As this gardening season is winding down we need to turn our thoughts to next year's garden. Knowledge and good planning are the foundation of a successful garden. Choosing vegetable varieties is a very important factor in determining the success of your garden. Your hard work and good intentions will not be justly rewarded if you plant the wrong vegetable in the wrong place at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. Here are some things to consider when choosing vegetable varieties.
Flavor: When choosing a vegetable variety flavor is one of my primary concerns. Flavor depends on variety selection and growing methods. Our customers were willing to pay more for our produce because of superior flavor, texture and keeping qualities. We were often told our products were the best they had purchased.
Nutritional Content: We are often told that more color in the diet equals more nutrition. Eat the rainbow some have said. For this reason I choose to grow yellow and multicolored corn instead of white, blue and yellow potatoes instead of white, and orange and blue sweet potatoes rather than just the orange varieties. As for tomatoes, the main variety I grow for home use is called Health Kick. It contains more lycopene than other varieties. You get the idea. When reading seed catalogs be alert to statements made concerning nutritional content.
Productivity: Some varieties are much more prolific than others. Generally speaking hybrid varieties tend to produce more than heirlooms. You should also consider how a specific variety may grow in your environmental conditions - length of growing season, soil texture, temperature extremes and amount of rainfall.
Pest and Disease Resistance: Many varieties have been bred for resistance to certain types of diseases. For instance Big Beef Tomato has the following letters beside the name in the seed catalog, VFFNTASt, meaning it is resistant to Verticillium Wilt, Fusarium Wilt: races 1 and 2, Nematodes, Tobacco Mosaic Virus, Alternaria, and Stemphylium. I try to choose the most disease resistant varieties that have other qualities that I am looking for. Also some varieties resist pest better than others. One example is Neck Pumpkins. Most pumpkins have a hollow stem at ground level that vine borers like to enter which kills the plant. The Neck Pumpkin has a solid stem that resists vine borers.
Space Requirements: If your space is limited you can find seed for vegetables with compact growth. You may also consider growing pole beans and cucumbers on a trellis. You can also find varieties that grow well in containers.
Drought, Heat and Cold Tolerance: By reading seed catalogs carefully you can find the varieties best suited for your climate.
Length of Time to Harvest: Gardeners in northern areas have a shorter growing season than those in the southern regions. Consider the length of time until harvest when choosing your vegetable varieties.
I would encourage you, if at all possible, to grow your own transplants. By doing so you have much more choice in what varieties you plant in your garden. Study the seed catalogs, they are a wealth of information, then choose what works best for you in your situation.
From choosing the seed to harvesting, gardening is not a one size fits all application. There are a variety of ways to grow a successful garden. I suggest that you learn tips and techniques from a number of experienced gardeners, then choose the techniques that work best in your situation. The winter months would be a good time to read some of the great gardening books that are available. In his book, Four Season Harvest, Eliot Coleman teaches how we can grow food year round. Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening is a valuable resource for beginners as well as skilled gardeners. Eileen M. Logan's book, How to Grow Organic Vegetables in Containers, can be very useful for those of you who have limited space. I encourage you to read, learn, plant, grow and enjoy!