Evaluating This Year’s Vegetable Cultivars

chard 2

I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to plant in my garden each year.  I make my decisions based on an ever-evolving criteria which often include these points:

Is it cheaper to grow it than to buy it?

Will it do well in my soil?

If I grow it, will I actually eat it?

If it does so well I can’t keep up with it- can I preserve it?

Is it worth the water it will take to keep it alive?

But there are other considerations as well.  I like to plant a big variety of things but there’s a part of me that is always working towards finding all the “perfect” cultivars of everything I love to eat so that one day I’ll grow only one kind of carrot every single year (from seeds I save myself, I like to think) and I’ll stick with only a couple kinds of lettuce (only my favorites), and I’ll become the gardener famous for that variety of squash she grows every year.  I think it pleases me to imagine having a garden full of vegetables that have been acclimated to my peculiar little lot and become special and I like thinking of lovingly saving the seeds each season to use again and to share with friends.

The reality, of course, is that I love trying new vegetable varieties and I know that I’ll always have something new to try every year.

I love this time of year when the garden is finishing up with all the produce, ripening one last bunch of tomatoes before the cold, offering another handful of beans before the vines all dry up.  This is when I start evaluating what worked for me and what didn’t.  Today I was thinking about Swiss Chard versus kale.  I do enjoy eating kale but I don’t ever crave it like I do chard.  Yesterday I cut a huge pot of greens (pictured above) from my garden.  I realized that I hadn’t been harvesting them and most of my kale is about to bolt.  While I was cutting the kale I discovered that most of them were covered in that variety of aphid that matches the silvery green of the leaves and are attracted to all members of the Brassica family.  My chard was untouched by aphids.  As I was picking the two different kinds of greens I was thinking that perhaps I should only grow Swiss chard from now on because I prefer it.  I like how it gets more tender than kale when steamed or sauted.  I like that my chard hardly ever has pest problems (something likes to lay tiny white eggs on the backs of the leaves but these are easily rubbed off).

If you don’t love eating something you shouldn’t be growing it in your yard.   This is what I usually think.

Then I started thinking that I should find out which one is healthiest to eat.  So I pulled out my trusty “Laurel’s Kitchen” with the nutritional tables in the back and had a look.  Both are very high in vitamin A.  Kale has twice the calcium of Swiss chard but half the potassium.  What I got from doing that comparison is that both are very healthy and have different essential things to offer.

Is it better to plant a garden that gives you the broadest spectrum of nutrients your body might need, or better to plant only what you love best?  What do you think?  How do you decide what you will plant again and what you will not bring back to the spring garden?  What were the biggest winners of your garden this year?

Here are a few of my old and new favorites that I will plant again and again:

Forellenschluss Lettuce:  this romaine lettuce does so well for me and is never bitter.  Plus I love the red speckles it’s covered in.

Lazy Housewife Bean: I grew it for the first time this year and it did much better than “Kentucky Wonder” or “Bluelake” have done for me.  They were so flavorful and tender even when large.  It’s a Romano type bean.

Helda Bean:  this one grew right next to the Lazy Housewife and to be honest, I couldn’t tell the difference.  They both grew so well for me and produced such great beans I will plant both again next year.

Sungold Cherry Tomato:  my very favorite cherry tomato.  I always plant this variety every year and couldn’t possibly get tired of them.

Rainbow Chard:  this will always be the variety of chard I grow.  I cannot imagine giving up the brightly colored stems for an all white stemmed variety.  It never fails to taste great and do well for me.

Willamette Tomato:  I generally prefer heirloom tomatoes even though they don’t tend to fruit as prolifically as the more modern hybrids do.  However, I always plant one or two of the hybrids so as insurance if my heirlooms don’t do well.  This one turned out to be not only prolific but had great flavor.  I will grow this one again next year.

Nantes Carrot:  I used up the seeds I had from a previous year.  I can’t remember specifically which Nantes it is but I let one go to seed and will continue planting these because they have done so well for me.  I’m not sure how to get the seeds out of their tiny spiky pods so if anyone knows, please tell me!
Your turn!

10 thoughts on “Evaluating This Year’s Vegetable Cultivars

  1. Green Bean

    This post made me smile. Like you, I envision myself as someone who has found what grows for her and who cultivates that particular vegetable, year in and out, saving the seeds and so on.
    In reality, I’m still very much in the experiment stage. Almost every year, I plant a different variety of this or that because there is just so much choice out there.
    Winter squash generally do well here and I’ll plant one in the back yard and one in the front and save the seeds next year. Maybe.
    I’ll try your beans. I did potato runner beans and they did okay but not prolific.
    I always do sungold cherry tomatoes. I’ve decided to do one more cherry tomato plant and then some hybrids. I did an early girl this year that was great. The heirlooms always die on me for some reason or another.
    Potatoes are something that I do often replant. I’ve got some sort of butter fingerling and the purple peruvian, I think.
    Everything else is, at this point, still open to experimentation and whim. But I will settle down some year. I swear!

  2. NM

    I love red iceberg lettuce so much it’s the only one I plant. It’s as gorgeous as the leaf lettuces, but crisp, holds beautifully in the garden and doesn’t turn bitter.
    Last year I grew celery for the first time, and it was so much fun that it needs to become a permanent fixture. The variety was Redventure. It was pretty and delicious and lasted until mid-December. The crowns survived that wild winter and resprouted in early spring to provide a second crop. I saved the seeds and am looking forward to growing them.
    Leeks are a must in my garden because they’re so delicious and hold so well over the winter and spring. I usually plant the heirloom variety giant musselburgh.
    I always plant heirloom lemon cucumbers, because my husband loves to eat them (though this year they died, and I’ve had to buy them at the farmers market). Usually they take off wildly, and we’re innundated.
    I also really liked the pickling cucumber Homemade Pickles this year, and will probably plant it again.
    I can never resist planting heirloom tiny yellow pear tomatoes. They tend to turn mushy, although they can be good, but they’re so pretty and wildly prolific that I just can’t help myself. Plus it’s fun to mix them with red cherry tomatoes.
    Second your vote for rainbow chard (I plant Bright Lights); it’s great, and usually lasts through the winter.
    I also love red russian kale.
    Also I really like parsley root; it’s a great winter vegetable. Plus if you don’t pull up the root, you have fresh parsley to eat.

  3. claudia

    I love chard aswell as it´s very hardy here in our cold Austrian climate. Another staple in our garden are yellow zuchinis which are a lovely, buttery tasting addition to any meal. Speaking of yellow, I grow little yellow pear shaped cherry tomatoes from seed every year aswell as hokaido pumpkins (squash) which vine accross our fence. If you´d like me to send you some of these seeds to try just let me know – kangoo1atgmx.at

  4. mss @ Zanthan Gardens (Austin)

    Your guidelines are very important to veggie gardeners. It’s strange to think that people might plant vegetables that they don’t even like to eat but it’s true. For example, I’m almost always tempted by jalapeno peppers while in fact we eat and cook with serrano peppers much more. But serrano peppers are so cheap to buy, that it’s really not worth the space in the garden and the water they use to grow them.
    I planted yellow wax beans this year. We got a couple of meals out of them before the drought hit hard. They were good but they were cheaper and just as good at the grocery store. Not so English peas. Those lovely shelling peas must be eaten almost the moment they are picked. The ones in the grocery are expensive and can’t come anywhere close to the quality of home grown ones.
    For the best cost-effectiveness and quality, I find my real garden bargains are in growing herbs: basil, parsley, cilantro, oregano, sage, and rosemary have repaid my investment many times over.
    It’s so easy to be tempted by seed packets and catalogs descriptions. So it’s nice that you provided some guidelines for sensible purchasing.
    Now to buy some more Swiss chard.
    PS–If you do end up with more of anything than you can eat, see if your local food bank or soup kitchen will take your excess. There’s even a movement to “Plant a Row for the Hungry”.

  5. stitchy1

    Green bean- I think there’s something delicious about taking our time deciding on which cultivars get to come back every year but at the same time trying new kinds of veg in the garden is one of the advantages of growing things for ourselves. There’s a world of flavors out there that never make it to the market shelves and those of us who garden have the key to the vegetable universe in the form of seeds. So I think doing both is good: learn to save the seeds of our tried and true varieties but reserve a little space every single year for trying new things. I don’t think I could live without Sungolds in my garden. I think it’s still too new of a hybrid for saving their seeds and getting reliable results but some day I would love that.

  6. stitchy1

    I want to try growing the red iceberg lettuce- that sounds so good! If I get drip irrigation put in this winter then I will try celery again but I can’t do it otherwise because I can never keep them watered enough to do well. I love celery though and would love to grow it. Since doing the local eating challenge I am out of the habit of buying celery because the only local source of it is at the Hillsdale farmer’s market. I suppose I could allow myself to buy it anyway- but I am still making my exceptions more carefully than I ever did before the challenge.
    I’ve never heard of parsley root- I must look it up and learn about it. I love growing parsley- I always have it in my garden.
    I always plant Bright Lights too. (Is there any other kind of rainbow chard out there?!)

  7. stitchy1

    Yes please! Don’t inform customs but I love sharing seeds across continents. Especially for edible foods. While I understand the risks to wildlife to share seeds of things that grow rampantly and take over where they have no environmental check- my life would be hell if it weren’t for continental seed sharing- life without tomatoes or potatoes? No way! I love hokaido squash and have never grown yellow pear tomatoes. I wonder if the kind you grow is the same as the kind my friend Nicole (above comment) grows?
    Of all the dark leafy greens available, chard will always be my favorite which is why I think I’ll keep that one going in the garden. Next step is to save its seeds!

  8. stitchy1

    You and I have agreed on the value of growing our own herbs- an incredibly worthy group of edibles to grow ourselves for a fraction of the cost to buy them. I’m on my third harvesting of my thyme plants and it’s such a relief not to have to buy it at the store where it’s madly expensive fresh and dried it pales in flavor dramatically!
    You have such a seriously harsh climate to work with- I admire all your efforts and successes and that even though the heat and drought get you down sometimes you never give up on your dirt.
    I don’t ever end up with more than I can eat because of course I like to put food up in the pantry- but you bring up such a good point about food banks: our local food bank is in constant need of donations and I want to find a way to encourage people who have orchards they can’t make good use of to collect their fruit to donate. So many local apple trees around here don’t get harvested and I see the fruit fall and rot on the ground and it’s horrible to think that all that food could be feeding the desperately hungry people in my community.
    Oh, but I could purposely plant a box for the food bank. I really like that idea!

  9. Bonnie Story

    Hello – What a wonderful blog!! My neighbor and I were off-put by the bad growing conditions here last year, so we planted extra, expecting failure – and instead got a wonderful pantry-busting season! Next year I don’t think we’ll plant as much… it was kind of silly, an embarrassment of riches. We did take lots of beautiful fresh surplus produce to the local food banks, and were thanked profusely, but the truth is that fresh produce is very seldom chosen at food banks – the clients vastly prefer canned spaghetti-o’s, boxed sugary cereal, etc to something that requires handling and cooking… It’s sad but true. Our local food banks end up passing most of the fresh garden surplus on to local chicken farmers that give the stuff to their birds. It’s not wasted, since the chickens use every bite, but it’s not quite what we had in mind when we donated. Just mentioning the other side of the coin with the food banks, around here anyway… The only crop we planted that failed totally were the Brussels Sprouts. All foliage, no sprouts and horrible aphids. I think we’ll skip it next year!

  10. stitchy1

    Bonnie- I am not surprised by what you say about the food banks, as sad as it is. I think ours do alright getting rid of their vegetable donations- but there has been talk of having free classes through the food bank on how to use fresh produce and either they already do include easy recipes for the vegetables out or they will be doing that. The Salvation Army here also has fresh produce grown by the community garden which I took part in last year. They do include simple recipes for the produce they have and manage to get the produce into the hands of quite a few hungry families. But the community garden which aimed to offer veg plots to poor families without gardens of their own found that the people they were hoping to get involved had no interest in growing their own. A huge disappointment to the people that run it.
    Thanks for the compliment on the blog! It is a project I’ve wanted to do for a long time and because I’m working hard to keep the content high quality I am adding to it more slowly than I like. I have a ton of articles and tutorials and recipes in the works though so it will keep building up in content.

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