September 2009 Archives

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!

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