Farmers select various varieties of crops for different reasons. Some varieties are disease resistant, some taste better, some varieties are selected for their growth habits (for example bush beans vs. pole beans), hand-me-down seeds (aka heirlooms) and some are just more fun to look at.
In conversations with folks about vegetables and gardening, the question always comes up: "What kind of so-and-so do you grow?" I like to learn about what works for other farmers, so in turn, I will share what works here at the farm as far as varieties go. Some of the reasons certain varieties are selected can't be easily explained (pretty picture, nice description in the catalog, someone recommended it, I was hungry when I was looking at the seed catalog.....), but I grow them again because they worked.
We'll try to take this in alphabetical order to keep it organized just a little bit, and every single crop that's grown on the farm isn't covered, either.
- Artichoke, Imperial Star--This is an experiment this year, so I can't really comment on how tasty they are, how they grow, or pest resistance. I'm growing this variety because the seed catalog said it could be grown from seed in one season in this area (Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee). We'll see.
- Basil, Lemon, and Large Leaf Sweet--I grow these two because I bought a seed mix for the last two years and it seemed like most of the seeds were those teeny tiny little leaves that didn't look like basil, and a big bunch of the plants were licorice basil too, which not many people like. The lemon basil and sweet basil seemed to be the most popular, so that's what I'm sticking with.
- Green Beans---Ah, green beans; a favorite of southern gardeners. I grow several varieties of these. I grow Case Knife beans which is an heirloom, about 10" long and 1/2-3/4" wide (about the size of a table knife). This is the only pole bean grown on the farm simply due to the amount of labor it takes to erect the structures for them to climb on---these are worth the effort though. Roma II are grown because they are tasty and stringless (wide flat bean) and this year Top Crop, Burpee Stringless Bush, and Peanut Garden Beans are being grown because of their growth habit (bush), stringless, and I've read that they are tasty--we'll see.
- Broccoli--Southern Comet is the choice here because it tolerates heat without bolting too quickly. I don't care how careful one is to plant broccoli early so it will mature "before the heat of the summer" or late so it will "be kissed by the first frosts" it's going to be exposed to SUMMER around here. This variety is recommended for southern gardeners and I believe it would have worked out well last year if it hadn't been so wet; there were a few heads that matured despite being grown in a rice patty situation.
- Cabbage--The cabbage choice at Wild Things is "Cabbage Babies". Many members didn't know what to do with an entire head of cabbage since not many folks make kraut any more, so after researching, I found Cabbage Babies. It's a wonderful variety of savoy, green, and purple cabbage all in one packet. Each head is a little bigger than a softball, and just enough for a meal.
- Carrots--Little Finger are the faves because they mature quicker, they are sweet as candy, and don't get woody.
- Cucumbers--There's a variety called "Diva" that has all female flowers and doesn't require a male for pollination. The cukes don't have prickly spines on them and they are very crispy. Bush type cukes are great too, and Bush Crop and Spacemaster Bush taste well and don't sprawl everywhere, but a vine-type called Straight 8 is grown just because it's a reliable producer of tasty cucumbers.
- Eggplant---Black Beauty is a reliable producer, Ichiban has non-bitter oriental-type fruits, and Cloud Nine looks cool (well, it does). Last year a variety called "Hansel" was grown and it produced like crazy, but required staking.
- Lettuce---My absolute fave is the Lettuce Mix from Pinetree Seeds. It has the most beautiful mix of lettuces I've seen, it's not bothered by insects, and is a reliable producer if you're careful how you harvest it to not damage the plant. The seed doesn't keep well from season-to-season though, so don't order more than you'll use in one season. Bibb Summer head lettuce is also planted for the members who like a "loose leaf" head lettuce.
- I grow several onions, but one I've fallen in love with is a scallion-type onion, called Purplette. I like it because it's pretty in salads and it's a great tasting green onion.
- Parsley--The flat Italian type is the only kind to grow for cooking. The pretty, fluffy, curled parsley that sits on a plate is only good for that; sitting on a plate and looking pretty.
- Pepper---Oh man, I'm growing 15 varieties of peppers this year (so far). I LOVE peppers---they can make a dish go from mmmmm, to AHHHHHHH or oooooooh real quick! Most of the members don't like hot peppers but I do. I grow a few jalapenos, cayennes, anchos, poblanos and hot bananas for my kitchen and the members who like them, but there are so many great sweet peppers out nowadays that I had to try several of them; Big Bertha, Gourmet Sweet, Chinese Giant, Planet Hybrid, Sheepnose Pimento, Banana Bill, Aruba Cubanelle, and I can't tell you one thing about them yet-----later!
- Radishes---French Breakfast because they are pretty and tasty too, and Cherry Belle cause they are the "proverbial" radish and they perform well.
- Spinach ---Bloomsdale Longstanding, which is not really spinach at all, but spinach bolts really quickly around here, and this is a universally grown substitute that a lot of people don't know really isn't spinach, so shhhhhh, don't say anything!
- Squash---Summer varieties include Yellow Crookneck (taste), Celestial Scallop (pretty, and tastes good too), Black Beauty Zucchini (taste, good performer) and Spaghetti Squash because it tastes really good, is unusual, and is a reliable performer; winter varieties include Butternut (good performer, taste), Ebony Acorn is reliable and tastes good, and some new varieties this year are being tried because of the awesome job the writers did in the seed catalogs. These include Bush Delicata and Cream of the Crop Winter Hybrid.
- Tomatoes could take up an entire web page as far as I'm concerned, but I grow Better Boy because they taste and look good, Mr. Stripey for the taste, and Cherokee Purple (heirloom) for the taste. I also like Roma for paste tomatoes, and Early Girl because, well, they're early! This year I'm growing seedlings of 11 varieties of heirloom tomatoes for a friend of mine and he said I could have some of the plants---the names of them aren't anything you'll see in a catalog but I can't wait to try them! Lemon Boy is on the list this year too just because the yellow tomatoes have less acid and some folks can't tolerate the acid found in red tomatoes.
- Purple Top Turnips are what you grow around here if you grow turnips. They are reliable and they taste yummy raw or fried (I can't stand them boiled, sorry!)
- Watermelon--These fruits aren't very reliable here on the mountain, but I grow Sugar Baby because they are small, mature quicker, and they are sweet just like their name says.
Well, that's about it for the variety column. We'll do a review of them at the end of the season. Happy planting, everyone!