I know some lifetime gardeners who refuse to grow hybrid fruits or hybrid vegetables.
"Crossbreeds are pretty to look at," those folks will
admit, "but they just don't have any taste at all!"
If you feel the same way, I'm here to tell you (after
experimenting with these new strains for a number of years)
that it simply ain't so.
Aside from the fact that hybrids offer greater uniformity,
more vigor, and improved disease resistance, many of
these modern vegetable varieties will flat astound you with
their superior tastes!
Now, don't get me wrong! I don't have anything against
longtime, open-pollinated stalwarts such as the Beefsteak
tomato, Jersey Wakefield cabbage, or Golden Bantam sweet
corn. The point that I do want to make, though, is that
some of the new strains have simply zoomed right past the
old standards of excellence we've set for our vegetables.
Kraut and Cookin' Cabbage
Sure, some hybrids aren't anything special, but the same
thing can be said for a lot of old standbys. Late Flat
Dutch cabbage, for example, has been around for ages, but
I've yet to hear anyone praise its taste.
On the other hand, you can't find a more delicious cookin'
variety than Gourmet cabbage. (just add a little butter,
salt, and pepper; steam it in a small amount of water; and let your taste buds judge its flavor!) And, not
only does this hybrid produce as early as Jersey Wakefield, it's also much more disease resistant.
If you want a larger cabbage that matures later, Roundup is
about the best there is. It surpasses Late Flat Dutch in
all respects, especially in flavor. And it's also one of
the better cabbages to use in sauerkraut.
A Favorite Gets Better
Now, let's move on to that one vegetable loved by almost
everyone: sweet corn. The top choice in this category for
the last half-century has been Golden Bantam, with
Stowell's Evergreen almost as popular among fanciers of
But, while both of these "old-timers" are still fine
varieties, many people feel that the new Seneca Chief and
Silver Queen are the finest tastin' sweet corns that ever
came out of the ground. As delectable as they are, however,
my own personal favorites are A&C No. 18 yellow sweet
corn and Silver Sensation white sweet corn. Since it's sold
by only one firm (Abbot and Cobb Seed Company), A&C No.
18 isn't very widely known. But this main-season,
eight-inch, mostly two-eared variety is tremendously
toothsome. As for Silver Sensation, it's best known for its
unique nutty taste, and this corn is so vigorous that it'll
I grow just about anywhere!
There are dozens of other fantastic sweet corn hybrids
available as well. Among these, jubilee, Xtra-Sweet,
Burpee's Honeycross, Gold Cup, Wonderful, NK 199, and White
Delight are especially worthy of mention.
But the biggest news on the corn scene is the development
of the new EH line. It's got all of the good qualities of
the widely acclaimed Illini Xtra-Sweet species, plus a
couple of big added attractions. You see, unlike the Illini
Xtra-Sweet, EH doesn't have to be isolated from whatever
other corn you may grow, and its tender kernels remain
edible and tasty for up to 14 days after pickin'. That
means future supermarket shoppers may be able to buy fresh
corn that's actually appetizin'.
Cream of the Cantaloupes
Cantaloupes are another crop that's benefited from the
development of new species. Old varieties like Hearts of Gold and
Pride of Wisconsin are always delicious, but they don't
stand up to diseases like the equally savory Burpee Hybrid,
Ambrosia, Supermarket, Harper Hybrid, Classic, Samson, and
To most people, however, the real Cadillac of cantaloupes
is the very popular Saticoy Hybrid. Its adaptability and
productiveness have to be seen to be believed,
and—because Saticoy is very disease
resistant—this strain will thrive in most any area
that has a sufficiently long growing season.
If you live in a colder clime, though, try the hybrid
called Alaska. This sought-after new release will
mature two to three weeks earlier than Saticoy. It's shaped
like a football, weighs three or four pounds, and has an
exquisite taste. (it greatly resembles the old Mainerock
hybrid, but its quality is far superior.)
While hybridization hasn't had much effect on the
watermelon industry, there are many fine new breeds worth
growin'. Some of the better ones are Top Yield, Family Fun,
Fordhook Hybrid, Sweetmeat, and Yellow Baby. I'm
particularly fond of Summer Festival and Yellow Doll.
Summer Festival looks like a short version of the old
Charleston Gray, and usually weighs between 12 and 15
pounds. Besides being scrumptious, this melon is never
stringy or hollow-hearted.
Yellow Doll—while not as productive as Summer
Festival—is an eight-to-ten pound, golden-fleshed
variety with a wonderful, unique flavor all its own. If
you've never tasted yellow-fleshed watermelons, you're
really missing a treat. There're a lot of good ones around,
and Yellow Doll is the best of the bunch.
Proliferous Peppers and Eager Eggplant
Most sweet peppers taste just about the same. (I can barely
distinguish the difference in the 20 or so varieties I've
grown.) But hybridization has improved both the growth
habits and productivity of these plants.
Bell Boy is still the best of the many pepper hybrids
developed in the last few years. This large, blocky,
thick-walled beauty is so sturdy and prolific that
I've seen as many as two dozen peppers on a single plant.
Golden Spike is a fine new hybrid hot pepper that soared to
popularity in a very short time. It resembles Cubanelle or
Hot Banana, and produces dozens of extremely hot peppers
that turn red as they ripen. Other fine crossbreeds are
Green Boy, Lady Bell, Pick-A-Peck, and Canape.
Eggplant is in the same boat as peppers. The flavor of the
hybrids (while every bit as good as the old types) isn't
really superior ... but the purple beauties sure have been
improved in other ways: The new breeds produce more freely
and are stronger in all respects.
Dusky—which you can harvest much earlier than any
other eggplant— has become a big favorite with both
commercial growers and home gardeners. Other leading
hybrids are Mission Bell, Burpee Hybrid, Royal Knight, and
In many areas of the country, it's impossible to grow any
cucumbers except the disease-resistant hybrids. I
know. Every time I tried to raise such famous old varieties
as Straight Eight, Long Green, Marketer, Longfellow, and
National Pickle, diseases and insects wreaked havoc on my
crop. Eventually I had to turn to
crossbreeds to get good results.
Surecrop was the first I tried. Its size and
fruitfulness amazed me, but the quality was only fair. So, I
turned to Burpee Hybrid for several years. It was better than
Surecrop, but not as good (I later discovered) as Meridian,
Slicemaster, Saticoy, Shamrock, and Sprint. These hardy
cucumbers not only taste great, but they'll also produce
right up until the first frost.
A cucumber revolution, however, came with the introduction
of the Burpless Hybrid. It's not all that pretty to look
at, but its wonderful mild taste created an unbelievable
demand all over the country. And before too long, that
strain led to the creation of the finest tastin' cucumber
ever developed: Sweet Slice.
These smooth, burpless, and delicious vegetables grow up to
eight or nine inches long, and the skin is so thin and
mildly flavored that you don't even have to peel 'em.
If you want a good picklin' cucumber, try Pioneer, which
produces a remarkable number of fruits on each vine. The
quality of this hybrid is equal to (or better than) the
more well-known National Pickle. Other highly regarded
hybrid picklers are Piccadilly and Spartan Dawn.
Probably the most publicized hybrid vegetable in the world
is the tomato, and the most famous in the line is Big
Boy. But, the fact of the matter is that Big Boy was long
ago surpassed by much tastier varieties and survives now
mostly on past achievements. Just a few of the more
toothsome hybrids are Better Boy, Supersonic, Super Red,
Park's Whopper, Redheart, Terrific, Royal Flush, and Wonder
Boy. All of these are disease-resistant plants with large,
However, if you're lookin' for the ultimate in
mouth-waterin' tomato goodness, Beefmaster is tops. This
variety grows on a strong, rugged vine which produces one-
to two-pound wonders ... and I just don't see how a tomato
could taste any better than these monsters do!
For those of you who require an early maturer, Spring
Giant, Springset, and Early Girl are hard to beat ... and
they'll usually start producing about two weeks before
Beefmaster or Better Boy, too.
But, as good as these varieties ate, the real star of early
tomatoes has to be Ultra Girl, a strain first sold only
a couple of years ago by the Stokes Seed Company. It yields
smooth and delicious fruits which hang in clusters all over
the hardy vine and average seven to eight ounces each. And,
on top of that, Ultra Girl resists all major tomato
Plus All These
Cauliflower, broccoli, and brussel sprouts—thanks to
hybridization—have become much more widely grown and
accepted by the public in the past few years. In fact, all
the popular varieties of these vegetables are new
Snow King and Snow Crown are truly outstanding
cauliflowers, while Green Comet and Premium Crop are just
two of a number of new broccoli releases. (Green Comet
probably takes the lead in both taste and production.) Jade
Cross is the best brussels sprout variety. It gives twice
the yield of open-pollinated crops and the quality is
Even carrots have caught the attention of hybridizers in
the past few years. Old established varieties such as
Nantes, Chantenay, Danvers, and Imperator are now
challenged by new hybrids like Carrousel, Touche, and
Spartan Bonus. The main advantages of these "newcomers" are
uniformity and higher yield.
Onions (Aristocrat, Fiesta, Empire, and Spartan Era) have
also benefited from the hybridizer's touch, as have
pumpkins, zucchini, and spinach.
No one says, of course, that you should abandon your
favorite old vegetable standbys, but why not make room in
your garden for a few of the delicious and prodigious newer
Then, when somebody tells you that hybrids are nothing more
than flavorless giants, you can sit that person right down
and give him or her a taste of what these recent
crossbreeds are really all about!