The Best Vegetable Varieties for 1987

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PHOTO: FOTOLIA/ALEXANDER RATHS
This year's new seeds should excite the most blase gardeners.

A roundup of the best vegetable varieties for ’87 including all your favorite vegetables to grow in your garden.

The Best Vegetable Varieties for 1987

Strange . . . that’s the only word I can think of to
characterize the growing conditions here in Kentucky last
year. Instead of a season we had a series
of mini-seasons, a kind of climatic obstacle course
that included a hard frost (22 degrees Fahrenheit!) in mid-April, a
soil-parching mid-summer drought (from which some southern
farmers may never recover), and (ironically)
torrential rains late in the season. Still–despite
the whimsical weather–I managed to nurture several
hundred new vegetable varieties in my trial gardens. Here
are the results: the easiest to grow, the most productive,
the tastiest, the hardiest-my candidates for Crops Most
Likely to Succeed in your garden in 1987.

Lettuce Varieties

At the top of the lettuce list–and one of the finest
new looseleafs to come along in many a year-is Tango, an
introduction from W. Atlee Burpee Seed Co. that produces tangy, dark green, endivelike leaves
in just 45 days. Tango simply dances circles around the
competition. Also, for sheer beauty as well as good flavor,
you’ll want to try Lollo Rossa, a European type from
Shepherd’s Seeds that yields lovely, deeply crinkled, dark crimson leaves in
56 days.

Among the butterhead lettuces, Ben Semen from Gleckler’s
Seedsmen is a standout-it produces a
large head and delicious leaves even in warm weather when
others fail. Anuenue from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Reine Des Glaces from Le Marche are superb Batavian head lettuces.
Anuenue thrives in most any season, and the Le Marche
variety has gorgeous, lacy leaves. Three new iceberg types
deserve your attention, too: the redleaved Rosa from Geo.
W. Park Seed Co.

The crisp, sweet,
super productive Wallop from Thompson and Morgan . . . and the tasty, fast
yielding Queen Crown from Vesey Seed. All three thrive in cool weather and
can be planted very early in the season.

Last, those of you who favor cos (or romaine) lettuce will
love Craquerelle Du Midi from The Cook’s Garden. This one is an excellent choice
for gardeners in warm climates.

Radish Varieties

I like to sow radish seeds right along with my lettuce, and
you can bet this year I’ll again include Flamavil from
Johnny’s in my salad patch. The long, super-crunchy root
matures in a mere 27 days and resists pithiness like no
other. I also like T and M’s extra-long (four-inch) radish,
dubbed Rave D’Amiens. It’s slower-growing than many but
well worth the wait. And don’t overlook the exquisite Green
Meat, a three-incher from Le Marche that’s green at the
top, white at the bottom, and delicious through and
through. I also recommend Crystal White, a disease-resistant, pure white variety from Harris
Moran Seed Co. that produces tasty
four-inch roots in just 30 days. A more traditional
roundtype radish is Scarlet Knight from the Holmes Seed Co. Bright red, early
maturing, resistant to yellows (a common radish disease),
and truly delicious, it outjousts even its royal
predecessor, Red Prince.

Spinach and Greens Varieties

The top choice for spinach this year is a versatile
smooth-leaf hybrid called Olympia, from Ed Hume. It’s delicious whether you eat it
raw in a salad or cooked-and you’ll probably do plenty of
both, since it thrives from spring to fall. Another
excellent new spinach is Hybrid 612, a highly
disease-resistant curly, or savoy, type that is being
offered by Meyer Seed Co.

One of the best new varieties of greens for 1987 is an
unusual Dutch development called Tyfon, available from
Midwest Seed Growers. Tyfon is a cross between Chinese cabbage and turnips. It’s winter-hardy, yet resists bolting
in hot weather, producing large, green, mild-tasting leaves
nearly year-round. Another unusual variety is Le Marches
Giant Red Mustard, a Japanese savoy that produces beautiful
red leaves (they turn green when cooked). And Bau Sin from
Gleckler’s is a dwarf plant that yields short, wide, thick
petals for frying, cooking, or pickling. Finally, there’s
one good new variety for kale lovers: Premier from Hastings
Seeds is super productive
in both spring and fall.

Turnip Varieties

Des Vertus Marteau, an early-maturing, half-long French
type offered by Cook’s Garden, is my top-rated turnip for
’87. The four- to six-inch roots aren’t especially
attractive, but they’re tasty as can be. (As the old-timers
around here might say, “It’s ugly, but it ain’t bad eatin’.
“) And incidentally, if your climate provides cool springs
and long autumns, I hope you’ll try growing rutabagas this
year. This close cousin of the turnip, popular in Europe
and Canada, deserves more attention from American
gardeners. Fortune from Gaze Seed is an excellent choice.

Onion Varieties

One of the best new onion varieties to come along in years
is Super Apollo from Twilley Seeds. This medium-sized, long-storage onion matures
early and produces beautiful dark bronze bulbs. Another
exceptional keeper–this one from Canada–is Simcoe, a
particularly pungent offering from Lindenberg Seeds.

Pea Varieties

If you want a really early crop of peas, try Extra Early
Alaska from Wyatt-Quarles.
Resistant to wilt, this one goes through anything from
blizzard to drought to produce huge harvests. Hyalite from
Fisher is also a good early. Plant it and in just 65 days
the tidy 30-inch plants will be loaded with beautiful dark
green peas ready for picking.

Some folks prefer climbing varieties, and there are three
fine shell-type climbers this year. Show Perfection from W.
Robinson produces wonderful peas, perfect for both table
use and freezing, on four- to five-foot vines. A Johnny’s
offering, Multistar, is similar, though more suited to
eating fresh than frozen. And Bountiful Gardens now offers Pilot, an
extra-hardy four-foot climber that’s long been popular in
England.

Closer to the ground is my top candidate for Rookie Pea of
the Year, the impressive dwarf variety Olympia from Ed
Hume. I can’t remember growing a more perfect variety of
table pea. The short, sturdy vines produce loads of plump
five-inch pods, and are so disease-resistant I’m tempted to
say they’re immune.

Believe it or not, Burpee has improved on the famous
edible-pod Sugar Snap variety with its new Snappy. Like its
better-known predecessor, Snappy must be staked, but as a
reward you get huge crops. Sugar Daddy from Seedway produces tasty pods similar to Snappy’s, but the
plants are a tidy 24 to 30 inches. Like other snaps, it’s
delicious raw in salads or munched fresh off the vine.

Cole Crop Varieties

Of the new early-maturing cabbages, Babyhead from Fisher is
among the quickest to come to harvest, producing two- to
three-pound heads that are sweet and tender yet firm.
Another tasty early type is Delicatess from Gaze Seed. No
tough ribs here; just sweet eatin’. And if you love stewed
cabbage, don’t overlook a wonderful, extra-early Japanese
semisavoy called Salarite, from Gurney. Two early Chinese
cabbages deserve a date with chopsticks this year, too:
Early Top from Johnny’s, and Chi-Hi-Li from Sanctuary Seeds.

Main-season varieties are the staple of the cabbage patch,
and there are lots to choose from this year. For an
all-purpose type that produces loads of blue-green heads
over a long period, try Quisto from Pinetree Garden Seeds. Burpee’s Tri Star is another
all-around winner that yields whopping seven- to
eight-pound round, slightly flattened heads that are great
fresh or made into kraut. And if diseases plague your
cabbage crops, go for the productive, yellows-resistant
Falcon from Stokes Seeds or for Superlite, a variety that’s resist ant to black rot
and yellows, from Reed’s Seeds.

Apex from Johnny’s and Lennox from Seedway are both superb
late-season cabbages that hold up nicely against frost and
resist cracking in the field. For some color in your fall
garden, try Le Marche’s late maturing red savoy, San
Michelle, or Territorial’s 140-day Red Rodan.

Stokes’s Polar Express tops the list of new cauliflower
offerings; an improved Snow Crown type, it offers more leaf
coverage and an even better-quality head. Other fine new
cauls include Matra from Reed’s, Alpha Begum from
Territorial, and Sicilian from Good Seed. And finally, there’s Igloory, an entry
from Halifax Seed. Its generous leaf coverage and super cold tolerance
make it a great choice for fall plantings.

The good news for broccoli lovers this year (particularly
impatient ones) is Park’s Early Emerald. It’s probably the
earliest-maturing broccoli variety ever offered. Moreover,
it tastes great, it produces like crazy most all summer-at
least until the dog days of August-and it’s resistant to
just about every known broccoli predator. Put it on your
must-grow list. Another comer for ’87 is Septal from
Pinetree. Though not nearly as early as Early Emerald,
Septal’s great cut-and-come-again properties make it a fine
choice. So is Hybrid Packer, a sweet, tender,
extraordinarily heavy-yielding broccoli from Lindenberg
Seeds. I also like Royal Cruiser from Le Marche, Emperor
from Johnny’s, and Ed Hume’s Northwest 29. And if you
haven’t tried the unusual broccoli-cauliflower crosses yet,
you’re really missing something. There are T and M’s
Floccoli, Romanesque from Le Marche, and Bronzino, an early
type from The Cook’s Garden.

If you’re a Brussels sprout fan, plant Stabolite Hybrid
from Territorial Seeds, and you’ll be harvesting sprouts
long after other types have pooped out.

Beet Varieties

Half-long, carrot-shaped beet varieties have become
popular, and one of the best is Forono from Gurney. This
one keeps longer in the field without becoming soft or
spongy. A similar type is Cylindra, a gorgeous dark red
beet perfect for slicing. If you prefer round beets but
hate thinning your plantings, try the new single-seeded
monogerm sorts. Mobile from Johnny’s and Pacemaker 111 from
Liberty Seed are
two of my favorites. Also from Johnny’s is Dwergina, a
smooth-skinned traditional beet that’s free of zoning (or
uniform in color).

Carrot Varieties

You’ve heard of supersweet corn? Well, here’s a supersweet
carrot: the scrumptious A-Plus, a new Nantes-type variety
available from Stokes (and others). It’s great for the
market, for home canning, for fresh munching-for any
use-and it offers twice the carotene and vitamin A of most
other varieties. A-Plus definitely gets an A+ in my book.
Other fine Nantes carrots include T and M’s distinctively
dark red Redca (extra good for juice), Rondino from
Johnny’s, and Seedway’s Nantucket. For long, tapered
carrots like the ones Bugs favors, try SixPak from Harris
or El Presidente from Letherman’s Seeds. Less attractive but just as toothsome is
the short, stump-rooted Early Horn, a Bountiful Gardens
offering ideal for a winter crop.

Corn Varieties

Corn is king in the vegetable garden and, apparently, among
seed companies; there are many new varieties vying
for your attention. For really early yellow corn, try Early
Arctic (60 days) from Degiorgi Seeds. Or you may want to opt
for the later maturing but weather-tolerant Earlipak by
Lockhart Seeds.
Lindenberg’s Kodiak Hybrid (68 days) and Stokes’s Sweet
Star (68 days) are also good. The best early white
corn in my trials was Glacier (60 days) from Fisher Seed.
Early bicolors include Classic Touch (60 days) from Vesey,
and Stars-N-Bars, a 68-day entry from Seedway that’s
tolerant of cold soil. Maturing three or four days later
are two good bicolor supersweets, Sugar Buns from Holmes,
and Twice-As-Nice, a variety from Agway Seeds that has a one-inch-thick
husk to discourage birds and insects. The standout of
standouts, though, was Twilley’s early yellow supersweet,
Party Time (67 days). This is the best early supersweet
I’ve ever grown, period.

My midseason choices include three Liberty offerings: Early
Summer Delicious, a yellow, and two bicolors, Bi-Honey
Crisp and Double Delight. All come on in less than 80 days.
A bit earlier is the tasty, plumpeared yellow variety
Supreme from Harris.

The best new main-season supersweet corns are
Wisconsin Natural from Gurney and Sweetie from Farmer Seed
and Nursery. There are several great
supersweet bicolors worth space in your garden all season,
too: Park’s wonderful Butterfruit Bicolor, Johnny’s
Starstruck, and Stokes’s Milk ‘N’ Honey. Double Taste from
Twilley is sugar-enhanced but, unlike true super-sweets,
can be planted with regular corn. I also like several new
main-season white corns: Snowbelle and White Knight, both
from Letherman’s, and Harris’s delicious Silverado.

Finally, if you love homegrown popcorn, treat yourself to
Iopop, a yellow hybrid that pops up big and fluffy. Or try
the unique Indian Ornamental Pop, a popcorn that’s as tasty
as it is decorative. Both varieties are from Liberty.

Bean Varieties

The best of the beans this year is E-Z Pick from
Johnny’s. It produces Blue Lake–quality beans, but on
an entirely different kind of plant: The pods hang high off
the ground, where they are easily harvested. Hy Style from
Harris is another classy new green bean, great for canning
and freezing. I also If you try only a few new seeds, check
out my all-star team! like Shamrock, a Blue Lake type from
Orol Ledden & Sons. Of
the non-Blue Lake green beans, I favor Pinetree’s Sunray,
Fisher’s Montana Green, and Demeter from D.V. Burrell Seed
Growers. Delinel from
Vesey is best for growing in cold soil . . . and Dandy,
from both Degiorgi and Halifax, is a great early bush
bean.

What? You still haven’t-tried yellow wax bush beans? I have
three dandy new varieties this year to convert you to a wax
bean fan: the heavy-yielding Golden Rod from Stokes, Park’s
delicious Goldkist, and (for folks north of the Ohio River)
the early yielding Galagold from Fisher.

Another good pick for northern gardeners is Johnny’s Geneva
lima bean-most limas won’t tolerate cold soils, but Geneva
will. And for folks in the South who like baby green limas,
Wyatt-Quarles’s disease-resistant Eastland is a sure
producer.

Last, there’s the unusual Turkey Craw pole bean from Seeds
Blum. The story goes
that the seed for this old variety was first found in the
craw of a wild turkey brought home by a hunter. All I know
is that the beans taste great and (unlike other pole beans)
stay tender even when mature.

Cucumber Varieties

There are three delicious slicing cukes to recommend this
year: Hy-Slice from Midwest Seed, Salad Bar from Holmes,
and Marketsett from Stokes. Hy-Slice and Salad Bar are both
unusually disease-resistant, and Marketsett–an update on
the popular Marketmore slicing cucumber–earns high marks
for size and productivity.

For those with tender tummies, there are the burpless
cukes. Pinetree’s Euro American and Burrell’s Tenderfresh
produce smooth, six-inch fruits, and Le Marche’s Swallow is
an excellent long burpless.

Pepper Varieties

If I had to choose only one sweet pepper variety to grow
this year, I’d have a tough time deciding between Park’s
terrific new Blocky Bell and Harris’s Cubanelle-type Key
Largo banana pepper. You just don’t find a better
all-around bell pepper than Blocky Bell; huge peppers,
perfect for stuff-mg or for salads, hang in abundance from
a really strong plant. And Key Largo is delicious fresh or
fried; if you let the big seven- to eight-inch fruits ripen
to a beautiful red, you’ll swear they’re the best peppers
you’ve ever eaten.

Those aren’t the only great sweet peppers for 1987, though.
Among green bells, I also like Bell Captain from Twilley’s
and Bell Tower from Porter and Son. Of the golden bell peppers, I
recommend Gold Crest from Johnny’s, Summer Sweet from
Twilley, and Stokes’s Klondike Bell. And two of the
prettiest peppers I’ve ever grown are Johnny’s Sweet
Chocolate, a bell type, and Gleckler’s Choco, which
resembles a pimiento. Both are a beautiful brown, and turn
bright green when cooked.

If small, hot peppers light your fire, go for Park’s Thai
Hot-but you’d better be sure you like ’em really fiery.
Other incendiary midgets include Craigi Hot from Porter,
Triton from T and M, and Good Seed’s Tipin.

Twilley’s Tycoon is a superb long eggplant . . . the dark
purple or black fruits are delicious prepared most any way,
and they keep well, too. For two really unusual eggs, try
Gleckler’s Pinky and Pink Bride. Pinky looks pretty much
like a regular eggplant, except that its huge, oval fruits
are a lovely light pink-violet color. Pink Bride also
blushes pink-violet, but the fruits are slender and about
seven inches long. And then there’s Le Marches Bride Asian
eggplant. The strong but compact plant bears clusters of
eight- to 10-inch fruits that are a gorgeous light lavender
with white stripes probably the most beautiful I’ve ever
grown.

Tomato Varieties

There’s a bumper crop of super new tomato varieties to talk
about this year. One of the best early tomatoes
I’ve ever grown is Revolution from Twilley’s. This hybrid
has everything-size, production, fine quality, and
disease-resistance-and matures in only about two months.
Try it for sure. And if you have the space, add a planting
of another good early tomato: Better Girl from Tomato Seed
Co.

Large-fruited main-season tomatoes are the ones
most gardeners go for, of course, and there are some
terrific new big ‘uns for ’87. Leading the list is Burpee’s
outstanding Lady Luck; it’s even more disease-resistant
than the renowned Big Girl, and produces lots of juicy,
meaty, 12- to 16-ounce fruits. Another fine offering is
Pinetree’s Cavalier; it yields somewhat smaller (eight- to
10ounce) tomatoes . . . but they’re large enough to please,
and plenty tasty. Other worthwhile whoppers include
Hastings’s heavy-bearing Stakebreaker, and Ledden’s
Heavyweight. I also recommend Rebel Red from Tomato Growers
Supply and Opal’s
Homestead from Abundant Life Seeds.

Two really fine canning tomatoes are San Pablo–a
super productive, pear-shaped type from Gleckler’s-and
Grinta from Le Marche. Grinta produces lots of long,
sausage-shaped tomatoes on a narrow-leaved, deceptively
sickly looking plant. It’s an odd one, but a good one. The
best stuffing tomato I’ve ever had in my garden is
Tomato Seed’s Liberty Bell-beautiful to behold and just the
right shape for stuffing with anything from meat to cottage
cheese.

I even have two excellent pink fruited tomatoes to
recommend this year. Andy’s jumbo from Good Seed looks just
like the fine old Ponderosa variety, but the fruits are
smoother and the plant is stockier and easier to grow.
Also, Tomato Seed is offering Brandywine, a famed old
variety reputed to be the best-tasting tomato ever. Why not
grow it yourself and find out?

Finally, for cherry tomatoes, look no further than Baxter’s
Early Bush Cherry from Tomato Growers and Castlette from
Agway. Either will reward you with loads of delicious
little fellas. If you prefer yellow cherries, go
for Golden Pygmy, a Le Marche dwarf that produces tiny but
oh-so-tasty fruits.

Cream of the Crop Vegetable Varieties

So there you have them: the Rookies of the Year, the best
new varieties I tested in my trial gardens. Every one can
make your 1987 growing season the most productive ever. Now
let’s go back and review the varieties I’d plant if I could
plant no others-the best of the best, the Brent Elswick
Super-Deluxe Cream-of-the-Crop All-Star Team:

Tango Lettuce from Burpee, Olympia pea from Ed Hume, Park’s
Early Emerald broccoli, A-Plus carrot from Stokes,
Twilley’s Party-Time sweet corn, E-Z Pick beans from
Johnny’s, Blocky Bell pepper from Park, and Burpee’s Lady
Luck tomato.

So, gang, let’s get out there and garden; 1987 promises to
be a very good year!