Exploring Vegetable Variety!
Paper seed catalogs and seed packets are necessarily brief in their descriptions of crop varieties. I appreciate these descriptions when I need something quick and dirty, and there is a poetry to succinctly conveying the most important things about a variety in a short space. I'm surprised, though, that even with the advent of web-based seed catalogs and theoretically unlimited space, seed growers still don't provide more than a few sentences of description on the growing and eating particularities of varieties they sell. There could be a lot of reasons for this, a main one being that they simply don't know how the variety will perform in growing conditions outside their own, which are usually ideal. Unless I'm obtaining seeds of an untried variety from someone local, sources of which are few, it's a total gamble as to the performance of these varieties in my field.
While extension publications recommend some locally adapted varieties, their lists are usually just a jumping off place directing growers to tried and true standards. We need other sources that include exciting new or rediscovered varieties that small market farmers, specialty market farmers, or homesteaders growing their year-round food supply might be interested in.
I love discovering in what way a particular variety stands out (or doesn't), both in the field and the kitchen, and I share my discoveries here. One of my goals with this site is to help gardeners in the Intermountain West be more successful by sharing what works for me. Variety selection is step one.
Conditions my plants must be adapted to:
-120 day growing season (frost-to-frost, mid-May to mid-Oct)
-Hot summer days
-Cold summer nights (think desert)
-Though we irrigate, drought tolerance is always a plus (11 inches of rain a year)
-Slow release, organic sources of fertility
As an organic grower, I look for varieties that do well in these conditions and tolerate some of the main pests and diseases I deal with. To name a few:
-Scab resistant potatoes (alkaline soils, dry/wet cycles due to irrigation)
-Corn varieties with tight husks that resist corn ear worm.
-A super quick napa cabbage that can outpace earwig feeding
I focus here on both popular and rare varieties. A solid 95% of the varieties I grow are open pollinated. I do try a few hybrids though, usually in cases where I haven't found a successful OP (take the napa cabbage example above), or because the claims about the hybrid are just too appealing to ignore. This year I'm growing some hybrid charentais melons because the flavor descriptions made them sound too amazing not to try. I'll then compare them to some open pollinated varieties I'm growing.
I grow these varieties, cook with them, and sell them. I freeze, can, dry, and store them fresh. I love varieties that stand well in the field, are nutrient dense, and grow with few inputs. My hope is that this could one day turn into a forum for Intermountain farmers, gardeners, and eaters to talk varieties, so please email me about these and other varieties and lets get something started!