Our gardening expert tested a number of new crops introduced last year and tells us what we'll reap when we sow.
Never, in close to 20 years of gardening, has my plot produced as abundantly as it did last summer. And that achievement came as a bit of a surprise to me, because the weather in our mountain valley in eastern Kentucky was either extremely hot or downright cold, and ranged from very wet to very dry. In short, 1982 didn't offer what I'd consider ideal gardening conditions!
I'm inclined, therefore, to attribute my success to the fact that I had more outstanding new varieties to include in last year's trials than I've ever had before. And those cultivars produced so well (despite the "off" summer) that my family had all the fresh vegetables we could eat, can, and freeze ... and plenty left over to give away.
Here's a rundown on the new crops that promise to be tops in your garden for '83.
Although I usually plant my early crops in February, I was forced by extreme cold to wait until mid-March to put out the coolweather lovers, such as peas. Despite that late start, however, my garden produced an abundant harvest of the early bloomers.
Folks who are familiar with succulent Sugar Snap peas will be glad to know that there are now three dwarf varieties, and the new cultivars require no staking! Check with Henry Field (and others) for the earliest and most compact of the trio, Sugar Bon. This plant's vines reach only 18" to 24" high, but are extremely productive. The second, "midget" to mature, Sugar Mel, sports prolific 24" to 28" vines. And Sugar Rae, the latest bloomer of the bunch, matures at much the same time as does the original Sugar Snap, but its loaded vines are only about half as tall. (You can purchase either of the latter two varieties from Gurney Seed & Nursery.)
Thompson & Morgan is also offering a snap pea similar to the dwarf strains just mentioned. The firm's Edula matures a few days before Sugar Snap and yields a profusion of crisp, sweet peas on 26" determinate vines. And Sweet Snap, a new semi-dwarf cultivar that's available from several sources, not only has all the attributes of the other introductions, but also displays remarkable resistance to powdery mildew, legume yellows, and virus, three of the most devastating pea diseases. Dwarf White Sugar, a new offering from Vermont Bean Seed Company, is another definite winner in the snow and sugar pea category. It's the most productive variety of this type that I've ever grown and has excellent resistance to fusarium wilt.
Those of you living in the northern regions will want to try out Gurney's Pacemaker, a sweet, high-quality Alaska variety. This new wilt-resistant pea produces a huge canning crop and is said to thrive despite cold, damp weather. (In fact, no matter where you live, you'd do well to sow an extra-early crop of this fine new cultivar.)
One of the very best peas for freezing is Multistar, from T & M. While it matures pretty late (in 75 days), its 30" vines produce an incredible harvest of super-sweet peas. Don't overlook this one!
If you read my reviews of last year's new varieties, you might remember my mentioning the Novella pea, a "leafless" sort. Well, this year's offerings include two new cultivars of that type: Bikini (T & M) and Lacy Lady (Henry Field, and Vermont Bean Seed Company). The 34" plants concentrate more on pod development than on leaf making, and the intertwining tendrils characteristic of this strain support one another and keep the abundant crop well off the ground. Both require 65 days to produce a harvest of quality, all-purpose peas.
Finally, for those of you who enjoy southern field peas, there are a couple of dandies to consider. I especially like Dixielee, an edible-podded offering (from Wyatt-Quarles Seed Company) that's extremely resistant to nematode attack. Another good choice is Zipper Cream (H.G. Hastings & Company). As its name implies, the cultivar has a "zipper" string that makes shelling a cinch. The compact, bushy plants produce tasty, creamy white peas that are table-ready in 75 days.
Soon after the peas go into the ground, I'm ready to sow my first lettuce bed. Last spring, the best of the bunch was Burpee Seed Company's Red Salad Bowl. Since I've always considered Salad Bowl to be the top-of-the-line leaf lettuce, I was delighted to see that this firm had come up with a scarlet-hued variation. Burpee also offers Royal Oak Leaf, a great improvement over the older Oak Leaf. This cultivar is well suited to hot-weather growing, and its leaves are thick, tasty, tender, and ready to eat in 50 days. And be sure to leave some space for Sweetie, which is one honey of a leaf lettuce! This offering from Gurney and Henry Field tastes something like the famed Butterhead variety, and if its leaves are kept harvested, it'll produce right on into the summer.
Other lettuces deserving honorable mention are T & M's Erthel (also called Crisp Mint), a sweet, crisp-textured Romaine that's extremely heat-resistant; and Salinas (from T & T Seeds, Ltd., the fine Canadian firm), which is one of the very best crisphead lettuce varieties yet developed (it's even resistant to tipburn, a problem with most other head types).
I plant my radishes right in the lettuce bed, and this year's trials unearthed some stellar garden additions. Cherry Beauty (T & M and Twilley) is one of the few hybrids, and its sweet, tender, bright red roots will mature before you know it if you don't keep a keen eye out! If you prefer white radishes, try Pa — a Japanese-European cross that has long (6- to 8") Icicle-type roots that are crunchy, tender, and spicy — from George W. Park Seed Company. Vermont Bean's Tama is a hybrid that's similar to Pax in appearance, but it's a cold-weather cultivar that's best planted in late summer. The 18"-long white roots are smooth, tender, and crisp, and they'll keep well into the winter.
When I plant my lettuces and radishes, I also sow a bed of greens. One of the most spectacular offerings this year is Green-in-the-Snow from T & M. A centuries-old culinary delight that was recently "rediscovered" in China, this crop will withstand extremely cool conditions and still produce tender, spicy, mustard-flavored leaves. It's definitely worth a trial, especially in regions where the climate tends to be cold and damp.
Northrup-King (through Liberty Seeds) is making available a superior new hybrid mustard, Savannah, that's prized for its fast growth and fresh green foliage. Not a curled type, this cultivar resembles the Tendergreen varieties, and is highly tolerant of cold and heat.
If a prize were to be given for the quickest-to-mature green, it'd have to go to Dwarf Essex rape, from Porter & Son, Seedsmen. This mild potherb matures in only three weeks, and will keep on producing if it's kept harvested.
Spinach lovers can choose from two new varieties this year. Vermont Bean has Benton Number 2 Hybrid, a Japanese cultivar that's disease-resistant, quite tasty, and somewhat heat-tolerant. And the other excellent offering is T & M's Monnopa. This "Popeye green" is unique among spinach strains in that it is low in oxalic acid. (For this reason, Monnapa is often used in baby food.) And since oxalic acid is thought to be responsible for the bitterness sometimes noted in this green, T & M's contender is especially sweet and delicately flavored.
Park's Swiss Chard of Geneva is as distinguished a variety as its lengthy name seems to imply. The thick stalks of this tasty green can be served up like asparagus, and the cold - hardy plant will thrive year round in moderate climes.
Still other greens worth noting are Park's Hicrop collard (the flavor of the 15" hybrid is both mild and sweet); Spurt, a variety of kale from Thompson & Morgan (it's so good it can be eaten raw!); and Twilley's All Top turnip green (this one's small root is inedible, but the abundant green tops are delicious).
A couple of weeks before the last expected frost date, I like to plant carrots and beets. The most productive beet in my 1982 trials was Red Baron from Ferry-Morse. Its uniform round shape and lovely color make it especially attractive for canning. Best of All (J.W. Jung) isn't really a new variety, but the delicious, deep red roots of this "baby" canning beet don't get nearly the attention they deserve. Yet another noteworthy variety is Sangria, a juicy red, early-to-mature, and slow-to-bolt offering from Petoseed. Thompson & Morgan's Albina Vereduna, a new white beet, also performed well last summer. Its sweet, rich flesh was even better in quality than that of the "reds," and the curly tops made delicious greens.
Among carrots, the variety Planet (Stokes) was by far the most unusual in my trials. Its 1 1/2'-diameter, globe-shaped roots are excellent for wholepack canning. And — going to the other end of the spectrum — T & M's Zino was the largest carrot I've ever grown that still had good eating quality: The 10"long Brobdingnagian weighs in at around 3 to 4 pounds; in humus-rich soil, it's not uncommon to get 10-pound specimens! Give it a try if you're looking for a good juicer.
One of the very best Imperator types to come along is Cutlass, from Liberty Seeds. The 10"-long, slender carrot is uniform in size, lovely in color, sweet-tasting, and tender. Like all in this class, it must have loose, sandy soil if it's to do well.
For years most gardeners have agreed that the best-quality carrots are those of the Nantes type, and Vermont Bean Seed Company's Bonanza Hybrid is one of the most nearly perfect Nantes ever developed. The reddish orange 8" roots have an extra-sweet flavor that's ideal for all uses.
Turnips are another crop that I like to get in the ground before the soil warms up. Last year, Twilley's Royal Globe II (a greatly improved Purple Top White Globe type) matured into the most attractive turnip I've ever grown. For quality, though, none equals Liberty's White Knight Hybrid. While this prizewinner takes two weeks longer than most varieties to become table-ready, it is by far the tastiest, and remains free of any bitter flavor longer than most. If you're interested in an early maturer, try the sweet, mild, white roots of Herbst's White Express (the greens of this one are delicious, too).
Only one new potato variety did well for me last year: Crystal (from Gurney). Grown from sets, it produced large yields of oblong white tubers with clear skin, and the vigorous plants resist late blight and scab.
I've always found growing onions from seed to be one of the most rewarding of all gardening endeavors, and nurturing 1982's crop was no exception. Check with the folks at Gurney and Henry Field for Owa, an especially pretty yellow onion that's sweet and mild. However, as with all torpedo varieties, this one doesn't keep well. On the other hand, Zodiak — a Spanish onion from T & T — is a surprisingly good keeper, and the brown-skinned, medium-sized bulbs are firm and sweet. For even better keeping quality, though, try Autumn Glo from Olds. This cultivar's attractive globes mature early, too, making them ideal for marketing purposes.
I try to be honest in these reviews of the new varieties, and for the second year in a row, I must admit that few cole crops performed up to my expectations. Part of the problem could be that I waited a little longer than usual before setting out the plants, and hot, dry weather set in soon thereafter. A few seeds, however, did well enough to be worthy of mention.
The best of the lot was Prime Time cabbage, a new Ferry-Morse variety offered by Midwest Seed Growers. The plant's 4-pound, silvery blue green heads mature in midseason (72 days) and have exceptionally good interior quality. This one is a sure winner for your 1983 garden. Hancock Hybrid from Jung was another midseason arrival. It exhibited excellent disease resistance, and the heads were equally tasty for slaw in stews, or as sauerkraut. Erdeno (by Sluis & Groot) proved to be as fine a producer of 3to 4-pound heads as it was in my 1981 trials, growing better than most cabbages do in the heat of summer. Two final entries, Green Parade from Burpee (it has a lovely green hue) and Tuffy No. 15 from Herbst (fine quality with multiple disease-resistance), did quite well. I intend to try them again this summer.
First prize in the cauliflower category went to Thompson & Morgan's Dok Elgon. This highly recommended variety with its self wrapping leaves and tasty heads is about as close to a perfect plant as possible, having stood up to trials worldwide. And a noteworthy hot-weather, self-wrapping type for summer planting is Stovepipe, offered by both Johnny's Selected Seeds and Gurney.
Also from Johnny's is Cape Queen, a sturdy broccoli hybrid that produces a high yield of tender, blue green shoots. And you'll want to try Burpee's Bonanza Hybrid, noted for the large number of side heads it produces after the initial harvest.
Titurel, a hybrid from Sluis & Groot, was the only variety of brussels sprouts that performed well in my '82 trials. The medium-tall plants matured quite early. However, I did have to fight off the harlequin bugs to get to the succulent, well-shaped little heads. This one's a dandy for folks who savor the delicate taste of these "mini-cabbages."
It's well known that tomatoes are the most popular home-garden crop, and with all the wonderful varieties to choose from I can easily understand why. I can't possibly list all the new arrivals that did well for me last summer, but there were a few that stood out, even among that impressive crowd.
First of all, I'd be hard-put to find a better early tomato than Goldsmith's Quick Pick. This sure winner (which is also offered by Park) is the most disease-resistant — it's protected against verticillium and fusarium wilt, nematodes, and tobacco mosaic virus — of the early-maturing varieties (it needs only 50 days to be table-ready). And the medium-sized fruits, produced on indeterminate vines, are meaty, firm, and tasty. Sprinter (Twilley) is another stellar early hybrid that bears small but sweet fruit all summer (and right up to the first frost). Stokes Pak VFN (from Stokes, of course) also did well for me, bearing large, firm fruits that would be ideal for shipping or marketing. And if you're a canner, you'll want to try Porter's Pride (from the company of that name). The small (3-ounce), vivid red globes on this plant are perfect for canning whole.
Big Pick (offered by both Goldsmith and Park) won the honors among the midseason varieties. Carrying the same disease resistance as its smaller companion, Quick Pick, Big Pick will give you about as large and tasty a tomato (averaging 11 ounces) as you can eat. And if you're looking for a prolific picker that's good for both canning and marketing, you won't beat Caracas Hybrid VFN, an offering from Sluis & Groot.
The busy folks at Petoseed have come up with two new midseason tomatoes this year, Baron and President. Of the pair, Baron matures sooner and President has larger fruit. Not one to be left out of the action, As-grow has made available three new garden varieties: Tempo (it's the earliest of the three, and it has large fruit on compact vines); Sunny (it produced medium-sized globes on a taller plant); and Vista (this was the last to ripen, but the tall plants were loaded with bright red fruit). Each member of the trio is quite resistant to disease and highly recommended.
I discovered two excellent canning varieties in my trials last summer: Royal Chico (from Herbst and others) yielded an unbelievably large harvest of small pear-type scarlet tomatoes, and Peto 13, a larger "pear" from Petoseed, was loaded with tasty canners all summer. For folks with limited space, Goldsmith's Patio Prize was the best of the small compact varieties. This new offering is a definite improvement over the older Patio tomato, with larger fruit on more productive plants.
There was no question as to which pepper took the prize last summer: Skipper (from Asgrow) stood head and shoulders above the others. The big four-lobed peppers are thick and tasty, and not only do they mature fairly early, but they also produce right up to the first frost. (Close contenders were Pro-Bell from Twilley and Big Belle from FerryMorse.)
When it comes to looks, though, I'd have to say that the prettiest pepper in my trials was the recent All-America Award winner, Gypsy (offered by many seed houses). This variety's 3" to 4" tapered fruits turned a lovely yellow when mature, and were extremely sweet. Sluis & Groot's Golden Asti is another beauty, bearing more typical bell-shaped peppers for some superb eating. Other promising sweet varieties are Naples — a long, high quality, frying type from Stokes — and Blue Star from Asgrow.
One of the more interesting hot pepper newcomers is Burpee's Zippy Hybrid. This mild cayenne type is great for flavoring soups, salads, and sauces. For a spicier bite, try T & M's Antler, a superior hot hybrid, or Taco from Herbst. (This one's 3" fruits will all but set you on fire!) Finally, the largest hot pepper to produce well was Numex Big Jim (Burrell and Gurney), a good choice for drying.
Before leaving the pepper plot, let me mention a companion: the eggplant. Only two varieties did well for me last summer: Beauty Hybrid (by Petoseed, and available through Park) and Giniac (from Sluis & Groot). Both are early producers of quality fruit, with the main difference being the shape of the vegetables (Beauty is nearly round, whereas Giniac is quite elongated).
Being something of a gambler by nature, I like to plant a patch or two of corn a couple of weeks earlier than normal, in hopes that the weather will warm up in time. Luckily, last year's hot weather came in soon after I'd sown those seeds, and the two varieties I'd chosen performed superbly. One of these "experiments" was by far the most delicious cultivar to grace my garden in '82: Pride And Joy sweet corn, a bicolor available from both Olds and Liberty. I simply can't say enough about this one! The 8 1/2"-long ears mature a little behind the earlier varieties (taking 72 to 75 days), but the 14 rows of kernels you'll then sink your teeth into are well worth waiting for. Even the leaves of this sturdy plant, which have an attractive purple hue in their midribs and borders, are exceptional. This is the best bicolor variety I've seen yet, and it promises to become one of the most popular and widely grown among all sorts of sweet corn.
Another bicolor, one that I think deserves trial again in '83, is Symphony from Harris. The combination of standard and super-sweet characteristics makes this cultivar a delicious treat. (You'd do best to plant it in warmed soil, though.)
As you may remember, Early Star from Midwest Seeds was a contender in the 1981 trials, and it did well again last year as the "other" early-planted corn. This quick crop per is a good, vigorous variety for spring planting in cold, damp climates.
Two fine new white corn varieties are being offered this year. Snow Queen EH from Henry Field and Gurney, the first white EH (the initials stand for "everlasting heritage" and mean that the corn will retain its sweetness for up to two weeks after maturity), is best compared to the popular Kandy Korn, a delicious super-sweet hybrid. The large plump ears on this strong plant have an unforgettable flavor. It's definitely a rising star! The other outstanding new white corn was Silver Prince from Harris. This contender to the famous Silver Queen's crown has a few features not offered by the well-known matriarch, including an earlier maturity date, a sturdier plant, and the ability to sprout in cold, damp soil.
If you hanker for yellow sweet corn, you'll want to try Tendertreat EH, an exceptionally sweet "keeper" available from Twilley and Henry Field. Pennfresh ADX (a fine supersweet from Agway) is yet another yellow dandy, and one that stood up well during its second year of trial in 1982.
This spring's offerings include quite a few excellent conventional yellow varieties, too: Medallion (an 80-day cultivar from Rogers); Mellow Yellow (an improved jubilee from Ferry-Morse); Mevak (a disease-resistant winner from Asgrow); and Marada (another Asgrow introduction). Rogers' 2327 and Target A from Ferry-Morse were two other yellow hybrids that grew well and deserve further trial.
Our family has never been blessed with such an abundance of squash, summer and winter types, as it was in 1982. At least a dozen fine zucchini varieties performed well. Asgrow's Dusk was one of the best, with slim, dark green fruits. A similar variety is a FerryMorse offering, Onyx, which is also listed by T & M. The blackish fruits of this productive plant are quite long and slender. One of the more interesting new zucchinis is Servane from Sluis & Groot. Its medium-green speckled fruits are cylindrical, but not as long or slim as the other two I've mentioned, and are excellent for use in breads and cakes.
Two summer squash that I found to be well worth growing are both from Petoseed: Gold Crest, an excellent yellow straightneck, and Peter Pan, a light green frying type that became our family's favorite.
A pair of new winter squash varieties warrant mention this year: Butterbush, a compact butternut, and Early Acorn (both from Burpee). And one older type performed so well that I must call your attention to it. You might remember Waltham Butternut, an All-America Award winner from several years ago that's available from many seed suppliers. Well (though I hate to admit it), I never did get around to growing that squash until last summer. Now I'm convinced that if ever a variety deserved an award, this fantastic butternut did! I've never seen a winter squash of any type produce so well (on one plant alone, I counted more than 25 perfect fruits!) or have such superior quality. If you haven't given this one a try, I urge you to do so this year.
About the same time that our summer squash is planted (around May 1), I like to get the cucumbers going. And the honors this time go to Sweet Success, the All-America Award winner by Petoseed. This cross between the fine Sweet Slice and the older burpless types produces 8" to 9" fruits of unsurpassed quality. You can be sure that this one's a future star of the cuke world and will be listed by many leading companies! Two other tasty burpless varieties are Euro-American, offered by Goldsmith and Park, and Coolgreen from Asgrow.
Pacer, a disease-resistant hybrid from Harris, was the best slicing cuke in my garden last summer. Flurry, an Asgrow introduction with attractive 4" fruits, was tops among the picklers, with Sluis & Groot's Salvo — a fine producer — coming in a close second.
There's recently been a great deal of interest in compact cuke varieties, and last summer I grew two such "midgets." Spacermaster is all that Burpee claims it to be and possibly a bit more. The dwarf plants are mosaic-resistant and produce 7" to 8" fruits in abundance. Goldsmith's Bush Crop, now also offered by Burrell, is of similar quality.
Last summer's spurts of cold weather didn't make for an award-winning bean crop, but a few cultivars came through the season with flying colors, despite their somewhat chilly start. Asgrow has brought out three exceptional bush varieties, all of which mature in about 50 days. Flo, the first of these, shows excellent disease resistance, and its tasty 5 1/2" pods should market well. Win is a processing bean that rivals Early Gallatin, the leader in that class. The other fine Asgrow variety (also offered by Hastings) is Eagle, a bean that should be especially popular with southern growers for canning and freezing. And when it comes to quality and taste, Rogers' Coloma is tops on our family's list.
A truly unusual bean for 1983 is Cheverbel by T & M. This triple-purpose 55-day cultivar is delicious when used as a snap bean, or fixed like limas, or dried for use in soups! Look for Gourmet from Twilley to be a real leader of the bean pack, though. This disease-resistant legume is an exceptional producer of delicious beans for whole-pod canning or French-style slicing.
Other highly recommended beans for your '83 garden are sweet-flavored Garrafel Oro (T & M), a prolific pole variety, and Seafarer (Porter and Johnny's), a hardy navy bean.
It seemed as if every seed company came out with new melon varieties last year, and I can recommend some banner selections for 1983. Asgrow offers a trio of fine hybrid cantaloupes: Harmony, the first of its introductions to mature, yields large 4-pound fruits in only three months; it's followed by Don Juan, a lovely football-shaped melon with tremendous taste; Chando, though the last of the new dandies to mature, is a superb Charantais type with small, sweet fruit of excellent quality.
If your garden spot is small, you'll be glad to know that there are several compact cantaloupes to choose from this season. The best of these is probably Burpee's Sweet 'n Early Hybrid, which produces six to eight tasty 2-pound 'loupes per plant in about 75 days. Two similar varieties are Scoop Hybrid (Park) and Musketeer (a hybrid from Park and Goldsmith).
Those who favor the honeydews should give Honeydrip (by Herbst and Park) a try. This early maturing melon is as sweet as nectar! And while Golden Beauty casaba by Herbst and Burrell isn't actually a new offering, its large, sugary fruits deserve attention from gardeners in areas with long growing seasons.
To round out this list, here are two white-fleshed melon varieties that performed well last year: Israeli by Porter (a disease-resistant cultivar with large, aromatic fruits) and T & M's Gaylia (this one matures before Israeli and is suited to cooler climes).
My watermelons grew well in '82, too, and there are several new varieties to choose from this year. Petoseed offers two of the best, Royal Jubilee and Prince Charles. Like its parent, Jubilee, Royal Jubilee is a steady producer of large oblong fruits, and the hybrid plants are vigorous and disease-resistant. Prince Charles is a smaller, more prolific hybrid of the famed Charleston Grey, and its bright red flesh is lip-smacking good! Look for both introductions in many of the '83 catalogs.
Asgrow offers two fine watermelons as well. Madera is an early-maturing medium-sized melon with excellent quality and disease resistance, while the bright red, sugary flesh of Perola is a sure bet for roadside markets. If you're hankering for a compact melon, Petoseed's Sweet Baby is one of the most prolific midgets yet developed. Some other "minis" to look for this spring are Baby Fun (Petoseed), Sugar Bush (Burpee), and Bush Baby (Park).
Finally, if you can find just a little more space in your garden, there are a few other standouts from the 1982 trials that shouldn't be overlooked. I was delighted with the performance of Flare rhubarb (Gurney and Field), Grand Beurre artichoke (T & M), Dimant (T & M) and Green Giant (Johnny's) celery, Sunbird Hybrid sunflower (Burpee), Gold Coast Dwarf okra (Porter), and California 500 asparagus (Henry Field).
A considerable number of fine berries warranted review, as well, including Dormanred raspberry from Hastings (this one makes a terrific pie!); Tayberry (a blackberry/redraspberry cross from Henry Field); and Red Honey strawberry (again, from Field). Park's Big Red strawberry makes for excellent eating, too, and Luscious Lady (Gurney) and Shortcake (Burpee) are a pair of the better new everbearing varieties.
With such an impressive selection of new cultivars (and time-tested old standbys) in the seed catalogs this year, you're sure to reap an abundant harvest from your 1983 garden especially if you sow the following "can't miss" varieties: Red Salad Bowl lettuce ... Prime Time cabbage ... Pride And Joy sweet corn ... Gold Crest and Peter Pan summer squash ... Sweet Success and Euro-American cucumbers ... Chando cantaloupe ... Royal jubilee watermelon ... Gourmet green beans ... Big Pick, Quick Pick, Caracas, Baron, and Tempo tomatoes ... Skipper pepper ... Waltham Butternut winter squash ... and Big Red strawberries.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Most of the varieties mentioned in this article can be found at seed and garden suppliers, or they can be ordered by mail directly from the seed companies.