2010 was a great year in my vegetable garden, and the third year in a row that I have managed my garden with almost no irrigation, not even bothering to set up my sprinkler on a timer. But, unlike in 2008 and 2009, it wasn't raining buckets. 2010 was wet when it was supposed to be–in spring–and dry when it was supposed to be–in July and August, when everything was ripening.
So, many of my $1.50 investments in vegetable seeds proved extremely rewarding. Here is my annual roundup of the best of those purchases:
- L'agretto. It is not at all clear what this vegetable, which I ordered from Seeds from Italy, even is. It looks more like a white pine seedling than your normal table green. It forms hairlike clumps of succulent leaves with woody stems. The Oxford Companion to Italian Food says agretti are the greens of salsify–but then unhelpfully adds that other greens, too, are called agretti in Italy. Some British bloggers refer to it as an entirely different plant, glasswort, that grows near the sea. It certainly looks just like this edible native glasswort, Salicornia virginica. Plus, l'agretto germinates poorly, and not just in my garden, but in my friend Martha's garden and in this Brit blogger's garden. Why bother? It's delicious, delicious, delicious, and retains a texture like a Japanese seaweed salad even when sauteed.
- 'Poona Kheera' cucumbers: An Indian heirloom variety, it is not bothered by the stuff that bothers many cucumbers in my part of the world, namely, cold rains that provoke mildew and sulking. In 2010, it was by far the most prolific cucumber in my garden, generating so many lemon-yellow cucumbers that I was forced to take up pickling. It has a nice lemony flavor, too. When ripe, it turns a matt brown color like a potato and is willing to sit on a countertop without refrigeration for at least a week without going bad, thanks to that tough, dry skin.
- 'Keuka Gold' potatoes: Developed at Cornell, these have been touted as a 'Yukon Gold' replacement. 'Yukon Gold' is a super-delicious potato with yellow flesh that is also very early, which is important! I stick my seed potatoes in the ground in late April and then spend the next two months in a state of fuming impatience for my tubers. What's the problem with 'Yukon Gold'? It doesn't yield a lot of potatoes. 'Keuka',on the other hand, is a good-tasting yellow potato that doesn't disappoint when you yank its dying stem and start digging around for buried treasure. It's not as early as 'Yukon Gold', but I'll be planting it again.
- Fedco's Broccoli Blend: I always considered broccoli a pain in the neck, in that it always matured all at once, and just at the wrong moment–in the wilting weather of late July or early August, when the cabbage moths were at their worst, and when the extreme heat made it flower quickly and stink up the garden with an unpleasant cabbage smell. But then in 2010, I tried direct-seeding my broccoli in early June rather than buying seedlings on Memorial Day, as I usually do. Direct seeding convinced the broccoli to head up a little later, more towards the cool weather. And I used this mix of varieties from Fedco, which staggered the harvest for me. A total success.
- Cowpeas: Until inspired in 2010 by the nice selection of cowpea varieties at Baker Creek, I never tried this legume before. It's a do-nothing vegetable: I just stuck the seeds into the soil next to my fence, let them vine their way around and through it, and then picked the strange, long, erect, paired pods when they turned brown. Cooked with ham or bacon, cowpeas are creamy and delicious.
- 'Piatta di Bergamo' onions: I've always started leeks from seed because it's impossible to find seedlings in the nurseries around here. They're easy: I just sprinkle seeds on a flat very early–late February or early March–and then plant out the hair-like things in May. (Actually, I try to bribe a child into planting them, a fussy repetitive task that threatens my sanity.) Onions, I've always started from sets of tiny bulbs I grabbed at the Agway. But the Agway stopped carrying sets, so I idly ordered some seed from Seeds from Italy. I started and planted them just like the leeks. God, I love the garden for these revelations! My onions grew even better from seed than from bulbs. They were delicious, delicious, delicious, especially the red ones! So much more delicious than whatever industrial variety the Agway used to sell. I've never really cooked with red onions before, but because I grew so many, wound up sauteeing some. Fantastic, sweet, amazing.
In addition to the successful experiments of 2010–Doctor, the patient lives!–the stars included many of my old favorite varieties that I've written about ad nauseum, spectacular in every year: "Jarrahdale' pumpkins, 'Pineapple' tomatoes, 'Benning's Green Tint' patty pan squashes, 'Blue Coco' pole beans, 'True Red Cranberry' beans for drying, 'Rapa di Milano Colletto Viola' turnips.
Of course, I have to end with a disclaimer: Just because a vegetable variety did brilliantly in my boggy Zone 4 garden with the ridiculously fertile soil in 2010 does not guarantee it will do brilliantly in yours in 2011.
Of course, it doesn't mean it won't. Sometimes, a great variety (see 'Jarrahdale' and 'Pineapple' above) is just great.