I can't speak for gardeners across the entire country, of
course, but I personally have never experienced a more
fruitful growing season — thanks primarily to
near-perfect weather — than that of 1985. Consequently,
the new vegetable seed varieties I tested last year were provided
with everything they needed to do their thing and show
their stuff (or lack thereof) . . . and I've chosen the
best of the batch to recommend to you for 1986.
Best Vegetable Seed Varieties to Grow for Your Homestead
at the beginning by telling you about the vegetable seed
varieties that can be sown the earliest (right now in most
parts of the U.S.), then proceed according to the usual
order of planting. Please keep in mind that, even though I
have space to mention the outstanding qualities of only a
few, all of the vegetable varieties in the following
listing are there because they're exceptional in growth
rate, hardiness, flavor, and even aesthetics.
This year we have some dandy lettuce varieties to choose
from. Leading the list is a leaf type called Red Fire,
offered by Vermont Bean Seed Company (VBS). Red Fire is
resistant to both heat and cold, and the crisp and tender
leaves will add vibrant color to your summer salads. VBS is
also your source for one of the better new "crisphead" (or
iceberg) types, dubbed Ballade. Ballade matures early (80
days) and is medium-sized, with a firm, bright green head.
It can be planted closely and bears up under heat
admirably. Thompson & Morgan (T&M) has an even
earlier maturing crisphead (75 days) called El Toro. "The
Bull" lives up to its name by withstanding extremes of cold
and wet in early spring, but nonetheless it has a tender
Summer Baby Bibb, one of the better new Bibb lettuces,
hails from Shepherd's Seeds. Summer Baby is sweet and
possibly the tastiest of the Bibbs that are able to
withstand hot weather. Shepherd's also offers one of the
finest new romaines, called Rouge d'Hiver. With its broad
red leaves, this one really stands out in the garden-and
produces massive, solid, deep-hearted heads. My final
recommendation, also from Shepherd's, is a Batavian type
called Bogota. Batavian lettuces have yet to really catch
on in America, but if you'll give Bogota a try, I think
you'll see why Europeans are so enamored of these crisp
One of the most flamboyant — in fact, that's its
name-of the new radishes is a European variety offered by
Shepherd's. A half-long type, Flamboyant is a beautiful
glossy white and vermilion with juicy, crisp, and only
mildly pungent flesh.
Midwest Seed Company gets in on the radish act with its
wonderful Fuego. Bright red and delicious, this newly
developed variety matures in about 25 days. One of Fuego's
strongest suits is its resistance to fusarium, a chief
disease of radishes. And for a tasty red radish that's
resistant not only to fusarium but to black root and root
scurf as well, try Fancy Red, from Harris Seeds.
If your taste in radishes runs to the pure white varieties,
I recommend Snowbelle from Twilley Seed Company. Snowbelle
is about as close to white-radish perfection as you're
likely to find, maturing in 30 days to a big, round bulb of
Gilfeather — available from both VBS and
T&M — is the best of the new turnip varieties (new,
that is, to North America; its unique, sweet flavor has
been treasured for nearly a century now by European
gardeners). And as a bonus for greens lovers, Gilfeather
tops are almost identical in appearance and taste to
Another fine European turnip, this one offered by
Shepherd's, is DeNancy, which matures in just 45 days
(about three weeks earlier than Gilfeather) and produces a
crisp, purple-and-white root with a mild flavor. Similar to
DeNancy is Tokyo Top, from Kilgore Seed Company. This
hybrid has tasty green tips and delicious, pure white roots
that average 2 inches to 3 inches in length.
Skookum, from Twilley, leads the spinach list this year.
Maturing in 41 days, Skookum may be the best-tasting, most
diseaseresistant semisavoy spinach ever offered. However,
Majore Hybrid — from Porter & Son,
Seedsmen — is also a fine new variety that's slow to
bolt and tasty both fresh and processed. And to make it a
trio, consider Meyer Seed Company's Savoy Supreme.
Developed at the University of Wisconsin, this nonhybrid is
as delightful to look at as it is to eat.
Of the many fine new varieties of greens to emerge from my
1985 trials, one of the best is Tendergreen II mustard from
Porter. This hybrid improvement over the original
Tendergreen is tastier and even more productive than its
Kale seems to be gaining in popularity, and the best recent
introduction I've found-combining high productivity with
great flavor — is Winterbor from Johnny's
Seeds. Winterbor does well planted early and will continue
to thrive until snow flies in late fall. Other good kales
are Cottagers from T&M and Verdura from Shepherd's
(Verdura matures about 10 days sooner than the other two).
One of the many good new onion varieties is Sweet Sandwich
from Liberty Seed Company. This Sweet Spanish — type
onion is also a good keeper and slices like a dream.
Another dandy burger topper is Sweet Winter, from Geo. W.
Park Seed Company. If planted in the fall and wintered
over, Sweet Winter will take off on its own in early
spring, providing large, tasty onions long before the main
crop is ready to harvest.
Of the many new, main-crop, long-storage onions around this
year, I recommend Copra from Johnny's, Tarmagon from Stokes
Seeds, and Autumn Glo from Farmer's Seed &
Nursery — all of which are easily started from
Yet another new onion, worth growing as a novelty, is No
Tears from T&M; the name is self-explanatory.
And finally, a new twist on an old favorite: The Vidalia
onion — world famous for its remarkable
flavor — can now be grown from the seed available from
Henry Field & Company. I'm not saying it's easy to grow
Vidalias from this new seed — just that it can be done
. . . and it's certainly worth the trouble!
The best of the few new pea varieties for 1986 is a snow
pea from Field, appropriately called Snowflake. Not only
were my Snowflakes' short, stout vines loaded with large,
tender peas, but if I kept them picked, the plants kept
producing over an extended period. Another new pea worth
noting is Sweet Snap from VBS. This one produces peas that
are sweet, tender, and never stringyand the plant is more
compact and disease-resistant than the popular Sugar Snap
When you think of cabbage, think of Treta from Park. This
cone-headed beauty is crisp, sweet, and far superior to my
previous favorite, Jersey Wakefield. Park is also the
source for Heavy Weighter Hybrid, a large, heat- and
frost-resistant main-season type. Grenadier, from
Shepherd's, is another good main-season cabbage. (This
Dutch introduction isn't as big as the Heavy Weighter
Hybrid, but it makes up for that by being highly
crack-resistant, enabling it to be left in the garden much
longer.) Other new varieties worthy of a look include Blue
Ribbon from Twilley, Tucana from Stokes, and Superior
Danish from Johnny's.
Red cabbage has made a comeback recently and is quite
popular in salads. Two of the best varieties are Red Ribbon
from Twilley and Super Red from Liberty.
There are also two promising new savoy cabbages this
season. Spivoy, from T&M, is a minisavoy that does well
in poor soil, even with close planting and under drought
conditions, and it's highly resistant to bursting. A
similar variety is the Early Curly Hybrid Savoy from Burpee
Seed Company. Early Curly is larger than Spivoy and equally
delicious. Another good new savoy is Salarite, offered by
Of the kohlrabis, I prefer Waldemar White from Shepherd's.
This variety, when eaten raw, actually has an applelike
flavor! A good purple kohlrabi is the slow — bolting
Purple Delicacy from VBS — ten days slower to mature
than most other varieties, but worth the wait.
Green Dwarf No. 36 broccoli is a superb, space-saving
miniature from Park. This 8 inch plant bears 5-1/2 inch heads with
exceptional flavor, can be planted closely, and is
resistant to that bane of broccolis, downy mildew. Another
fine introduction is Dandy Early from T&M — it can
be grown both spring and fall, and it freezes well. An
excellent standard-type broccoli is Packman, from Johnny's.
This strong, compact, early producer yields large, tasty
Twilley's Earli-Light cauliflower has all the good points
of my previous favorite, J White Contessa (also from
Twilley), but has larger heads that mature earlier. For an
exceptionally tender, delicate-flavored cauliflower, try
Raket from Shepherd's. And finally, Newton Seale from
T&M and Early Selfe — Blanche from Liberty are both
also superb — and prolific — cauliflowers.
Brussels sprouts have gained popularity recently due to
their purported health benefits. Shepherd's is helping to
fill the demand with Valiant, a fine European variety that
produces delicate, rich-flavored, buttonlike sprouts. The
other new Brussels sprout worth noting is the Ormavon
Hybrid from T&M — unique in that a large cabbage
grows at the top of the sprout-producing stalk, with both
sprouts and cabbage being delicious and long-lasting.
Leading the beet parade is Royal Detroit from Twilley. Not
only does this fine new hybrid have a super taste, but it's
nearly free of zoning (uniform in color), making it superb
for processing. Both Henry Field and Meyer offer Red Ace,
another superior beet hybrid that's early-maturing and free
Burpee, long a leading producer of fine carrot varieties,
leads the pack with Toudo, probably the most perfect
Nantes-type carrot you'll ever see. Tondo can be harvested
any time from infancy to maturity (70 days), reaching a
length of 7-1/2 inches. A similar variety is Lindoro, from Park.
And if you want to turn your carrots into juice, you'll be
hard-pressed to find better than Mokum, from T&M.
Finally, gardeners who are looking for slim carrot sticks
should go with Pak Mor from Farmer's — it's similar to
the Danvers type, but a better keeper, with a coreless,
bright orange center.
The only new spud varieties worth noting are both red. From
Park we have Sangre, a delicious, long-term keeper . . .
while both Field and Gurney Seed & Nursery offer Rosa,
a delicious, blight-resistant potato.
There are enough excellent new corn varieties available
this season to fill a book.
If early white corn is your favorite, try Stardust, from
Park. Of the midseason whites, consider White Magic from
Harris (73 days), Chalice from either Twilley or
Wyatt — Quarles Seed Company (78 days), and Bunton 74
from Bunton Seed Company — a producer of delicious
The most attractive of the yellow midseason varieties is
Twilley's Debutante, yielding 7-1/2 8 inch cobs in 73 days.
Crusader, by Stokes, is one of the strongest growers I know
of . . . and Butterfruit, from Park, will give you plenty
of tasty 8 inch ears from a little 5 foot plant.
Moving along to the big fellas, we have Summer Delicious
from Liberty, it's a late maturer (96 days), but its huge
9-1/2 inch ears are worth the wait-they're good as good can be.
Twilley's Great-Taste offers elevated sugars and a
wonderfully milky texture. A similar variety is Miracle,
The best new main-season bicolor corn is the G-90 Hybrid
from Porter. Each G-90 plant produces two ears of bicolored
corn that are equal or superior in flavor to nearly any
yellow or white variety, and both freeze and can
Of the main-season whites, I like Silver Pac from Liberty,
which takes 86 days to produce an abundance of sweet 8 inch
ears . . . and Robson's Seneca Paleface, another fine
86-day white corn, available from Twilley and other
My favorite source for summer sweet corn is Twilley.
There's Summer Sweet 7200 (80 days), Summer Sweet 7600 (82
days), Summer Sweet 7800 (84 days), and Summer Sweet White
8601 (86 days). All are superb and very sweet.
Also worth mentioning is a field corn called
Silvermine — a longtime favorite in the South, now
offered by Kilgore in two varieties: Hickory King and
Trucker's Favorite. Silvermine isn't as sugary as a true
sweet corn, but it's highly worm-resistant and yields
pearl-white, foot-long roasting ears.
And for you popcorn growers, I can recommend the white
Bearpaw from Abundant Life Seed Foundation . . . the
Minihybrid White Hulless from Farmer's . . . and the
tender, yellow Hybrid A-3399 from Kilgore.
The winning bean variety in this year's trials is
Earliserve, from VBS-a cross between Bush Blue Lake and
Slenderette. Legacy is another fine Blue Lake type from
VBS. Then there's Green Lantern from Stokes, Salem from
Farmer's, Tenderlake by Liberty, Lake Largo by Midwest, and
Venture from Park. (The latter variety produces especially
Although yellow wax bush beans aren't generally as popular
as their green cousins, a couple of the new varieties might
pleasantly surprise you. Shepherd's offers Roc D'Or, a
fine, long-pod French variety with a light, buttery flavor
. . . and then there's Constanza from T&M, which is
also far superior to the wax beans I've grown in the
Are you thinking of planting limas this year? If so, and if
you live in the South, where nematodes are a problem, try
Porter's Nemagreen. Then again, should pole limas be your
favorites, go with Abundant Life's Bandy — a native
variety developed by the Hopi Indians of the American
Southwest. Bandy is an — exceptional bean that does
best in warmer climes.
One of the best early tomatoes around these days is
Improved Summertime, from Porter. This one produces
medium-sized fruits that are hard to beat. Additionally,
Improved Summertime is resistant to both fusarium and
nematodes. Quite similar is Saltspring Sunrise, from
The best midseason tomatoes include Lorissa,
a sweet, Greek variety from Shepherd's, Better Bush VFN
from Park, and Hayslip (a jointless type) and Atlantic City
(a high-production hybrid) — both of which are from
The Beef Tomato
For you yellow-tom lovers, I recommend Lemon Boy, a
revolutionary new VFN type from Park.
Leading the list of
promising new late-season varieties is Liberty Hybrid, one
of the astounding Professional Seed Series now offered by
Twilley. The Beef, from Henry Field, is a delicious
challenger for the "big 'un" title. Other superb giants are
the scarlet-fruited Heavyweight and the tasty Champion,
both from Porter.
One of the best stuffing tomatoes I've
grown in some time is Striped Cavern, from T&M. This
high-yield nonhybrid shows marked resistance to all known
tomato diseases, and its lovely, thick-walled fruitsred
with yellow stripes-resemble the common sweet pepper.
Finally, for a paste type, I'd go with the globe-shaped
GS-12 from VBS or Bellstar from Johnny's.
Of the peppers, bells are probably the most popular with
gardeners, and the best of the early bells this year is the
compact Park's Pot, from Park. This plant can be grown in
the garden or in containers, requires little space, and
produces medium Mav/tune 1986 sized peppers. Pick-Me-Quick
is a super-early-maturing hybrid from Gurney.
In the normal-season category, look to Harris for Annabelle
and to Henry Field for Big Bell. Both are quite large and
perfect for stuffing.
One of the nicest yellow sweet peppers around today is the
Golden Summer Hybrid by Park-possibly the tastiest and most
productive yellow bell ever developed, with a growing time
of 67 days. Another dandy new yellow is Super Stuff from
Stokes, also a 67day maturer. Super Stuff is longer-bodied
than traditional bells, thick-walled and great for
stuffing. A third promising new bell is Quadrato D'Oro from
Shepherd's. This one has a bit of tang to it, as opposed to
the sweet taste of Golden Summer and Super Stuff.
Banana peppers are gaining in popularity, and Twilley has
one of the best in HyFry. This hybrid Cubanelle type
produces 5-1/2 inch fruits that are perfect for frying. A
similar variety is Key Largo, a heavy producer from Harris.
A third winner in this category is Top Banana from Porter,
with its exceptionally long, slim fruits.
Some like 'em hot-and Yellow Squash is a golden yellow,
pattypan-shaped pepper from Porter that's extraordinarily
productive and hotter than hot.
One of the best eggplants I've ever grown is Epic, from
Twilley. This fine early hybrid produces lovely
purple-black, teardropshaped fruits that are perfect for
stuffing. Black Enorma from T&M is another excellent
new hybrid, much larger in size and two weeks later to
mature than Epic. Of the smaller varieties, Little Fingers,
from Harris, is a high-yield hybrid that's perfect for
frying. The only nonhybrid eggplant to excel in my trials
was Agora, from Shepherd's. Its large, lustrous, purple
fruits have none of the bitterness so common to eggplants.
And finally we have a real winner with Casper-a charming,
whitefruited, 70-day eggplant from Stokes.
Twilley has four dandy cukes this season. First there's
Setmore 100, an early producer of lovely 8 inch fruits that are
disease-resistant and perfect for slicing. Another super
new hybrid is Twilley's Universal, with slender, delicious
fruit. Twilley's Dynasty is a Dashertype coke that matures
in 60 days and is well suited to greenhouse production. And
finally, there's Slice Nice, a big producer that's probably
the most popular of the four Twilley offerings.
Other outstanding new slicing cokes include Supersett and
Ultraslice, both from Stokes, and Streamliner from Burpee.
And winner of this season's "unique coke" award is Hylares,
a Middle Eastern variety offered by Shepherd's. The glossy,
bright green fruit of the Hylares is much milder than most
American — type slicing cokes — though the Burpless
Bush from Park is also mild, yielding large cokes from a
Cream of the Crop
By way of brief summary, and to refresh your memory on the
best of the many wonderful veggie varieties we've just
taken a look at, I'll list those that merit special special
attention. On a scale of one to ten, each of the following
rates a solid ten:
Gilfeather turnip from VBS and T&M,
Treta cabbage from Park, Tuodo carrot from Burpee, Summer
Delicious sweet corn from Liberty, The Beef tomato from
Henry Field, Golden Summer Hybrid pepper from Park, Super
Stuff pepper from Stokes, Casper eggplant from Stokes, and
the Slice Nice cucumber from Twilley.
Enough talk. Let's get growing!