Seasons of the Garden: New Vegetable Varieties for 1980

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PHOTOS: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF, BURPEE SEED CO, PARKS SEED CO.
TOP LEFT: Crops in MOTHER EARTH NEWS' organic garden. TOP RIGHT: Butter Boy squash from Burpee Seed Co. BOTTOM LEFT: Burpee's Super-teak Tomato. BOTTOM RIGHT: Crispy sweet lettuce from Park Seed Co.

It’s the dead of winter, and in many
parts of the country the cold wind mutters threats of snow.
The frost is deep in the soil, and the green of the garden
is only a memory. Inside, the root cellar’s starting to look
mighty bare, and the jars of put-by tomatoes are dwindling
fast. Grab a kitten for comfort, curl up in front of the
fire with your garden plan and the new seed catalogs . . .
and dream of spring’s fresh promise. New vegetable varieties await your tender care. 

All-Americans

Two of the All-America Selections for 1980 are of
particular interest to vegetable gardeners. A wonderful
vivid yellow zucchini, named Gold Rush, sets loads of
squash on compact plants (they take up a mere four square
feet!). The unusual plant’s habit of growth is upright and
open, so air can easily penetrate to the base and prevent
overly wet soil and rotting fruit. Furthermore, just think
how attractive bright yellow Gold Rush would look when
steamed up with a crisp batch of dark green Scallopini
squash … a Patty Pan/zucchini cross that was an All
-America winner in 1977! 

Another 1980 prizewinner,
the bronze medal Holiday Time pepper, is both ornamental
and edible! The compact plants (a full-grown specimen can
be put in a quart jar) will even bloom and set fruit
indoors . . . and you don’t need to worry about insect or
hand pollination. The fruits poke up through the foliage
like tiny dunce caps, and they color as they mature from
yellow to orange to scarlet. When it’s time for some spicy
food, you’ll find that the little peppers can make a
pungent contribution to your meal. 

And here’s a
little more All-American news: The (organic, naturally)
garden at MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Eco-Village has been designated a
display garden by the All-America Selections folks. This
means we’ll be exhibiting AAS winners from the
past, present, and immediate future . . . and that people
who attend next year’s seminar series on MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ beautiful
mountain property will have still another sight to look
forward to! More about our organic display garden–the only
one we know of!–in future issues. 

Keepin’ It Sweet

Folks used to joke that the only way to
really appreciate the flavor of sweet corn was to have a
pot of boiling water next to you in the field as you cut
the succulent ears . . . because the time it took to walk
from the corn patch to the kitchen was considered long
enough for this delicate vegetable’s rich supply of sugar
to start changing to starch.

Well, the need for such haste
disappeared back in 1961 with the development (based on
research done at the Universities of Michigan and Illinois)
of the “shrunken gene” varieties of extra sweet corn. The
two new hybrids (known as Early Extra Sweet and Illinichief
Super Sweet) are twice as sweet as normal corn at the
moment of harvest and–because the sugar content converts to
starch more slowly–four times as sweet 48 hours after
picking. In fact, the only problem with these fine
cultivars is that they absolutely must be kept isolated
from other varieties of corn … since cross-pollination
causes the extra-sweet hybrids to revert to their dominant
ancestor, starchy field corn.

However, several seed houses
are now offering alternative varieties that don’t need to
be separated from other types of corn: the EH (for
everlasting heritage) hybrids. These corns remain tasty for
up to two weeks after pickin’, and their pericarps–the
protective skins of the kernels–are much more tender than
those of “normal” corn. The new EH hybrid species are
called Kandy Korn (Gurney), D-5 (Burrell), Tender-treat EH
and Mainliner EH (Burpee), Golden Sweet EH (Stokes), and
losweet EH (Herbst). Try ’em . . . and leave the pot on the
stove!

New Introductions

Brent Elswick does his best to keep up to date on the best of the
recent croppin’ introductions, but
some of the exciting vegetables introduced for 1980 are
just too new for Brent to have tried. Burpee Seed Company, for instance,
has come up with a compact cucumber–Bush Champion–that can
be grown as closely as 12 inches in the row . . . and
does a terrific job in pots on the patio, too. The same
company’s new Butter Boy Hybrid butternut squash produces a
bumper yield in one-third less space than the old favorite
Waltham takes up. Burpee has an upgraded beefsteak tomato,
as well–called Super-steak–that brings Fusarium and
Verticillium resistance to the old favorite.

For the latest
in leaf lettuce, Park is featuring Crispy Sweet (which
combines the flavor of butter-head types with the
cut-and-come-again qualities of loose-leaf varieties),
while the firm’s new melon–Honeydew Pineapple–is early (85
days) and has a unique tropical flavor.

An “everbearing”
potato is going to be offered by Henry Field: called the
McNeilly variety, the hybrid continues to make new tubers
through September … allowing you to harvest some and
leave the rest to mature. Gurney, in turn, has introduced
the Butte potato … which out-produces the Russet Burbank
and has 58%a more vitamin C and 20% more protein than
other varieties.

Gurney also offers a novel dwarf
grapefruit tree–the product of the company’s Micro-Budding
technique–which will bear fruit indoors in two to three
years … and that’s up to ten years earlier than normal
kinds!

As you can see (and we’ve dropped just a few
tantalizing tips), 1980 is going to be a great year for new
vegetables. So pen a line to some of the companies in MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ seed-supplier access list… and
order up some wish books!

Regional Seed Merchants

You can, of course, get a fine selection
of seeds from any one of the big national outfits, but did
you know that there are companies that specialize in
varieties for particular geographical areas? Hastings and
Wyatt-Quarles, for example, offer plants for the South,
while Burrell sells far West favorites. Roswell, on the
other hand, deals in items for the Southwest . . . and
Johnny’s, Farmer, and Vesey all have hardy seeds for the
far North.

So if your climatic conditions are
really unusual–very dry, or cold, or hot–consider
placing your garden purchase order with one of the regional
seed merchants. (By the way, some of the big
companies regionalize their catalogs, too: Burpee has its
famous “bulls-eyes” to indicate vegetables particularly
suited to your area, Thompson & Morgan indicates–with
asterisks–varieties that will do well in the South, and the
Dave Wilson Nursery in California breaks down the country
into 41 zones and suggests fruit trees especially adapted
to each!)