The Best (And Worst) Vegetables of 2009-2010

As promised, the best of the best, and worst of the worst seed-grown vegetable list from 2009. Now remember, to some extent these ratings are subjective, and dependent on climate; when choosing varieties, you must always select cultivars that are adapted to your site and growing conditions. Take for instance, that all time American favorite tomatoes. I was just speaking today with Laurel, of Laurel’s Heirloom Tomato Plants, (a great source for live plants, by the way) asking her if she would provide me with some recommendations for San Jose, California, where I’ll be speaking next week at the South Bay Home & Garden Show.

Here’s the list she kindly put together, based on both personal input and purchaser comments:

Paul Robeson
Sunset’s Red Horizon
Clint Eastwood’s Rowdy Red
Blood Gulch
Summer Cider
Kellogg’s Breakfast
Goose Creek
Japanese Black Trifele
Mortgage Lifter
Grandpa Ashlock
Marianna’s Peace
Cherokee Green
Any Brandywine but especially Brandywine Yellow which loves San Jose’s long temperate growing season
Black Zebra and Yellow Zebra
German Giant
Marvel Striped
Isis Candy
Yellow Gooseberry
Omar’s Lebanese

‘White Icicle’, one of the dogs of the 2009 season

Now many of these varieties are very long season, perfect for San Jose, but somewhat problematic here in Boston. Most other crops show similar differences between one variety and another. Unfortunately, the only way to find out what’s what is to experiment, or, ask a knowledgeable gardener in your area (the second option being the far more economical. Most good nurseries as well as the invaluable Cooperative Extension Services can provide sound advice.)

One other tip garnered from last year: don’t select crops for appearance alone. I know this sounds basic, but as gardeners, we (I) fall for it all the time. If produce is cute and/or unusually colored, people flock to it in droves, never-mind how it tastes. That’s a mistake: witness my trial of the white raddish ‘White Icicle’. I’m sure 2 x 4’s have more flavor…

Also keep in mind that smaller sized varieties are great for compact gardens where fresh eating is the aim, but often smaller sized produce doesn’t have sufficient biomass for long term storage. Big fat round beets, and full sized butternut squash last far better than their more petit cousins.

Finally, I’ve already lamented enough about last year’s tomato season, and am anxious to put in, along with most of 2009, into the bin of bad memories. But, despite the late blight, two varieties actually managed to produce a decent crop last season, before dying totally away in August: ‘Red Rose’, a cross between ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Rutgers’ with the best qualities of each; and ‘Sungold’, still the best cherry in the business. Both are available from Tomato Growers Supply.

Type Variety Supplier Comment Hint 1-5
Basil Superbo Johnny’s Excellent, slow to bolt Start indoors 4
Bean, Pole Northeaster Johnny’s I can’t say enough about this bean; excellent taste, abundant yields; long bearing; superb! 5
Bean, Pole Kentucky Wonder Burpee Excellent bearer, but OK flavor: I was spoiled by ‘Northeaster’ 3
Beet Forono Johnny’s Poor germination; cosmetically pleasing but poor choice for storage; choose round types instead
Beet Mangel Wurtel Sturbridge Heirloom for show only Start early NA
Carrot Bolero Johnny’s Excellent main crop Keep well moist until germinated 3
Carrot Hybrid Nelson, pelleted Johnny’s Crop failure – Twice 1
Cucumber Specialty striped Armenian Johnny’s Crop failure: TWICE! Probably needs warmer soil than we had this year 1
Cucumber Northern Pickling Johnny’s Incredibly abundant yield in a bad cucumber year Grow under cloth to protect from beetles till fruit forms 5
Dill Mammoth Burpee OK, poor yield this year 2
Dill Fernleaf Johnny’s Sometimes tricky to germinate Start indoors 3
Gourds Crafters bottle dippers and bowls Renee’s Mix heavy on dippers, lacking bowls Start earlier than pumpkins indoors; requires long hot season; most fruit immature at frost 2
Leek Bandit Johnny’s Good yield, quality Start early indoors 3
Lettuce Container Garden Babies Butterhead Renee’s Delicious, truly does work in container Start indoors; keep well watered 4
Lettuce Romanine Vivian Burpee Fast growing, tender Start indoors; keep well watered 3
Lettuce Romanine Little Gem Burpee Tasty Start indoors; keep well watered 3
Marigold Lemon Gem Johnny’s A standby in the garden 3
Mesclun Asian Baby Leaf Renee’s A very tasty mix of what can often be a bad blend 4
Nasturium Moonlight Renee’s Good flower color Bad season for nasturtiums due to weather N/A
Parsley Italian Gigante Johnny’s Good; indistinguishable from standard 3
Parsley Italian Titan Johnny’s Fine crop 3
Pumpkin Marina di Chiogga Johnny’s Tricky to raise; low yield 3
Pumpkin Jarrahdale Johnny’s Delightful gray pumpkins, extremely abundant in touch year 5
Pumpkin Howden biggie Johnny’s Crop failure due to season NA
Pumpkin Winter Luxury Pie Various The BEST for baking 5
Raddish White Icicle Burpee Total waste of time; tough and tasteless 1
Squash Boston Marrow Sturbridge Heirloom that lasts indoors all winter’ tough to grow, but fun; one of the oldest varieties in cultivation 4
Sunflower Van Gogh Renee’s Lovely Start indoors 4
Winter squash Burpee’s Butterbush Burpee Excellent yield, though squash rather diminutive; grow standard varieties if you’re interested in storage; very compact 4
Winter squash Green Acorn Johnny’s Tasty and prolific 3
Zinnas Cutting, Berry Basket Renee’s Good; though prefer 1Cool Crayons’ mix 3
Zinnia Polor Bear Renee’s Good white, though best planted in moderation; prefer ‘Green Envy’ or ‘Tequila Lime’ for bouquets 3
Zinnias Cutting Cool Crayon Renee’s Excellent color selection 4
Zinnias Cutting décor Renee’s Nice mix of two popular varieties, Apricot Blush and Green Envy 4
Zinnias Apricot Blush Renee’s One of the best of all cutting zinnias 4
Zucchini Costata Romanesca Johnny’s Excellent bountiful yields Cover with cloth to prevent borers 4

And, I almost forgot: a fantastic green to red pepper: Ace, from Johnny’s. This was the best and most abundant pepper yield I’ve ever had, and this variety is particularly adapted to northern gardeners. The flavor is average, but the yields! Rating: 5

Until next time, I’m Michael Weishan, for Old House, Old Garden.


The Best (And Worst) Vegetables of 2009-2010 — 2 Comments

  1. Oh I’ve got some excellent ideas from you – and yep I too fell for some interesting and unusual veggies, but with me taste will always be king. If a description in a catalogue can’t give me more info than yields and days to maturity, the odds of me buying it are slim to none. I’m sold on flavor profiles!

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