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Choosing suitable varieties
WHAT VARIETY TO GROW?
Vegetables - results of trials here on different varieties over many years
Choosing a variety that suits your needs and meets your desires can make all the difference to whether you feel rewarded for the time and effort you have given to growing vegetables.
I show a clear example below, where two varieties of celeriac have grown completely differently. Prinz (from many suppliers) is a compact plant with healthy leaves and fair sized roots. Bianco del Veneto (from Seeds of Italy) has much longer and more numerous leaves, and small, stunted roots. Rather like a celery plant whose roots have swollen unexpectedly, with much less that is edible compared to Prinz. Seeds were sown on the same day, plants of both varieties grew in the same bed.
Celeriac grown in the same bed, sown at the same time - Prinz above, Bianco de Veneto below
Seeds of Italy are an enigma because their parent company Franchi are one of the few remaining independent seed houses and offer a lot of original, unusual seeds, and with generous amounts in the packet. Also their seeds are mostly if not all open pollinated, with few expensive F1 hybrids. But some varieties are wacky, like the celeriac above. Also I grew celery 'Pascal' in 2011 which went soft-stemmed as soon as mature. Some of their beetroot Egitto has thick stems with tiny roots (some are good!) and 2011's offering of Franchi seed of my favourite chicory for radicchio hearts, 'Variegata di Lusia Tardiva' (beautiful pink and yellow hearts), is pale green - then in 2012 it was beautifully compact and pretty again! Apart from these issues (and every seed house has some) I recommend them!
The following is a sample of some striking differences I have noticed over the last decade or so.
Fabiola F1 from Tozers has grown well, as have Monica F1 and Moneymaker. One I avoid is (green-leaved) Black Beauty which takes ages to develop any fruit. Most small fruiting varieties have been prolific in fruit set but they do need picking when small, before becoming seedy and bitter.
For early sowing, Boltardy has good resistance to bolting and its flavour is excellent, see photo under swede below. White beetroot has perhaps the sweetest taste, Barbietola with the pretty pink rings is rather earthy, and yellow beetroot is mild but a little prone to fungal rots. Golden Detroit is a sweet yellow beetroot BUT in 2011 and 2012 the germination of yellow beetroot from three companies (Tuckers, Medwyns and Mr Fothergills) was about 20%, with rather feeble seedlings. Cheltenham Green Top is a good longer beetroot to sow in June for winter use and its roots are notably sweet.
I always enjoy Aquadulce Claudia from overwintered and early spring sowings, for its steady growth and fine flavoured beans which grow large before eventually becoming dense and mealyy. Violetta from T&M, in two consecutive years, produced green rather than purple beans, a disappointment which they failed to address.
Cupidon is a high yielding dwarf bean with lovely long, thin fruit. Sonesta is still my favourite yellow bean, fast into cropping but mostly finished in five to six weeks. I know of no reliable tall yellow beans but Westlandse green climbing bean (Stormy Hall) has done well and has an especially sweet flavour, Fortex from Really Cool Seeds is long and Cobra is a reliable new variety of climbing green bean: in the cool summer of 2012 it cropped from late June to September in a polytunnel, and from August to September outdoors.
F1 hybrids tend to grow the tightest buttons and of good quality - try Bosworth, Montgomery, Trafalgar and Doric. I grow Noisette (non-hybrid) for a steady supply through the winter season: its sprouts are of variable size and tightness, and of good flavour. Sanda from Real Seeds is performing well but other open pollinated varieties such as Bedford Fillbasket are more variable, often with many blown buttons, from poor breeding selection.
For large, tight heads try F1 hybrids such as Sukaru, Belstar and Marathon. More stemmy, smaller heads over a long period come from Apollo F1. Later harvests of smaller shoots are given by open pollinated varieties such as Green Sprouting.
I am wary of caterpillars in hearting autumn cabbage but using mesh over early-July plantings, for nine weeks, made it possible to have some good hearts and in 2011 both Piacenza and Quintal d'Alsace from Real Seeds have grown well. Filderkraut from Mr Fothergills makes large, pointed hearts which are tender and delicious in coleslaw: in November 2011 I harvested hearts of 5-6kg (24 inch spacing) and they were so sweet, but 2012 hearts were only 1kg because I planted them too late (10th July) in a cool summer. Sow autumn cabbage for hearting in mid May for planting by mid June. For spring cabbage sown late August, all varieties I have grown have performed well.
Piacenza cabbage, Cavolo Nero kale
Early Nantes types are useful all season long and generally of good flavour, especially in lively soil. But in 2012 the Early Nantes from EW King was poor compared with Real Seeds' excellent roots bearing the same name! Berlicum or Autumn King are best for keeping, but be wary of special ‘rainbow mixes’ which may contain a lot of yellow carrots (average flavour I find) and/or very few seeds. I have had a fair amount of root fly damage to varieties such as Resistafly. Purple Haze F1 grows lovely long roots of good flavour.
See above, most varieties on offer are good except for Bianca da Veneto.
Wonderful yields are possible over a long season when soil is fertile. Rainbow chard gives a nice range of coloured stems and all the leaves are similarly dark green. White stemmed chard is the most reliable and less inclined to bolt than ruby chard, which is best sown later, in May and then until July.
Many F1 hybrids are relatively compact and productive, such as Defender, Early Gem (excellent in 2012) and Patriot which has smooth stems, while older varieties are often more sprawling and unpredictable. Striata d’Italia and Fiorentino, both from Seeds of Italy, have grown well in a sprawling way, but the latter has spiny stems which prick when picking fruit.
For indoor cucumbers, Passandra F1 and Melen F1 are extremely productive of small fruit, Femspot F1 is reliable for long fruit - and sow those expensive seeds carefully! (in heat and not before about the middle of April)
Be wary of sowing too early, there is little resistance to bolting when days are lengthening. Many varieties do well from sowing June and early July and Zefa Fino F1 has been reliable for me.
Often easier to grow than cabbage, more hardy and with many interesting varieties, too many to name here. I suggest you buy a few different seed packets, maybe shared with friends, to grow a few of each - red or green, tall or short, curly or flat leaved. The latter such as Sutherland and Red Russian are more tender as salad leaves. Cavolo Nero has perhaps the most tasty leaves for cooking but yield is quite low after the stalks are removed; I find that its best season of harvest is autumn rather than winter. Redbor F1 has gorgeous colour and is decorative to grow, while Daubenton perennial is just brilliant if you can find someone growing a plant who will offer a stem for making a new plant.
There is a huge choice and I recommend growing at least two varieties, one for before Christmas and one for after, as the faster growing early ones - sown by early April to have large harvests - are more likely to suffer in hard frost. My favourites are King Richard and Swiss Giant for large early autumn leeks, Autumn Mammoth types for late autumn and into winter. For later cropping until April I suggest Bandit for best yield; Musselburgh is hardy but sometimes of shorter stem and its quality varies. The increasing damage caused by leek moth means that early sowing is even more worthwhile: in both 201 and 2012 1 I harvested damaged, but enormous leeks from module sowing in late March in the greenhouse, with just a few bolters but so many good leeks that even after trimming the damage from caterpillars, there is plenty to eat.
Autumn Mammoth 27.10.11
Many shops, nurseries and catalogues offer a disappointingly limited range of the usual salad bowl, iceberg, lollos and butterheads. Have a look in Organic Catalogue, Real Seeds, Tuckers, Seeds of Italy, Mr Fothergills et al for varieties such as Amorina, Bergamo, Chartwell, Freckles, Grenoble Red, Maravilla di Varano, Mottistone and Rosemoor which all have beautifully different shaped leaves, colours and tastes. For picking as leaves, see Harvesting Tips. Heritage varieties are worth a try but, to date, I have found some of them lacking in vigour and longevity.
See other posts on this huge topic, suffice to say here that for spring sowing I recommend lettuce, spinach, peas for shoots, broad leaved sorrel, tree spinach and herbs such as dill. Then for summer sowing (autumn leaves) try endives, lettuce, chicory, orientals (early August is an excellent time for sowing oriental leaves and salad rocket). For late summer sowing (from August to early September outdoors) try lambs lettuce, land cress, endive, chicory, orientals and chervil.
Try Toscane F1 for an extraordinarily long season of picking, with wonderfully large and dark green leaves. Best sown before mid April and again from mid July.
There is not a lot of difference between many varieties I have grown, and here is Joan in October 2011:
Swede Joan, beetroot Boltardy
I have been impressed year after year by Sweet Nugget F1, whose cobs are consistently sweet, fat and dense, more so than any non hybrid I have grown.
SQUASH, WINTER (not pumpkin!)
Read the small print to know if you are buying a trailer or a compact plant. Blue Ballet is compact and has good flavour, Butternut trails a lot and is often late maturing, difficult in cool summers, while orange-fruiting ones such as Red Kuri, Sunspot, Solor and Orange Hokkaido mature early and reliably, with excellent firm flesh and sweet flavour.
Beefsteak - stunted, often loses leader, highly susceptible to blight BUT excellent fruit in a hot summer
Country Taste F1 is my favourite beef tomato, early to fruit and of good flavour, tolerates an average summer
Gardeners Delight, cherry red of good flavour, susceptible to blight
Lido F1, round, red, large, shiny, of fair flavour and firm flesh, susceptible to blight
Rosada F1, plum, red, small, shiny bright red and exeptionally sweet, fair yield, tall growing, excellent
Sakura F1, cherry red of medium size, pleasantly sweet and with excellent flavour, good vigour, average blight resistance
Sungold F1, orange cherry of great flavour but prone to splitting and to blight, vigorous and early, makes a tall plant so it needs room to grow
Sweet Million grows large trusses of red, cherry fruit, susceptible to blight
Velocity F1, round, matt-red, very large, high yielding, grows keenly, some susceptibility to blight
Fruit - ongoing assessments, mostly of apples on 35 varieties planted in last ten years. In terms of disease resistance I am mostly concerned to find scab resistance. Flavour and crispness of fruit is equally important! Check for local varieties which should be adapted to your weather, and see if you can find some to taste before committing to planting a tree, because it is such a long term commitment.
My three long established favourites are Sunset for eaters October-December, small and sweet, Ribston Pippin for russeted fruits of great taste and density which gives it longevity over crispness, and Kidds Orange Red for exquisite flavoured fruit which may keep until February.
2011 apples: Red Windsor and Cevaal were excellent in Sep-Oct, gorgeous colour and healthy. Pinova and Topaaz grew well and their fruits stored well into December. For later eating, Ashmeads Kernel is good but it had bitter pit this year. Court Pendu Plat keeps well through winter.
2012 apples: two trees stood out for cropping heavily in a season when April and May rain kept the insects away at pollinating time: Jupiter for large, red eaters until Christmas, and Bountiful for large, green cookers from September, which turn yellow and become sweet in December. Both resist scab and Bountiful is espeially clean, and high yielding.