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Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Experts' Favorite Vegetable Varieties

by Lynn Ocone

'Sunburst' summer squash

When I was asked to come up with a list of the best varieties of favorite vegetables, I turned to the most knowledgeable vegetable gardeners there are; the hands-on owners or founders of five national seed companies. To help account for regional differences, each one is located in a different part of the country.

All five are passionate organic gardeners who grow and compare new and old varieties in their own gardens every season. Who better, I reasoned, to guide me -- sure, their choices also show up in their catalogs. But that's because they sell what they believe is best.

I asked each one a simple question; What are your favorite varieties of each of these top 10 vegetables? Highlights of my interviews follow.

Shepherd Ogden

Located in the middle of USDA zones 3 and 4, Ogden gardens with a 90- to 100-day growing season.

Tomato: The superb flavor and radiant beauty of 'Big Rainbow' puts this heirloom slicer at the top of his list. "The flavor is rich without being too acid," he stated. The two-pound fruits are gorgeous as they ripen, banded in green, yellow, and red. Mature fruits are gold on the stem end and red on the blossom end. Flesh is marked with red streaks. Ogden plants in raised beds, stakes and prunes to a single stem to hasten maturity.

Sweet Pepper: 'Sweet Chocolate' is Ogden's favorite for its cold tolerance and because it flavors up sweet before fully mature. To maximize yield, Ogden recommends plucking flowers and fruits off seedlings before transplanting.

Beans: Ogden's top performer is 'Kwintus'. "It's the first bean in our garden to ripen, and the plants kick out beans all season long," he said. The pods of this pole bean are long and flat, and they stay tender and flavorful even when large.

Cucumber: The "clear, mild flavor" of lemon cucumber brings it to the top of Ogden's list, even though it lacks the disease resistance of newer hybrids. Ogden snacks on the round fruits when they are golf ball size. Plants are extremely prolific.

Onion: 'Walla Walla Sweet' is top choice because "it's big and sweet." Ogden plants onion plugs in the garden mid-April and harvests 2-pound onions late July or early August.

Lettuce: 'Diamond Gem', a miniature romaine, is the clear favorite. Ogden harvests entire heads for individual salads, and reports the firm, crunchy leaves are excellent in sandwiches. Plants are trouble free and bolt resistant.

Carrot: 'Touchon', a French Nantes type, grows to 8 inches. "It tastes good fresh and it stores well, which is important here because we have such a long winter."

Radish: 'Easter Egg Mix' is favored because a single planting produces a bouquet of colorful roots: red, white, lavender, pink, and violet. He gets excellent results from mixing radish and carrot seeds in the same row.

Squash: Ogden combines his three favorite varieties in the garden and in recipes: 'Sunburst' (golden yellow patty pan), 'Scallopini' (dark green patty pan), and 'Ronde de Nice' (round green zucchini). He picks summer squash young, with flowers still attached.

Peas: The heirloom shelling pea 'Lincoln' is the best tasting, according to Ogden, although it is only a decent producer and isn't as disease resistant as some newer varieties. For a fall crop, Ogden plants the bush shelling pea 'Novella' on July 4th. It offers both good flavor and high yields. "Three rows planted side by side support each other and are easier to cover if frost threatens," he explained. 'Carouby de Maussane' is his favorite edible pod peas. "It's incredibly beautiful with lilac flowers." He harvests it just as the peas begin to swell in the pods.

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