Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Choosing Varieties that Work in our System

Each year we trial new varieties of crops in the never-ending search for those that produce well for us. We are looking for ones that can withstand the extremes of high temperature, humidity and often low rainfall (drought) that we experience in the summer here in Georgia. Our climatic conditions can put great stress on our crops making them more susceptible to insect and disease pressures. Additionally, night temperatures in the 70's and daytime temperatures in the 90's for days on end cause plants to go into survival mode. They stop producing flowers and fruit.

We grow some hybrid varieties and some open-pollinated varieties. Many hybrids have been bred to withstand disease or insect infestations. Many open-pollinated and heirloom varieties do not have these traits although some do. We take this into consideration when making our choices. We look for varieties that have been grown successfully in our area for a long time. We want varieties that taste good and produce a good yield for a long period of time.

Here are a few examples of how we make those decisions. We will start with zucchini and squash. We stopped growing yellow squash for 2 reasons. The first is that most of the other growers at our markets grow it so we do not need to compete with them. Additionally we have not found a variety that produces well for us. Insects and diseases always take them out early. This year we decided to focus on zucchini. We planted 2 heirloom varieties from Europe. One was ronde de nice, a French variety, and the other was costata romanesco, an Italian variety. Both varieties showed good resistance to disease and insect pests. We only lost a couple of plants to the dreaded squash vine borer. The ronde de nice plants grew well, the fruit was tasty and looked good but produced very little fruit. The costata romanesco grew well and produced great tasting fruit over a long period of time. That variety also produced plentiful male blossoms which we were able to harvest and sell to a restaurant. Guess which variety we will be growing next year. The previous year we had success with an old open pollinated variety called simple long grey. We will be adding it back to the mix next year as well. Delicata is an open pollinated variety that does well for us too.
Next are tomatoes. Our main tomato variety is Big Beef, a hybrid. It consistently produces tasty, good sized fruit and is pretty resistant to the ubiquitous early blight we get every year. We also do well with Tomatoberry, another hybrid introduced by Johnnys Seed a couple of years ago. It produces strawberry sized and shaped fruit that are very tasty. It excels late in the summer when other varieties have given up. We still have one plant that is cranking out lots of fruit in November. Amana Orange is an heirloom variety that is my favorite tomato for flavor. It does not produce a lot of fruit but it is a market favorite so we can get a premium price for it all summer. This year we tried San Marzano. The plants grew strongly at first but were the first to succumb to the blight. We will be looking for another paste type variety next year, probably we will go back to Roma. We also tried Sungold II. It did terribly. Another one we like a lot is Eva Purple Ball, another heirloom variety that does well. Flavorful and crack resistant, it produces well too.
The final example is butterbean. We love them but had not devoted space for them in the past. This year we planted a short row of Violet's Multicolored. Here is the description from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange:
80-90 days [Banks County, GA, saved by 4 generations of Violet Brady Westbrook’s family.] A rainbow of colors – cream, beige, red-brown, and violet-purple, with speckles and swirls. Small seeds have great flavor, good both fresh or dried. 3-5” pods. Semi-bush plants have good disease- and drought-resistance.

They lived up to the description in every way except 1. They were not even close to being semi-bush. The vines grew to be 12' long. It was fortuitous that i did not read the description on the package again before planting so i built a tall trellis for them to grow on.
We saved the beautiful seeds for planting next year.

We grew several other crops too. Marketmore cucumbers did great for us. Provider bush green beans have done well in the past but struggled this year with the heat and drought. We have a difficult time with peppers. This season we will continue to hunt for pepper varieties that will do well for us. We will be trying new techniques to protect the eggplants from flea beetles and potato beetles.

I read a research study yesterday about the declining nutritional quality of fruits and vegetables over the last 50 years. The conclusion of the study was that hybrid varieties that were bred to produce a large yield at the expense of nutritional value was a big factor in this trend. We will be taking that into consideration when we are salivating over seed catalogs in the next month or two.

After all we are what we eat!


Anonymous said...

ok. So can I just get a list of that? lol Awesome info, thank you. Did my first southern garden last year. I am from upstate NY. Lost all Squash and pumpkins to the squash vine borer. I had some successes and quite a few failures. I have been told that here you can plant seeds in the late fall/early winter so that they "over-winter." I have tried a few and they are sprouting. I was told to mulch heavy with straw and they will go dormant, then start growing again in the spring for an early spring harvest. Have you used this method? What seeds do you plant?

Brennan said...


We have been growing a paste tomato called Super Marzano for several years and it has been a reliable producer with excellent yields. Has pretty good disease resistance as well. I believe we got our seed from Territorial.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for reporting on those trials.

For the same reason you cite early on, I've not sown any summer squash for decades. But, I will definitely set aside space in the 2011 garden for costata romanesco.

One paste type tomato you might consider is "cuor-di-bue" [oxheart]" which I received as a freebie seed packet from Baker Seed ( I'll grow it again in '11.

Consider lettuce: the only varieties I grow in the warm-hot part of the year are Sierra and Nevada. Trials conducted years ago in the Colorado high plains put them #1 and #2, as I recall, among some 30-40 varieties tested. I purchase seed from Vesey.

Good gardenin' !


duane marcus Facebook me! said...

Thanks Bill. I will try the tomato for sure. I don't grow lettuce because I do not like to eat it. I might try a little of those you recommend for market next year.

Foothill Farm said...

Duane, I have a small CSA in California. Last year we trialed the Jimmy Nardello Pepper and the Quadrato Asti Giallo - Bell. Both did great. All from SSE...however those mini-bells were a bust. The 3 color pack of eggplants from Renee's Garden far surpassed any other eggplant and I grew at least 5 other kinds. Try cheap radish seeds as a trap crop for flea beetles. The flea beetles like them better and I like eggplant better than radishes! Holly

duane marcus Facebook me! said...

Thanks for your input. I will give those peppers a shot. I will also try the radish as a trap crop for flea beetles trick.I am not a big radish fan either.
Keep on growing!