Sunday, December 1, 2019

Veg Variety Winners 2019

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 2019's Growing Season
As part of my pre-writing work for this yearly post, I review the prior year's entry to balance my response to the current year.  The summary for 2018 was among our most difficult that we've experienced at the Genuine Faux Farm.  Unfortunatley, 2019 was more difficult for us than 2018.  We saw it coming.  Record moisture starting in the Fall and continuing into the Winter and Spring resulted in planting dates four to five weeks behind schedule.  The saturated soil prevented plants from getting the nutrients they needed and kept them from putting down much more than surface roots.  The weather encouraged more herbicide use over a longer period of time than normal in the region.  Then, things got wet all over again this September and October.  It hasn't been fun.

And yet - here I am with a list of veggie varieties.  Why?  Because we still have our successes every year - believe it or not.  It gives me hope that perhaps we aren't bad farmers and perhaps there is still hope for things to come back around.

The list this year may have even more significance for the future as we look to reduce the number of varieties and crops we grow in 2020.  It makes no sense to continue as we have, so we'll be making changes.  Stay tuned for more on the future in this blog.

15.  Tasty Evergreen Tomato
I thought I would start this year's list out with a bit of a surprise.  We have had Tasty Evergreen tomatoes on our grow list since about 2008, but we limited the number of plants every season because it is extremely difficult to get nice tomatoes, like the ones you see below, without splitting or other issues.  On the other hand, Tasty Evergreen is one of the best tomatoes if you like a compliment to the taste of real mayo on your sandwiches.  Fruit size starts at medium slicer range and can get as large as 0.8 pound.   The center is, in fact, green when the tomato is ripe and the skin starts to yellow, as you can see below.  The trick is to learn how a ripe tomato FEELS and then you can figure out when to harvest this one.

Tasty Evergreen is quite picky, but we finally found a balance in our high tunnels this year.  We only grew our typical four plants, but we had fantastic production and great taste this year.  Since we actually had a successful season with this tomato, we thought we would honor it with a listing.

14. Scarlet Kale
Scarlet (left) and Vates (right)
We've given kudos to our green curly kale varieties in the past (Dwarf Blue Scotch, Vates and Westlander) and they did fine for us again this season.  But, this year it is time to give one of our red varieties some love.  Scarlet has done well for three years in a row at the Genuine Faux Farm and we intend to continue growing it - even if we are looking at other varieties of red curly kale.

Usually, we don't start with the negatives of a veg variety winner, but that's what we're going to do with this one.  Scarlet plants tend to get fairly tall, but their stems often do not bulk up sufficiently to keep the plants upright late in the season.  There is also a fairly wide variety of characteristics in the strain we grow, so it is not uncommon to get an off-plant or three.  Also, Scarlet really does prefer extra fertility and will under-perform if you don't do some things to keep it happy.  But, if you manage to give it what it needs...

The beautiful color of the leaves run from a deep maroon to a deep green with red tones.  Leaf texture tends to be a bit softer than most green curly kale and the taste is a bit milder which makes it accessible to people who aren't as fond of the stronger taste the harder, green kales have.  I find the plants to be very easy to harvest (until they fall over late in the season) and the leaf stems don't tend to break when bundling.  If there are some flaws from pest or storm damage on the leaves, it tends to hide it better than the greens.  And, pests seem to prefer a variety like Westlander rather than Scarlet.  Scarlet is a heritage variety maintained by Seed Savers and is worth finding a spot in your garden if you would like to add some color to your kale salads.

13. Amazing Cauliflower
Goodman, Amazing, Mardi
We ran a Practical Farmers of Iowa vegetable trial for three varieties of cauliflower this year and were pleased with both Amazing and Goodman.  Mardi, on the other hand, didn't really perform as we hoped.  Goodman has been on our top veggie list before and it continued to provide us with excellent taste, bright coloring and its characteristic slightly fuzzy texture.  Mardi gave us the most bulk, but it had more problems with the wet conditions than the other two.

But the winner was Amazing this year.  The size tended to land between the other two and Amazing handled the late, wet conditions the best of the three varieties.  Amazing features the classic cauliflower taste, so you won't be surprised by what you get from this variety in that area.  But, if you like cauliflower, you will be pleased.  Heads showed no tendency towards ricing or early bolting in our fields.  We do not blanch any of our cauliflower varieties and Amazing does fine without that process.

We are pleased that Amazing is an open pollinated variety, which fits with our farm preferences and farm mission.  If there is a knock on Amazing, it might be that the window for maturity is a bit more diverse than a commercial grower might like.  For example, if I wanted 100 heads to mature during a given week, I might need to plant 75% more to make sure I met that goal.  Don't get me wrong, the window isn't unmanageable since 85% of the crop will be mature in a 14 day period.

12. Nyagous Tomato
You can usually tell what sort of a season we had if the farmer says he doesn't have a picture of something.  I don't have a picture of Nyagous.  Perhaps it is because Nyagous is shy?  Well, we will likely get another chance at catching it in a photo next year because its re-introduction to the farm in 2019 to the high tunnel environment was a complete success. 

Nyagous was first introduced to our farm in 2006 and has the honor of being among the first 'purple/black' heirlooms we grew.  These tend to range in size from large snack/salad size to small slicer, averaging about 1/3 pound.  The deep burgandy color can get a bit darker in warmer periods and the taste is rich and has the tiniest hint of brown sugar to it!  Production levels are not as high as some of our snack tomatoes such as Jaune Flamme and Wapsipinicon Peach, but there are hints that an earlier planting could produce on a level that would exceed this year's production.  Like our other 'purple/black' tomatoes (Black Krim, Paul Robeson, Black Cherry) Nyagous loves the high tunnel environment.  We were able to avoid splitting and other losses for the most part.  We have noted that Nyagous likes a little extra nutrient boost prior to fruit set.

11. Roma II Romano Bean
In the past, we have grown Gold of Bacau, an heirloom pole romano that has fantastic taste and texture.  Unfortunately for us, we often have trouble finding the labor time to set up the trellis for pole beans, leaving us to rely on bush beans for much of our production.  Yes, yes, I know this postpones the labor to the picking end of things, but our labor bottlenecks are NOT the focus of this post!

We actually tried Roma II on a whim this past year.  Tammy and I usually allow ourselves to select two items each that we just want to try and one of my choices was Roma II.  (For the record, one of Tammy's was Nyagous.)  Plants were small, but they were covered with beans making it fairly easy to harvest.  The season did not allow us to observe a second fruit set, but we were quite pleased with a single harvest yield.  The responses for the taste of these beans were overwhelmingly positive.  The hard part was getting some folks to try these flat beans after they'd been enjoying some quality green beans.  

10. Touchstone Gold Beet
Our Chioggia beets did fairly well this year and I thought I might put them on the list for 2019, until I reviewed the numbers and accounted for one planting of Chioggia that failed to germinate - while both Touchstone Gold plantings produced.

Frankly, I am not heartbroken by this.  I like both beets for taste and still credit Chioggia with getting me to actually eat and appreciate beets.  But, I prefer the Touchstone Gold for a taste that is fantastic roasted with a little melted butter.  For those of us who love our green beans, we find Touchstone Gold to be our beet of choice.

Touchstone Gold has performed in the field and in the high tunnel, preferring the finer soils in our Southwest fields and Eden (our smaller high tunnel).  Beets can easily reach a pound each in size and still maintain a pleasing taste and texture.  Inconsistent moisture can result in a few 'Frankenbeets,' but even these maintain a good eating quality (just harder to clean). 

One of the characteristics we are looking for in varieties that will stay on our farm in 2020 (and perhaps beyond) is a track record for success on our farm.  If you look at some of our prior lists, you will find Touchstone Gold.  Another key characteristic will be the ability of the vegetable variety to stand out from typical offerings provided by other growers.  We will happily allow others to grow red beets while we focus on the "specialty" beets like Touchstone Gold.

9. Silver Slicer Cucumber
This was not a good season for cucurbit crops on our farm.  Yet, here we are with a cucumber on the list!  After having an excess of cucumbers with no place for them to go over the past couple of years, we cut down our production numbers significantly and... of course, the season decided to make growing any cucumbers a challenge!  Happily, after a slow start, Silver Slicer and Marketmore 76 picked up the slack and filled our bins with as many as we were able to move.

Silver Slicer has a great fresh-eating taste that makes our local cucumber taste expert (Tammy) very happy.  Silver Slicer seems to be fine with a late season or early season start and doesn't seem to have a tendency to grow the cucumbers too large, having what seems to be a top size at about 8 inches.  We like to harvest them around six inches, but the size doesn't seem to impact the taste or texture too terribly much.  Like many open-pollinated varieties, quality has more to do with age on the vine than actual size of the fruit.  In 2019, a single succession of Silver Slicers produced for the entire season, eliminating the need for planting multiple successions.  We do not expect this every season, but it is a quality for us to assess further.

8. Wapsipinicon Peach Tomato
This season's list is going to be a bit heavy on the heirloom tomatoes that came from our two high tunnels (Eden and Valhalla).  The reasons are fairly simple.  Many of our field crops struggled in 2019 and one of our feature crops in the high tunnels is tomatoes. 

Once again, Wapsipinicon Peach tomatoes make our Vegetable Variety list for the season.   Their taste is extraordinary, but beware the juice!  More than one happy person has had to wear a little Wapsi Peach juice on their shirt after biting into one of these sweet snack tomatoes.  The fruits tend to be softer and have a fuzzy feel.  Many people are tempted to discard these tomatoes as too soft, but when encouraged to try them they find they were mistaken.  What absolutely astounds us is that there are people who have ignored the Wapsi Peaches we offer for years only to try them and tell us they love them.  We don't rave about much, but this is one thing we have been praising for a long time.  We expect to continue to grow them in the future.

7. Jade Green Bean
Here is another repeat selection variety for the Genuine Faux Farm.  Perhaps we are seeing more repeats this year because we were already beginning to focus on fewer crops in 2019 as a response to increasingly difficult growing conditions. 
Jade has the best taste of all of our green beans, though we won't say "no" to a nice pot of steamed Provider or Black Valentines.  Jade has a bit more of a 'gourmet' taste and they have a more continuous production window rather than heavy 'flushes' like the other varieties.  This is perfect for our high tunnel production where we want to maximize what we are able to get in a smaller space.  We tried a single row rather than our traditional double row in the high tunnel this year and we're not sure if we liked it or not.  Production was, of course, lower due to the smaller plant count.  The reason for going single row had more to do with ease of harvest.  I suspect we will go back to double row in 2020.

6.  Bergam's Green Lettuce

Lettuce has a distinct disadvantage in 2019 because our late crops went nowhere while our Spring crops did just fine, thank you.  Since we write this post at the end of the season, it is not uncommon for me to overlook some of the early season successes.  As it was, there were several good lettuce varieties this year and I decided to select one from a batch that included Magenta, Bunte Forellenschus, Bronze Arrowhead, Red Romaine, Crispmint, Paris Island Cos, Nevada, Kirabati Pulse, Forellenschus, Grandpa Admires and others.

Bergam's stood out in large part because of the size and ability to bulk out quite quickly during all types of weather.  There is very little waste on this loose-leaf and the taste holds fairly well, not getting too strong in the warmer months.

5.  Dolciva Carrot
We have been fans of St Valery for orange carrots and Dragon for the purple carrots for some time.  In recent years, we have had more issues with carrot germination and we were looking for some options.  One of our preferences was to go with an open-pollinated variety if we were able to do so.  Most who grow carrots commercially tend to opt for the F1 hybrids, but we maintain the belief that traditional breeding methods can also create viable strains for production such as ours.
Dolciva in bin closest to the camera
The selling points for trying this carrot were that they are "well-adapted and versatile for bunching or storage."  The versatility is nice because we don't necessarily want to store ALL of our carrots, nor do we want to be forced to move them all at once.  This variety touts both as a possibility.  The 'well-adapted' part implies that while the seed was developed in Europe, it has shown proper resilience and has been productive away from the region of development.  If you take that implication further, it might be read to say that it should grow well in many other conditions/regions.  Since we were looking for carrots that would store to allow us to spread out distribution, this one caught our eye as storing extremely well.  The final selling point?  It came in pelleted seed.  Given the tendency for wet conditions for our farm, pelleting seed expands the window for direct seeding of carrots into our soil.

The good news?  Dolciva grew well for us, though we put it in some of our best field beds.  The carrots grew long and straight and held well, waiting for us to find the time (and weather conditions) to pull them.  They did store well and they had a great flavor (for those who love carrots).  Given the wet soil conditions we have been dealing with, we have not been able to use our 6 row seeder for carrots.  Thus, the pelleted seed provided us with the chance to get the carrots into the field in late April to early May.  We've found that is our best possible field seeding period if we want a reliable carrot stand on our farm.

4. Minnesota Midget
Minnesota Midget melons did well enough in 2018 to win the prize for top honors and were pretty close to a repeat in 2019.  Once again, these were only grown in our high tunnels and they provided us with plenty of melons to fill the demand we had for the season.

Fruit size can be variable, though a consistent watering program can reduce that variability.  The hard part is trying to reduce water prior to ripening so the fruits set more sugars for a better taste.  The net result is that later sets may be smaller in size due to the reduced watering regimen. 

It is important to note that Minnesota Midget has its growing slot for production.  It does not particularly like to be pushed early or pushed late - believe me, I've tried both.  But, they do love their location in our high tunnel.  Plants can be trained to climb on Hortnova trellis and they do not tend to get so large that they can't be contained to that trellis.

3. Tolli Sweet Pepper
Tolli Sweet keeps moving up our list (sitting at number 9 last year) which is a little bit of a surprise for me.  Once again, we put in our normal batch of Tolli Sweet plants into Eden.  We had added a bit of compost prior to this growing season and they apparently liked that extra boost.  Fruit size tended to be a bit larger and more consistent in 2019 than they had in prior years.  However, fruit harvest numbers remained essentially the same. 

Tolli Sweet Peppers are a carrot shaped pepper that is best when it is allowed to turn red.  The fruit size can be variable and the pepper wall is fairly thin.  Persons who have some trouble with digesting peppers may find that Tolli Sweet is much more tolerable to them and they are good for fresh eating, sandwiches, salads and nachos.  The plants are small in stature and prefer not to have wet feet, which makes them perfect for high tunnel production.  Fruit do not hold on the plant particularly well either, so you want to keep them picked at early to mid stages of ripeness.  Waiting too long tends to result in splits or issues with the fruit. 

2. Black Cherry Tomato
If you look at the photo to the right of this text, you will see the walking path between our cherry tomatoes (left) and our snack tomatoes (right).  Sweet alyssum plants can be seen peaking out at the base of these plants.

We had a late start for everything on the farm in 2019, including our high tunnel tomatoes.  Rather than waste time recounting all of our 'woes' lets stick with the positives that led us to put Black Cherry near the top of our 2019 Veg Variety list!

We favor cherry tomatoes that are larger simply because the small varieties are a real pain for us to keep harvested.  Black Cherry is the largest of the 'black/purple' cherries that we have tried and it mixes well with Tommy Toe and Hartmann's Yellow Gooseberry.  It isn't terribly difficult to pick these and get the stems off of them as long as you stay with the harvest on a regular basis.  If fruit get a bit over-ripe you are going to have more difficulties. 

Production levels for Black Cherry plants are typically a bit lower than the red and yellow varieties, but that is easily solved by planting 4 plants for every five of the other types.  These plants are often a little bit smaller and wispier in form, but they are still cherry tomatoes, nearly reaching the top of the high tunnel this season.  But, the real reason we grow them is simple: they taste amazing.

1. Redwing Onion
Redwing onions after cleaning
Oh look!  An onion!

Yes, we did increase our onion production in 2019 with the anticipation that we would expand sales outlets for this crop.  In the process, we tried a couple of other red onion varieties just to make sure we were not missing anything.  It turns out that we were not missing much since Redwing blew the competition out of the water EVEN after it was insulted by being planted later than the rest.  We are sorry Redwing, you showed us, yet again, that you belong among the most honored of veg varieties at the Genuine Faux Farm.

Our Redwings easily averaged a half pound with some coming in just under a pound.  Redwing has shown over time that it likes our soils and it can tolerate the wetter soil conditions we have been experiencing over past several years.  Redwing can tolerate a little weed pressure, but like all onions, it won't size up if you give competing plants an equal footing.

Redwing tends to 'fall-over' within a period of ten days with maybe 1% refusing to fall.  For those who are not as familiar with onion production, we like to wait for the stems to weaken just over the bulb and we consider them ready to harvest when the stems are lying on the ground for 90% of the bed.  Redwings are decent storing onions and they maintain their quality well into January - sometimes February.  We usually don't have any left by the time we get into mid-February so we can't say much more about that.

Thank you!
We appreciate all those who read our blog and consider what we have to say about the things we grow.

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