Testing New Vegetable Varieties

One of our gardening experts reports on what came from the new vegetable varieties she planted for the 1988 growing season.

| March/April 1989

I love the ritual of ordering seed — it's probably the most decadent part of my job. First, the citrus crate, crammed to overflowing with catalogues, is hauled next to my favorite chair. Then the fire is stoked, a red pen is found in the desk clutter, and enough food is gathered to last several hours. As I settle in and conform to the well-worn contours of the antique wing chair's stuffing, the normal restrictions of time, space, and cost seem as far away as next year's tomatoes.

This past gardening season, though, I had the extra job of testing new vegetable varieties for 1988 (and a few of '89's), so things weren't quite so simple. I had sent letters to just over 100 seed companies, asking what they considered to be their best introductions for the new year. The results were overwhelming — a bushel basket of samples arrived by spring. And they kept coming. Indeed, long after every last inch of the garden had been planted, seeds were still falling out of my mailbox — many with long personal letters attached.

I couldn't grow them all (who could?). So I tried my best to chose varieties that sounded like they had that quintessential difference. Take beans, for instance. It took more than a description like "Flat green pods, 6 to 7 inches long, good for freezing" to entice me to give up precious garden space. But Dragon's Langerie, a wax bean that promised the works — high yields, earliness and tender, long pods, all wrapped in a colorful "package" — was irresistible, and thus was included in my trials.

So before you put your feet up and daydream through your own stack of catalogues, you might like to see how some of '88's newest performed in my garden — both the pick of the crop and a few of the "pans." (Most are available from seed companies other than the ones specifically mentioned here.)

Cherry Tomatoes

Sweet Million FNTL Hybrid: This cherry tomato started the season slowly, but eventually produced "sweet hundreds" of one-and-a-quarter-inch fruits. Friends who received the excesses praised the flavor of the little tomatoes (many said they tasted even better when broiled). My five-foot-tall bamboo cages could barely contain the large, indeterminate and quite disease-resistant plants. (Park)

Gold Nugget: I like colorful salads, and the rich golden hue of these cherry tomatoes stands out like a spring flower. Gold Nugget tomatoes were our first of the season and kept on producing, oblivious to disease. The flavor is hearty without being overly sweet or tart, and the plants stay a wonderfully manageable height of under two and a half feet. (Johnny's)

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