy wins this argument even after sad faces by Rob with regards to the buttercup.
Summer Squash: Sunburst Patty Pan
One of very few hybrids that make our list.  The reality is that we have yet to find an open pollinated summer squash that produces the way we need it to.  And, these spaceship shaped fruits have a slightly buttery taste that we both like.
Zucchini: Raven
Another hybrid.  We choose this in part because some of our open pollinated varieties fail to meet some of the criteria for being grown on the farm for 3 years or more.  We might prefer to recommend Black Beauty (open pollinated) for longer production periods, but Raven develops softer and smaller seeds, so you can stir fry larger zukes when they get away from you.  And, you can just do succession plantings if you want to extend the season.
Melon: Pride of Wisconsin
A sturdy muskmelon type.  They taste great, are reliable and they travel and store better than many.
Watermelon: Mountain Yellow Sweet
There was a lively discussion on this one.  We might choose differently if our criteria were more specific.  For example, we might not choose this one for a beginning gardener nor would we choose it if it were the only watermelon we were growing for the CSA (though we'd be tempted).  Simply put, this is the watermelon we've missed the most in years when that crop doesn't come through for us.  We are very much hoping to have a good melon year next year so we can share this taste with everyone.
Carrot: St Valery
Classic carrot shape and color.  Rarely gets woody.  Tammy loves the taste.  They hold in the field very well.  They also store well.
Turnip: White Egg
We break a rule with this one.  We have only grown White Egg for one year, but the taste and texture was superior to all others and production was similar.  That, and we wanted to avoid recommending the standard (Purple Top White Globe).  We don't dislike Purple Top, we just like this one much more.
Radish: French Breakfast
It was close between Helios and French Breakfast.  But, this one seems to have a wider range of viable temperatures.
Kohlrabi: Kolibri
Purple kohlrabi!  Gotta like it.
Broccoli: Early Dividend
There is a significant problem with this selection.  The industry has apparently discontinued it.  so, we have been scrambling to find something to take its place.  This illustrates one of the reasons we prefer open pollinated seed as this was a hybrid.  For taste, we like Umpqua (open pollinated) but it is inconsistent in forming heads.  It does provide alot of side shoots, so would be great for the garden. We're not so sure we'd put our eggs in this basket if we have to fill CSA shares.
Cauliflower: Early Snowball
Beautiful white heads on self-blanching plants.
Basil: Sweet Genovese
It's produced for us even in the worst years.
Beet: Chioggia
The 'gateway beet.'  Get someone try one of these and they'll realize beets really can be pretty good.  Next thing you know, you'll be willing to try other beets.  We still prefer this beet to any of the others.  Consistent production that hold in the field well.
Potato: German Butterball
Who needs Yukon Gold when you can have one of these?  You haven't had a potato until you've had a German Butterball.
Cucumber: Marketmore 97 or 76
You'd better like cucumber though.
Edible Pod Pea: Oregon Sugar Pod II
We actually liked its predecessor better, even though it was more susceptible to powdery mildew.  But, the taste is similar and production can be a longer season if you are SURE to keep it clean picked.
Cut and come again greens: Bloomsdale Spinach
We admit that we are partial to spinach over other greens.  Anything that will grow in December and can be harvested in January under plastic is worth considering.  Just don't expect to have much success in the heat of summer.
Sweet corn: Silver Queen
We tend to prefer a bit more of the traditional corn taste to some of the super sweet varieties that are so popular now.  Silver Queen is a white kernal corn with a longish season.  Get it picked on time and eaten and you have a real treat.  There is a reason corn can be considered DESSERT.
Pumpkin: Musquee de Provence
We both agree that Long Island Cheese would be more reliable.  But, we also both agree that Musquee is a better pie pumpkin based on taste alone.  I'd be happier getting one ripe Musquee than if I was able to get 3 Long Island Cheese from the same hill.  Obviously, my opinion changes if I have to select for commercial production.  But, I wonder if growing just Musquee would lead to efforts on our part to innovate to provide it with what it needed to produce more.  Please note that this is not a knock on Long Island Cheese, it is a great pie pumpkin - but we had to pick one.

Have any comments or questions on these?  Feel free to comment on the post!

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