THE BEST GARDEN BETS FOR ’82

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Among the best garden bets for 1982 is Cherry Grande, a choice miniature tomato developed by Petoseed.

After grow-testing this year’s seed introductions, MOM’s crop evaluator brings you . . .


Brent Elswick

I sometimes think that gardening years tend to alternate
between good and bad. After the rainy disaster of 1979, our
Kentucky valley had a nearly perfect growing season in
1980. So I probably should have known that last year would
be something less than ideal. Sure enough, the extremely
dry conditions of 1981 weren’t exactly hospitable to such
moisture-loving vegetables as cabbage, peas, and potatoes
… but there were a few pleasant surprises even in those
categories. And last summer’s arid weather was just perfect
for many other crops, especially tomatoes and melons (I’ve
never seen a finer year for growing either one).

EARLY TRYOUTS

However, let’s start at the beginning. I opened my garden test trials early last
spring–as I usually do–with the first plantings
of lettuce. While old standbys like BlackSeeded Simpson and
Salad Bowl proved their worth, as always, a couple of new
stars appeared on the horizon, as well. Crispy Sweet
lettuce from George W. Park is as delicious as its name
implies . . . and it stays good-tasting much longer than
you might expect! Another new green of note is Midget Leaf
by the McFayden Seed Company of Canada. This
north-of-theborder supplier is known for its shortseason
varieties . . . and Midget Leaf is truly one of the best.
The tiny, rosette-grouped leaves are an absolute
lettuce-lover’s delight . .. and since Midget Leaf matures
in only 42 days, it’s a natural planting partner for Crispy
Sweet. You can sow the Canadian variety for your early
crop, and then add a few rows of Crispy Sweet to guarantee
yourself tasty eating well into the summer.

During the
early weeks of the season, 1981 promised to be one of the
greatest years ever for peas .. . but then the dry spell
set in! Despite the hostile conditions, however, several
varieties proved worthy of further trial. In particular,
the Green Sugar snow pea (Vermont Bean Seed Company) has
about as many good characteristics as I’ve ever seen. Green
Sugar is a sturdy, short plant . . . and it has excellent
resistance to yellows (the dread disease that has struck
down many a good pea crop in these parts). A second
“winner” snow pea being offered for the first time in 1982
is Dwarf Sugar, from Farmer Seed & Nursery. This
variety, an update of the old Dwarf Gray Sugar, is much
tastier–and a more cooperative producer–than is
its predecessor. Its very short vines yield an abundant
crop of tender snow peas, although some folks do find the
relatively dark color of the seeds objectionable.

My ’81
garden trials also uncovered several varieties of standard
garden peas that hold promise. Burpee Seed Company–as
usual–has a fine new cultivar to offer. This year’s
introduction is called Grenadier, and it’s a truly
remarkable pea. The mediumheight plants sport extra-long
pods that are literally crammed with plump, sugar-sweet
peas. Other fine new varieties include Joff from Unwins,
Novella from Park (and other suppliers), Supersweet from
Canada’s T & T Seeds, Sounder from Rogers Brothers,
Kosta from Vermont Bean, and Aldot from Farmer Seed &
Nursery. The last variety is particularly attractive: It
sprouts into almost midgetsized plants (making it a good
choice for gardeners with limited space) . . . and it’s a
darned prolific producer of tasty small peas!

FROM THE CABBAGE PATCH

Kentucky’s typically cool, damp spring weather is quite conducive to cabbage cultivation
… but last year, of course, wasn’t typical at all! Most
of the varieties I tested didn’t get a fair trial under the
unusually hot, dry conditions, and cabbage became my major
disappointment of 1981. A few seeds, however, did fairly
well against the odds . . . and those are worthy of note.

Two entries from Stokes Seeds–Canada Kraut and
Superslaw–proved to be real survivors. The Canada
Kraut grew vigorously and yielded tender, three- to
fourpound heads. Superslaw, a laterappearing ballhead type,
made a tasty slaw, and kept right on producing clear into
the late fall! Another triumphant variety was Hercules (by
Gurney Seed & Nursery), which grew into excellent five-
to six-pound heads. Two final cultivars, Erdene from Sluis
& Groot and Prizetaker from Midwest Seeds, each
developed delicious three- to four-pound heads . . . and I
intend to give both varieties another try this summer.

Before we leave the Cole crops, let’s take a look at some
of the other family members I was able to test last season.
The most exciting new broccoli seed comes from Sluis &
Groot, a little-known (at least in the U.S.) Dutch firm
that’s only recently begun offering fine European varieties
to American gardeners. S & G’s 1 Hybrid broccoli is a
truly remarkable vegetable that begins to head early and
keeps right on producing tender, succulent shoots as long
as it’s regularly harvested. Another noteworthy broccoli
for ’82 is Southern Cross from Alberta Seeds. Despite the
fact that it was developed in Canada, it grows especially
well in warm climes . . . so you southern gardeners who
have had trouble raising broccoli might like to try this
hybrid.

While brussels sprouts aren’t everybody’s favorite,
a good many folks are fond of the taste of the
“mini-cabbages”. One of the best new arrivals this year is
Prince Marvel from Otis Twilley (a leader in the
introduction of good new seeds). If you plant Prince Marvel
either very early or very late in the season–and keep
it weedfree, watered, and fertilized–this variety
will reward you with astounding quantities of toothsome
vegetables. As for cauliflower, I didn’t find any new
varieties to match last year’s Contessa (Twilley), but I
was impressed with Tornado (Sluis & Groot) and Early
Snowball (Burpee). Each is quite dependable, especially if
planted fairly early in the season.

THE ROOT OF THE MATTER

After the lettuce, peas, and cole vegetables are planted, I turn my attention to the root
crops. And, of those, carrots and beets are my family’s
favorites.

Burpee’s new carrot offering, Short-N-Sweet,
deserves the attention of all serious gardeners. It’s a
stocky Chantenay type that will grow–and produce up a
storm–just about anywhere … even in hard clay soils
(where it’s usually difficult to coax carrots into
production). Short-N-Sweet has a fresh, crunchy texture
that most folks will love. Of course, the Chantenay hasn’t
yet been developed that can equal the quality of the Nantes
types, and one of those “supercarrots” this year is Nandor
(by Park). This beauty grows energetically, tastes superb,
and has a lovely deep color.

Other fine new carrots include
Trophy (a long variety from Joseph Harris & Company),
Bunny Bite (a miniature from Seedway), and Red Elephant
(offered by the Abundant Life Seed Foundation). Red
Elephant is a large vegetable that is indeed almost red in
color, and of surprisingly good quality for such a hefty
variety.

Most people who plant beets tend to stick to the
old standby Detroit types . . . but many of the newer
cultivars certainly deserve a try. For instance, a 1982
introduction from Agway Seeds has to rate as one of the
sweetest-tasting beets on the market. It’s called Honeyred,
and it truly is a honey of a beet! Another notable variety
is Firechief (a Ferry-Morse development that’s offered in
the Seedway catalog, among others), which has short tops,
is an excellent buncher, and produced magnificently in my
parched garden plot. And if you tend to favor pickled
beets, try either Sweetheart from Farmer’s or Baby Badger
from Henry Field & Company. (The latter is fairly
small, so it’s a wise choice if you’re tight on garden
space.)

GOOD NEWS FOR TOMATO LOVERS

As I mentioned earlier, last year’s semidrought conditions
actually benefited a few crops … and tomatoes really
prospered! I could list a goodly number of new varieties
that performed well (I must have tried 35 to 40 different
types of seeds, and every one of them scored high), but two
stood out, even among that stellar crowd.

Cherry Grande is
a superb miniature tomato developed by Petoseed, one of
North America’s leading producers of new vegetable
varieties for both home gardeners and professional
horticulturists. The Grande develops fruits a little larger
than normal cherry tomatoes … and its tall,
semideterminant vines resist almost all major diseases. In
addition, the fruits’ luscious red color makes them a
favorite for preserving (even with my wife, who’s a choosy
canner, to say the least).

Sharing top honors with Cherry
Grande is Freedom, a variety which, although not strictly
new (Abbott & Cobb has offered it for a couple of years
now), is just beginning to gain well-deserved popularity
among home gardeners for its super eating quality and hardy
bushing characteristics. The strong, determinant vines
scoff at most diseases, and your first sampling of their
large fruits (8-12 ounces each) will make you eager for
seconds. Freedom was originally developed for market
gardeners and commercial growers, but–now that it’s
more widely available–it shouldn’t be overlooked by
tomato-loving home gardeners.

Year after year, Stokes seems
to come up with new tomatoes that are worthy of attention .
. . and if you’re a canner, you’ll especially like Veepro
and Veepick. The first is great for whole packing, and the
second is hard to beat among juicing tomatoes, since it’s
unusually large and easy to skin. Another Italian (or
juice) tomato that did well in my 1981 trials was
Ferry-Morse’s Napoli. This variety doesn’t produce huge
fruits–as does Veepick, for example–but you can
expect to harvest absolutely astounding quantities from it.

Those of you who live in areas with short growing seasons
ought to give Mighty Boy (from Alberta Seeds) a try. It
can’t actually rival Freedom, but it is far and away the
best of the early tomatoes I tested last year. In fact, I
found it hard to believe that such a small plant could grow
so many large (sixto eight-ounce) fruits! One of the new
season’s better open-pol linated early ‘maters is
Highlander from D.V. Burrell, a reputable company that
offers a large selection of high-quality, fresh seed. The
extremely early plant produces loads of flavorful fruits,
and should do so under almost any reasonable growing
conditions.

Other new–or pretty much
unknown–tomato varieties worth investigating include
Early Pick (Burpee), Nematex and Summertime (Porter &
Sons Seedsmen), Sunlight Pole (Willhite Seed Farms), and
Jumbo Jim and SuperRed (Agway). If your tomato cultivation
area is limited to a patio or tiny backyard patch, try
Toyboy (Wyatt-Quarles) or Sugar Lump (J.W. Jung): Each
produces oodles of small, sweet fruits on sturdy little
plants.

PEPPERS AND EGGPLANT

Not many seed houses brought out new varieties of peppers and eggplant
this year, but a few of those scarce introductions are
worth mentioning. Farmer’s now offers a dependable pepper
called Wisconsin Lakes, a thick-walled lovely that’s just
right for salads or stuffing. Other promising pepper
newcomers are Valley Giant from Twilley . . . Park Pot from
Park (it’s very dwarf, but also very productive) . . . and
New Ace from Abbott & Cobb.

Among eggplant varieties,
you’ll do well to look into H.G. Hastings’ Purple
Thornless, which is especially suited to warm southern
climates .. . and Pick-Me-Quick (from Unwins), an
exceptionally good vegetable that matures much more rapidly
than does the average eggplant.

CORN . . . SWEET AND ABUNDANT

After tomatoes, sweet corn is probably the best-loved home garden vegetable . . . and
it’s my favorite! Last year’s dry weather really agreed
with my corn crop, too, resulting in a banner season for
the scrumptious summer treat. The very best corn I tested
in 1981 was Sensation 95 from Hastings. Although the
cultivar takes a full three months to mature, the harvest
of nineto ten-inch-long ears is well worth the wait. Don’t
miss this one!

Another long-eared breed of considerable
merit is Seneca Scout, available from many seed houses
(including Twilley). The Scout matures a week or so ahead
of 95, but its quality doesn’t suffer one bit for the
shorter season. I was also impressed by Mainliner, a
superior mainseason corn sold by both Bu rpee and Midwest.

If you have a particularly insistent sweet tooth, you’ll be
pleased to learn that there are several good new types of
supersweet corn for you to choose from. Twilley’s
Dinnertime is one of the best: Its large ears are
well-filled and have memorable flavor . . . as does Park’s
Butterfruit, which develops somewhat smaller ears than
Dinnertime, but is ready for harvest a few days earlier.
Another fine new supersweet is Earligrow from Burrell, a
tasty cultivar that matures in about 68 days.

While
conducting my ’81 trials, I also found quite a few early
corn varieties of note. Earligem (from Stokes) matures in
only 60 days, and has excellent eating quality. Other
contenders include Early Prince from T & T . . .
Starbrite (top-notch seed from Farmer that matures in about
two months) . . . Beacon from McFayden . . . Early Star
from Midwest . . . and Debut from Rogers (which does well
when planted early in still-cold soil).

Many gardeners are
now branching out to try bicolor sweet corn . . . and I can
recommend several types in this category. Herbst Brothers
score high with BiHerbst, a 75-day grain that’s as pretty
to look at as it is delicious to eat! Each ear is covered
with bright green husks tinged with red, and the corn’s
taste is equal to that of any of the lateyielding
varieties. Twilley’s Seneca Pinto matures quite late, but
produces long and dependably sweet ears. Another great new
bicolor corn is Calypso from Rogers . . . and since its
harvest dates are right between those of the other two I’ve
just mentioned, you could plant all three kinds to enjoy
delightful (and colorful) eating over an extended season.

I
didn’t find nearly as many good new white corn varieties in
this test series as I have in the past. However, Seedway
did introduce Crystal Delight . . . a crop that matures
much earlier than other high-quality standard “albinos” and
even before Platinum Lady (Meyer Seeds). You may remember
that I previewed that toothsome delight in last year’s
garden report (which appeared in MOTHER NO. 68, page 118),
but it performed so well once again this year that I feel
it deserves a little more attention. No one who’s had the
pleasure of biting into the tender, sweet kernels of an ear
of Platinum Lady can deny its superlative quality. In fact,
I believe that this cultivar is the first actual rival of
that venerable mainstay, Silver Queen.

To round out the
list, here are a few more excellent varieties of sweet corn
that I discovered this year: Big Jim (an 85-day cultivar
from Ontario Seeds), Banner (Rogers Brothers’ new
main-season crop), Seneca Sentry (another winner from
Twilley), Pennfresh ADX (a fine supersweet from Agway),
Pearls & Gold (a sweet bicolor from L.L. Olds Seed
Company), and Burgundy Delight (Seedway’s great-tasting
bicolor).

CUCUMBERS . . . COOL AND CRISP

Our family always looks forward to summer’s first
fresh-from-the-garden cucumber, and during the 1981 season
that honor went to Northern Pickling from Johnny’s Selected
Seeds. Furthermore, the little vine just kept on producing
tasty cukes well into the dog days . . . and we decided it
was one of the top nonhybrid picklers we’ve ever grown.

The
very best hybrid cuke I’ve seen in a long while, though, is
new from Harris: Medalist, as it’s called, grows eight- to
nineinch fruits that seem almost impervious to disease, and
are absolutely unbeatable for slicing into a cool summer
salad. The other outstanding cucumber in my 1981 trials was
Amira by Park. While not as tough against the wilts as is
Medalist, this Mediterranean variety does hold its own …
producing six- to eight-inch fruits that area delight to
eat, skin and all.

And aside from those hands-down winners,
there were a few other cukes that pleased us mightily last
year. The list includes Bush Champion by Burpee and Park
Whopper by Park (both super vegetables with compact vines)
. . . Earlipik by Alberta (a prolific pickler) . . .
Bushcrop (another fine midget from Jung) . . . and OSC
Hybrid Cuke (a really superior slicer from Ontario).

BETTER BEANS THAN BEFORE

Last year wasn’t a particularly good one for green beans, but a few new
introductions did manage to stick it out. If you like the
long-popular Blue Lake beans, you’ll probably also enjoy
Gator Green from Meyer Seeds, which is an excellent
producer of plump, dark green pods. Burly (Rogers) is the
type to grow when faced with less than ideal conditions,
since it’ll produce almost anywhere (although–while
it certainly is tasty-it isn’t quite up to Gator’s
standards).

Still another bush bean worth noting is known
as Exp. 121, a not yet named introduction from Gurney. This
new one is great for canning and eating fresh (as are
Bestcrop from Vermont and Greenway from Agway). Unique
among the Romano types is Harris’s Green Ruler, a bush
version that’s hard to beat. If you’d like to raise a
dry-shell bean (for baked beans, soup, or shelf storage),
try Peregion from Abundant Life. I’ve never seen a more
productive dry-shell, and its mottled black seeds are
lovely.

Despite 1981’s adverse growing conditions, I was
also able to pinpoint some fine new pole beans for ’82. The
best of the bunch is probably Selma Star from Park. Each
long, handsome pod makes fine eating, and the Star is
actually supe rior to such older poles as Kentucky Wonder.
Another ’82 newcomer, Blue Ribbon from Vermont, somewhat
resembles the famed White Half Runner … but it doesn’t
have quite the same quality as does that old southern
favorite. The seeds are also a bit dark, a fact that will
make the bean undesirable as a canner for many folks.
However, Blue Ribbon does appear to be a durable variety
that can be counted on to produce steadily, even in bad
crop years. The last pole bean of note is Dade from
Hastings. Although it isn’t officially anew variety, this
McCaslan type is all but unknown outside of its native
South … but it’s sure to please any gardener who likes
the strong taste of pole beans.

SQUASH FOR ALL
SEASONS

There are a number of fine new varieties
of squash for 1982, both summer and winter. Kuta from Park
is probably destined to be the most famous of the lot. This
combination vegetable can be cooked like a summer crookneck
if it’s picked when immature, or baked like a winter squash
(or even a pumpkin) if it’s harvested late in the season.
Another “crossover” is Table Gold from Twilley: Fry it up
like a tender summer squash or prepare it, later in the
season, as you would an acorn or butternut. Special among
the summer types of squash are Multipik from Harris and
Dixie from Hastings, both of which offer medium-sized
yellow fruits. Black Magic from Park, another sure bet, is
a fine black zucchini . . . one of the best you’ll find in
any seed catalog.

If you favor winter squash, I have a
goody to recommend this year … although it’s actually a
holdover from the 1980 trials. Although Melon squash was
featured in last year’s report, I must sing its praises
once again! The fact is, I suspect this could very well be
the greatest winter squash yet developed . . . if not one
of the best vegetable varieties ever! The huge 20- to
30pound fruits contain lipsmackingly sweet flesh, and I
think any gardener who passes up this incredible cultivar
is doing him- or herself an injustice. Although Thompson
& Morgan had nearly run out of the seed at the time my
article appeared last year (the firm made MOTHER-readers a
special offer on the remaining stock), Melon squash is now
available from several other companies . .. in addition to
being offered again by Thompson & Morgan.

IN
THE GOOD OLD MELONTIME

Now we come to the real
stars of last year’s trials . . . the melons. I’m sure most
gardeners would agree that no midsummer meal is quite
complete without a dessert of sweet, cold melon . . . and I
can recommend some dandies for your ’82 patch. First of
all, I’d be hard pressed to imagine a cantaloupe that’s any
better than Chieftain (from Henry Field). This disease- and
pest-resistant cultivar is a nearly foolproof grower . . .
and each six- to eightpound fruit is chock-full of rich,
orange goodness.

Twilley’s Early Crenshaw is another
worthwhile addition to any melon-fancier’s garden. Although
its season is about seven to ten days longer than that of
most midseason varieties, Early Crenshaw is definitely
worth the wait. The color and flavor of its flesh lie
somewhere between those of cantaloupe and honeydew … and
you’ll find that 12- to 14-pound fruits aren’t at all
unusual. I also liked the new cantaloupe from Harris,
called Superstar, which consistently produced extra-large
fruits of high quality.

One of the most unusual melons I
tried was Valencia (Herbst). If you have a long growing
season, you ought to try this strange fruit. It’s large and
green and wrinkled, yet offers flavorful white flesh that’s
a little like that of a honeydew. Other notable cantaloupes
tested in the ’81 trials were Honeyloupe, a cross offered
by Twilley and others . . . Gurney Giant, a superlarge and
super-tasty variety … and Short-N-Sweet, a nice midget
from Park.

Watermelons grew well in ’81, too, and I found
several especially good ones among the relatively few new
offerings. The best was probably North Carolina Giant, from
Wyatt-Quarles. This large variety was originally developed
as an outsized “first prize at the county fair” type, but I
suspect it’ll soon catch on among many home gardeners who
mark the arrival of full summer by harvesting the first
sweet melon. Another tasty introduction is Chubby Gray from
Willhite (a scaleddown version of the well-loved Charleston
Gray), which never seems to stop producing great-tasting
melons. Park’s Whopper is also a real treat, particularly
for folks who like a smaller icebox variety. Other good
choices for this year are Summit by Willhite and Blackstone
by Burrell, two Black Diamond types that produce 20- to
25-pound fruits.

THE SUM AND SUBSTANCE

Finally, if I haven’t yet worn out your back–or your
gardening tools–there are still a few more standouts
I simply must mention! I was particularly delighted with
the results I received from the Belrus potato (L.L. Olds),
the Royal Globe turnip (Twilley), and the Lee okra
(Hattings).

Among the new strawberries, I found that
Royalty from Burpee is appropriately named … as is
Earliglow, an excellent early berry sold by Allen. And from
Walter K. Morse Company comes Honeyoye, which has to be one
of the finest all-purpose varieties ever developed . . .
its luscious, dark red berries taste so sweet that you’ll
swear they’re laced with honey.

Well, I hope my 198
garden-testing report has inspired you to do some serious
sowing this spring. Although the year’s seed catalogs
present a stunning array of worthwhile new crops to try,
you’re sure to score a high number of successes if you
plant the following “can’t miss” varieties: Cherry Grande
and Freedom tomatoes . . . Early Crenshaw, Chieftain,
Superstar, and North Carolina Giant melons . . . Sensation
95 and Bi-Herbst sweet corn . . . S & G 1 Hybrid
broccoli . . . and Medalist and Park Whopper cucumbers.
They’re all best bets for your garden in 1982!

EDITOR’S
NOTE:Most of the vegetable varieties mentioned in
this article can be found at seed and garden suppliers, or
can be ordered by mail. The names and addresses of many of
the firms noted here are listed in “MOM’s 1982 Seed Compa
ny ‘Wishbook’ Guide” (MOTHER NO. 73, page 166 . . . see
page 68 to order back issues).