Seed Testing: The Cream of the Crop

Our man in Kentucky reports that a good growing season made seed testing a great success in the summer of 1980.

| March/April 1981

The summer of 1980 provided nearly perfect growing conditions here in Betsy Layne, deep in the Appalachian Valley of eastern Kentucky, and I was able to proceed with seed testing for an abundance of exciting new 1981 vegetable varieties. As you may remember from last year's report, the summer of 1979 wasn't especially conducive to gardening, at least not in my area. The cold, damp weather made it almost impossible to grow many such warmth-loving crops as tomatoes, peppers, and melons. Well, mercy, did 1979's "failures" ever prosper in 1980!

Get Growing While It's Snowing

Things started to look up in the early spring when we had a spell of fine, settled weather. I eagerly tilled the still-chilly earth so that cool-season crops could get an early start. Peas are usually the first vegetables to go into my spring garden. And while I didn't find an outstanding variety of snow peas this season—such as last year's Sugar Snap—there are a couple that deserve mention. Johnny's Selected Seeds offers Snowbiz, a tasty "eat-it-all" variety that grows on tall, rangy vines (which need support). In addition, Norli—sold by William Dam Seeds—isn't new, but it's practically unknown ... and bears heavy crops of succulent pods on plants about a foot high.

Without a doubt, the finest conventional pea available this year is Maestro, the superb new legume from Burpee Seed. The plant is just about immune to powdery mildew and resistant to most other diseases as well, and the compact vines are tremendously productive. Maestro pods are very large—they contain up to 12 peas!—and the quality is so good that my children love to eat the green nuggets raw from the garden. Other noteworthy peas for 1981 include Knight (from Harris Seeds), and Frostbite, a tough, disease-resistant variety from Gurney.

The Planting of the Greens

Around these parts, lettuce is started about the same time as peas, and the most notable variety that I tested was Deepred (Harris). The lovely red-tipped bunches of this "looseleaf" are tender and sweet , and they stay that way well into summer. Montello, sold by the Jung Seed Company, is similar to Deepred in flavor and heat tolerance. Park's choice new looseleaf cultivar—it's appropriately named Crispy Sweet—also has a fine taste, and resists becoming bitter in hot weather. Folks who prefer heading types should also try Vesey Seeds' Queen Crown, which will form solid two-pound heads almost anywhere and exhibits superb quality.

Cabbage, Boiled Down

Cabbage is another crop that prospers in cold weather. As usual, there are a number of fine new cultivars available. Savoy Ace—the 1977 All-America gold medal winner—has helped make the crinkled-leaf varieties popular, and this type does have a taste that's somewhat different (and often better) than that of more common cabbages. I found Savoy Emperor, brand-new from Abbott & Cobb, to be as delicious as it is beautiful. The Emperor is larger than Savoy Ace, and does particularly well when planted later in the season for a fall harvest. Another excellent "Savoy" variety is Novum, which is available from William Dam Seeds.

Among the smooth -leaved cabbages, I found Blueboy—a fine new introduction from Otis S. Twilley—to be excellent. This main-season variety is nearly perfect in all respects: quality, disease-resistance, and productiveness! Johnny's offers Primax, which produces heads that average a little larger than those of Blueboy, exhibits a bright green color, and is of very good quality.

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