This is sort of a vegetable review area, as well as a repository of information that people who get seeds from me can access as needed. I will be editing it and adding pictures and varieties over time.
I give away a lot of seeds. If you save seed, you’ll find that you almost always have way more than you can use. That’s awesome, because then you can give away seeds too. If more of us save seeds in our communities, then each of us has to spend less time trying to save seeds of everything ourselves. Saving seed in a community can also lead to maintaining a larger genetic pool, because can we trade for seed of varieties that we already save at home just to get some new genes or traits in the mix. Also, I’m fairly convinced (intuitively more than anything else) that gifting is part of any sustainable economy. When I say economy, dollar signs probably start flashing in your head, but I mean economy more in the old school sense of the totality of activities, interactions and resources that make up a person or family's living, and of course the overlap that has with other people and families in a broader community.
Below are all varieties that I grow personally here, and which have found a place in the the garden by way of various virtues. I've grown weary, and wary, of trialing large numbers of vegetables and now only do it one vegetable at a time, on the rare year that I do it at all. Mostly I find that it ends up being a waste of money and bed space. I think it's very important to find good varieties and that a lot of folks should expend more effort on the pursuit, but is can get expensive and complicated. It's easy to run up a good sized bill if I allow myself to be seduced by every seed catalogue and rosy description. That rose of a beet is rarely any better than Detroit Dark Red since it has already snuffed out a half dozen or more varieties before it. It is nice to have varieties that are consistent and reliable and then every once in a while I can seek to improve something I'm not happy with, or try a variety that a friend recommends. I've gone through a lot of trouble to find these guys and, while your mileage may vary, they are a good place to start if just starting out, or might be worth trying in a small plot against whatever it is that you normally grow. Let me know what has worked for you in the comments.
More about saving seeds and these super cool turkeysong original origami seed pockets soon!
Touchon Carrot: I’ve grown this variety for a long time. I settled on it after trialing maybe 7 or 8 different varieties of carrots including the usual french carrots of the Nantes and Chantenay types. It just seemed to taste better, and do so over a longer season. Here in our mild climate, we can hold carrots in the ground through the winter in a pick as needed scenario. I’ve planted these in the spring and harvested them through the following winter, and they maintain eating quality throughout. They do tend to crack if you leave them that long, but I think most carrots do. The point is more that the flesh quality is retained. They are allegedly a good storage carrot as well. I also like Shin Kuroda from Japan. It is somewhat more uniform and very tender and juicy, but also less sweet and flavorful. Touchon is a good market carrot, with acceptable uniformity, if grown out fast. With age, it tends to bulb out at the end and get bumpy. I haven’t gone out of my way to trial carrots for a while, but Touchon has never been bumped from first place. Friends I’ve given seeds to seem to like it as well. My last selection was made by harvesting the most uniform roots and tasting every one with a panel of three people to determine the best tasting, and not just the best looking. The tips were tested and the remaining carrot planted to go to seed. I was thinking about doing some breeding work with it for a somewhat sweeter and more uniform version, just so I can call it touche’ he he he...
Bronze Beauty lettuce (aka bronze arrow or bronze arrowhead): Bronze beauty lettuce delivers fine eating, good cultural traits and yes beauty! So far it seems like one of my hardier lettuces too, withstanding both heat and cold pretty well without turning to a pile of mush or bolting. It has become my main winter lettuce under cover and I’ve done well with it during the last two summers, though both were on the cool side. It is a good market lettuce too, drawing attention with it’s interesting deeply cut leaves. According to a lot of websites, it’s original name was bronze beauty, but it is more commonly known as bronze arrow, or arrowhead now. Adding cultivar names is just confusing, and usually done by a nursery or seedsman that wants to make more money. There are rules that you aren’t supposed to rename a variety, or name it initially with a trademarked name in order to secure the royalties trademark holders claim to be entitled to. As far as I know, neither name is trademarked, and we should all start using the original cultivar name, which is quite nice anyway! So, BRONZE BEAUTY gets the tiara!
Paul Robeson: is a medium to large slicing tomato. It has interesting coloring, with dark reds tending to black and a dark green top. Very pretty and very tasty. It also seems to be reasonably early and quite productive. All in all a great tomato that gets a lot of well deserved great reviews. It's also an educational tomato, since I had no idea who Paul Robeson was before I started growing it.
Green Zebra: is a novelty that goes beyond novelty. It is also a great tasting tomato. It is on the acidic side, so people who prefer a gentler sweeter tomato might not find it to their liking. Because it’s sharp, it makes a good salad tomato. When ripe, it has green stripes on a yellow background. The tomatoes are small and there are always a lot of them. I usually grow one green zebra plant.
Blue Beech paste tomato: This variety has risen to the top after trying many other paste tomatoes. I don’t actually make paste, or sauce to can, but I can a ton of whole tomatoes. Blue Beech makes a nice whole canned tomato. It peels easily, is large, which greatly reduces the work of preparing, and the vines are productive. It has very few seeds and Fedco implied that their seed producer nick named it blue bitch because it has so few seeds! The flavor is a classic tomato flavor. I’ve tried San Marzano (lame in my considerable opinion) and a good double handful of canning types, and I like this one best so far, except for maybe orange banana, but that is like comparing apples and orange bananas. It won’t surprise me if I replace this variety someday, but then again, it’s a solid performer (and a solid tomato too, with very few seeds and firm flesh) and I don’t have any compelling reason to spend more money on more seeds to try to bump it out of it’s place with another variety. At the least, it’s a good place to start if you want to can tomatoes. I wouldn’t grow it for fresh eating, though it is not bad fresh by any stretch.
Orange Banana: is a small orange canning tomato. It also makes a good snack with salt, great dried tomatoes and a tasty salad tomato. The flavor is sweet and fruity. I love it as a canned whole tomato. The juice that comes off the canned tomatoes is something to really look forward to. I’ll usually pour it off into a glass and savor it while I’m preparing dinner. The flavor of the canned tomatoes is not really tomatoey, it’s more fruity and delicious in it’s own right. If taken in poundage, the vines can’t compare in productivity with something like Blue Beech above, but they’re worth the effort as a canned tomato just because they are so delicious.
Zapotec: is a medium to large tomato of unusual form. It is pleated all the way around, so the slices look really interesting. It is pretty solid, with less juice than many tomatoes and small seed cavities. That makes it excellent for salsa and cooking. I had high hopes for it as a canned tomato, but they fell a little short on flavor when canned (edit: Actually, I'm still on the fence with this as a canned tomato. I need one more year of tests!). I like it as a slicing tomato for sandwiches and stuff, for cooking with, or just to eat with salt. The flavor is rich and tomatoey.
Italian Parsley: I think I bought this variety as Giant Italian Parsley. It is a flat leaved type with thick stems. I like the Italian parsley better than the curled type, if for no other reason than it’s easier to clean. I think it also just tastes milder and sweeter and it’s less chewy or rough or something. The stems get super sweet in the winter and make a good garden munch. I use the stems and tops a lot like one would use celery, which I don’t grow. Essential for so many winter soups and nice to have around for salsa verde. I try to head into the winter with at least 6 to 8 plants. They get messed around by frost a bit, but they always seem to pull through in the end.
Ruby Streaks Mustard (aka red streaks?): This is a beautiful mustard green. The greens are dark green and maroon, with a ferny outline. Like every other mustard green I’ve ever grown, the plants are prone to bolting, and prefer cool weather. The flowering tops make great rapini though, so that is major consolation! I’ve not been able to interest market goers in the my red mizuna rapini yet, but I still have hopes. I like them almost better than the greens when simmered quickly in heavily salted water, or briefly saute'd in butter. The greens are good stir fried, wilted in butter, and as the minority component in a salad. They are quite pungent raw, but simmer down as soon a they’re cooked. A tasty addition to the garden and always garnering a comment at the market for their beauty, though they are near impossible to keep from wilting as they are so delicate.
Hailstone radish: is an early twentieth century variety with large, white, mild, sweet roots. Since I found this variety, I’ve never gone back to the little red radishes. Hailstone’s mild, sweet, juicy roots are more similar to daikon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were bred from some Asian accession, or simply imported and introduced under an english name. Aside from having great roots, Hailstone has great tops! Most radish greens are hairy and tough. Hailstone’s greens are smooth and mild tasting. They’re great for salads, or even just garden munching. I’ve never encountered another radish with greens like this. The seedlings are robust and succulent too, so I’m sure it would make a great sprouting seed as well. It has the usual problem of going hot and pithy when stressed or old, but I’m not sure it’s any worse than the rest, and it is milder throughout than most spring radishes. I plant it in the open in late winter/early spring, or all winter under cover. I haven’t grown it in the fall, but wouldn’t doubt that it would do okay. It comes up and grows very fast. Not instant gratification, but maybe quickish gratification in the spring when the garden larder is running low. It would be a good market radish, but the white skin shows every blemish. I’m going to work on better culture to see if i can grow it out smoother and faster so it looks better. It’s an easy sell on flavor, so that makes up for cosmetics to an extent, but looks still matter a lot at market.
Burgess’ Buttercup: This is the best winter squash I’ve grown, and I’ve tried a lot of them. Every so many years I get suckered into trying some new varieties, but Burgess always takes the prize. The only comparable squash so far is Kubocha, but I think it is actually just a japanese version of the same squash, or close to it. Red Kuri can be quite good, but Burgess is better more consistently for me. It is a sweet squash with dense dry flesh. If you like a more moist squash, like butternut, don’t grow burgess. It is quite dry, requiring lubrication with a generous amount of butter (that's good ;). It makes a very rich squash pie.
Golden Summer Crookneck Squash: I like zuchini for some uses, and the other summer squash are okay I guess, but if I could only grow one summer squash, it would definitely by crookneck. Crooknecks have a rich flavor that has never been touched by any other summer squash I’ve ever grown. They don’t dry or freeze well, but they sure taste great fresh off the vine steamed and slathered in butter. I do like Zucchini sometimes and Costata Romanesca is the best I've grown.
Scallions: I thought this variety of scallions that I grow was Hardy Evergreen, but it doesn’t really match the descriptions in catalogues, and I’ve been saving the seed for so many years that I can't remember for sure. Anyway, if you get scallion seeds from me, I don’t know what they are, but they’re good! They hold over winter fine, grow fast, look nice. Market goers like them a lot. A solid performer.
Bulgarian Giant Leek: There is so much written on this blog already, that I'll keep it short. This is a tall self blanching leek. It is large in diameter and long in length. The long shaft is particularly nice because it contains no dirt until near the top. If grown over a long season with plenty of attention and continual feeding, it can get truly huge by late winter. It is also quite tasty.
Fortex Green Bean: I usually don’t have seeds of these to give away, because I use most of them for planting. However, I sometimes have enough to give some away and they are worthy of mention anyway. I have met a number of other gardeners who agree with me that Fortex kicks some serious green bean butt! It seems healthy, it’s productive, it tastes great and it stays tender to a large size. It’s truly hard to beat this bean when all things are considered. It is a long french type. I get repeat customers for these at farmer's market, but I never have even close to enough to supply demand.
Detroit Red Beet: I know, such an unsexy name for an awesome beet right? The only beet I've grown that has given Detroit real competition is Robuschka, which I will probably try again at some point. Robuschka is a rare variety in the U.S. and I unfortunately didn't save seed for it when I had it. For yellow beets, Touchstone Golden Beet is great and fast gaining much deserved popularity (available from fedco seeds). Golden Detroit is also quite good, but I'm not crazy about the shape. Anyway, Detroit Red is an excellent beet and has survived the test of time as a garden standard. It seems to be good at any size up to flowering. It gets large if allowed to grow all season, and since the quality holds well, I usually plant only one or two crops a year and just let them grow on through the winter.
Many of these are usually available through fedco seeds, hands down my favorite seed company for price, quality, and all around coolness.