Sunny Slope Orchard

Sunny Slope Orchard
In the coast range foothills overlooking the Sacramento Valley

Monday, October 10, 2011

Some favorite vegetable varieties

A lot goes into successful gardening, like fertile soil, kind weather, watering method, and pest control. One of the most important factors is expressed in the old saying, "the best fertilizer is the gardener's footprints," in other words, watch the garden closely and you will catch small problems before they become big.

Plant varieties are also important, and with so many available it pays to experiment to find those that are best suited to your soil and climate. Here I will list a few of our favorites, those that consistently do well in our well drained soil, hot summers and mild winters. I will also share some of our favorite sources of seed and starts.
There are loads of great slicing toms, but for a good meaty sauce, salsa, soup and salad tomato we are sold on Juliet. These little guys are the sweetest things this side of Sungold, and bear nice clusters of perfect fruit all summer long. A perfect size to pop into your mouth, people invariably exclaim about their flavor. And since we process loads of soup and sauce, these are fast to process just by dropping whole into our Champion Juicer. We get starts locally from Morningsun Herb Farm.

Green beans
We've decided the only bean for us is a long bean variety. This one is called Red-Seeded Asparagus Bean from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They are stringless, have great flavor, and are resistant to pests and problems. Best of all we find they are much faster to pick and to process than the same weight of shorter beans. We freeze extra for winter meals, and it takes no time at all to drop a big handful into boiling water, fish them out 2 minutes later with tongs, drop into ice water, then lay a bunch across a cutting board and cut into 1" pieces.

Okra blossom
This is the first year we've grown okra, so can't recommend a particular variety. But we can recommend it as a reliable and very heavy producer. While okra might sound like something you serve alongside squirrel or possum, it is actually a delicious and versatile vegetable that is easy to grow and, at least in our experience, has few pest problems. We preserved a lot by freezing. We grew Clemson this year, and may try one of the red varieties next season. The blooms are also spectacular.

Tree Collard
This unusual plant has become a mainstay in our garden. Being big fans of greens, we used to grow your typical varieties of kale and collards, annual cool season plants that live one season and die. But a few years ago a neighbor gave us a start of a tree collard, a perennial variety that becomes a tall bush that can be harvested continuously year after year. The plant looks ratty and flavor gets bitter in our hot summers, but when cool weather returns we can once again harvest from our perpetual fountain of greens without having to start new plants. They are reported to be only possible to propagate from seed, however ours flowered and seedlings sprouted where the seeds fell. Bountiful Gardens is one source of cuttings.

Probably our favorite vegetable, we've settled on Arcadia as the variety that does best for us. It produces huge heads, then after harvest continues to produce good sized side heads for weeks longer. This year we did a late spring planting and kept it under shade cloth. Here in October we are still harvesting side shoots from those plants. Meanwhile our mid-summer plantings are growing vigorously and should be ready to start harvesting in a few weeks.

Known as Romanesco broccoli or Romanesco cauliflower, this unique plant is a must have for its looks alone. Someone once said it looks like a combination of geometry and vegetable. But in addition to its amazing decorative value, the taste is delicious and mild. This particular variety is Veronica.

There are lots of great lettuce varieties, and we often buy seed packets of mixes containing different colors and leaf shapes that really add interest to a salad. The one pictured here is Sanguine Ameliore from Baker Creek.

We are having great luck with a Chinese Napa cabbage variety called Minuet. It is really fast growing and mild flavored. We've had delicious results in stir fries, soups, stews and raw in a simple to make Napa cabbage salad (but we skip the butter and all the sugar in this recipe).

Nelson has been the best performer for us, with wonderful flavor, early maturity and heat tolerance. In fact, starting in late winter we have been eating garden carrots continuously all summer. Because carrot seeds are so small and hard to sprinkle on the ground with even spacing, I like to buy "pelleted" seeds, which are coated with a clay substance to make them bigger and easier to drop singly into the ground.

We always do one special Spring planting of around 500 carrots that we run through the juicer for freezing. And when digging so many carrots there are always a few unusual shapes. So I can't resist showing off this amorous pair discovered during our last big dig.

Sources for onions, garlic, and potatoes
We have had great luck with onion starts from Dixondale Farms. Order online in the Fall and they arrive in January ready to plant. For garlic and potatoes, I use The Potato Garden which has great varieties and service.

Happy gardening!

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