By Lisa Millette
How exciting it is to experience and trial new and old varieties! You may already know, but each growing year, we trial a few new varieties (to us) as well as growing out existing varieties. With new varieties, we are looking to add to our current offerings or to see if there are other varieties we think are stronger than the ones we have – we want to offer varieties we truly think are the best! With existing varieties, we grow out a crop to compare variety to variety in order to update our catalog descriptions, growing information, and again, to make sure we think a variety produces well enough and is flavorful enough to land a coveted place in our catalog.
New to us, we trialed paste tomatoes, a new slicing tomato, a sweet pepper, and three flowers. The paste tomato trials were certainly a high light of Turtle Tree’s summer. We currently offer two types of paste tomato and thought it would be nice to add some assortment to our offerings! Out of five new varieties which we tried in our gardens, we liked three enough to grow out for seed in the future years and add to our catalog, perhaps by 2018. Of course part of trialing is tasting! On a really hot, humid day this summer, we chose to stay inside and cook down paste tomatoes sans seasoning to see what they were all about. Two varieties really stood out – one for its classic tomato sauce flavor, and the other for its complex almost sweet notes on the palate. A third one made the cut with its early fruit-set, definitive umami, and deep color. Keep a look out for these varieties to be revealed as we grow them out for seed and start carrying them in the catalog in the next few years!
Not all trials are such a success. We tried three new flower varieties from Germany that we thought held promise. While some varieties travel from one location to another and grow well, others do not. Two out of three varieties did not grow well for us. This could be because of the climate and soil type here, the dry and difficult growing season, or a learning curve about the conditions in which these flowers thrive. Alas, gardening truly is an ongoing learning experience.
We also grew out the varieties of sweet corn, summer squash, and hot peppers Turtle Tree currently offers. We had yet to grow out Harmony sweet corn as it came to us for last years catalog from Chrysalis Farm in Wisconsin. We grew it with Ashworth, Rose Potpourri, as well as some older varieties that we no longer carry in the catalog. Corn can be tricky to grow, see Lia’s Article on tips for tricky crops, but it is loved so much in the village that it is still a fun crop for us. We grew out two plots, one by transplanting and one by direct seeding. While transplanting corn is an uncommon practice, it is one of the methods we use to ensure that the crows will not eat the sprouting seeds. Both methods of planting, transplanting and direct seeding, worked with all varieties and we discovered that if seeded at the same time, our three sweet corn varieties mature approximately one week apart – Ashworth followed by Rose Potpourri and then Harmony. So growing out all three varieties at once could be a way to get a succession of corn harvests without multiple plantings! And each variety has a truly stand-out feature. Ashworth is an early corn, the color and variety of Rose Potpourri takes our breath away every time we grow it out, and while Harmony takes slightly longer, the ears are a little bit larger and sweeter than the others.
It was fun to grow out all of our summer squash varieties as well! The community of Camphill was a huge part of this trial as they provided feedback and took notes on taste, appearance, texture, use, as well as storage of the squashes. And it just goes to show that we all have different preferences when it comes to food! None of the zucchini’s stood out as the absolute favorite in Camphill. The biggest revelation when growing all the varieties out to us was where each variety could be useful. So many gardeners talk about how prolific their zucchini plants are to a point that they are giving zucchinis left and right to family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and strangers walking down the street. Therefore some squashes would lend itself well for the home garden or the market grower. Costata Romanesca is an heirloom variety that regularly puts out fruit over time rather than boatloads at once and Ronde de Nice also has this quality with cylindrical fruit which it great to hollow out and stuff thus we would recommend these varieties for home gardeners. For growers looking for larger quantities and some disease resistance, Verde Chiaro D’Italia and Mutabile Dark Green are both earlier prolific producers with subtle striping on the fruit. If you are a yellow summer squash fan, the Success PM (Powdery Mildew resistant) is hard to beat. It’s smooth skin, straight fruit, and steady production makes it an easy choice over the classic yellow crookneck.