Top Ten Veggies

By Charlie Nardozzi

Do you remember what new vegetable garden varieties you were growing in 1988? The most popular variety from our trial was 'Sweet Treat' yellow supersweet corn. It's still available. Of the approximately 150 varieties we've tested in 10 years, 85 percent are still available to home gardeners. They include 'Rosalita' red romaine, a showy, productive, and widely adapted lettuce that scored highest in our 1990 test; 'Viva Italia' tomato, a great-tasting (fresh or cooked) paste tomato that was the second most popular vegetable in 1992; 'Senorita' pepper, one of the mildest and largest jalapenos, a 1996 winner; and All-America Selections winners such as 'Big Beef' tomato, which gained our highest rating ever: 93 percent of the 1994 testers said they'd buy it.

The New and Delicious

This year's new test varieties are no slouches, either. Colorful and flavorful greens are three of the top five picks for 1998. Also, the trend toward compact varieties continues with a short pea, a dwarf tomato, and a compact vine pumpkin in our top 10 varieties.

Our grading system for evaluating a test variety is based on three scores. The Test score" is the rating, on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), that testers gave to each variety. "Testers who would plant it again" is the percentage of testers who would buy the variety in 1998. "NG score" is those two numbers multiplied together to give a score that we feel reflects the variety's overall performance.

  1. 'Sugar Lace' Snap Pea NG score: 6.8. Test score: 8.3. Testers who would plant it again: 82%. Days to maturity: 68.

  2. Testers loved this stringless snap pea. Its abundant tendrils on the semileafless, compact, 2-foot-tall plants make it self-supporting. The pods formed at the tips of the branches, making them easy to harvest. Like other snap peas, the flavor was crisp and sweet. The plant produced for a shorter period of time compared to 'Sugar Snap', but was rated better than the most similar snap pea variety, 'Sugar Ann'. It also tolerates powdery mildew and pea enation, a virus.

  3. 'Esmeralda' Lettuce NG score: 6.4. Test score: 8.0. Testers who would plant it again: 80%. Days to maturity: 50.
    Testers reported that this large, butterhead-type lettuce was slow to bolt and produced buttery leaves with melt-in-your-mouth texture. The lime green color received mixed reviews, and this lettuce proved less heat-tolerant than its comparison, 'Buttercrunch'.

  4. 'Bright Lights' Swiss Chard NG score: 6.3. Test score: 8.0. Testers who would plant it again: 79%. Days to maturity: 55.
    This All-America Selections winner is actually a mix of many different-colored Swiss chards. The colors and vigor of this hybrid had testers raving. The rib colors include bright yellow, orange, pale pink, white, purple, and ruby red. Not only was it "drop-dead gorgeous," as one tester put it, but the ribs kept their color when cooked, and the plant produced larger, fuller leaves longer into the season than comparable chard varieties. The flavor is milder than that of ordinary chard, and this variety has colorful potential for ornamental plantings.

  5. 'Classica' Tomato NG score: 6.1. Test score: 7.7. Testers who would plant it again: 79%. Days to maturity: 75t.

  6. This red, pear-shaped hybrid produced a compact, bushy plant with large, firm-walled fruits that held well on the plant. Testers liked this variety for canning, drying, and sauce-making. 'Classica' produced fruits longer into the season, and they had better flavor and texture than standard paste tomatoes.

  7. 'Red Ursa' Kale NG score: 6.0. Test score: 8.3. Testers who would plant it again: 73%. Days to maturity: 59.

  8. I like to grow and eat kale, but I never it had a wide appeal until I saw how well 'Red Ursa' did in our tests. NG's testers loved this red, ruffled beauty," as one grower called it, for its tall, vigorous growth that was "chin-high" in some gardens. The leaves remained tender even when large and grew back quickly after a number of cuttings. 'Red Ursa' is a cross between 'Red Russian' and 'Siberian' and tolerates winter temperatures down to 10oF. It was a little slower to grow than 'Red Russian'.

  9. 'Long Face' Pumpkin NG score: 5.7. Test score: 7.9. Testers who would plant it again: 72%. Days to maturity: 95.

  10. Although the vines were compact, and some testers even grew this variety in containers, the pumpkins produced a good harvest of large, oblong orange fruits. The flavor and production were ordinary, and similar to those of 'Connecticut Field', its comparison variety, but 'Long Face' was much better for carving jack-o'-lanterns.

  11. 'Sweet Tangerine' Tomato NG score: 5.5. Test score: 7.7. Testers who would plant it again: 72%. Days to maturity: 70t.

  12. If you've been looking for a yellow or gold tomato with the full taste of a red one, try 'Sweet Tangerine'. Testers considered this hybrid's color, shape, and flavor a big improvement over other full-sized nonred varieties such as 'Lemon Boy'. The flavor was sweet, mild, and zesty, and the plants consistently outproduced other varieties.

  13. 'Container Choice' Tomato NG score: 5.4. Test score: 7.5. Testers who would plant it again: 73%. Days to maturity: 69t.

  14. 'Container Choice' produced good harvests of ordinary-sized fruits on dwarf, indeterminate plants. Testers liked this hybrid's compactness, abundant foliage, and early ripening, and its production of 8-ounce red fruits. However, many testers said the flavor was average and that production ended sooner than 'Bush Big Boy'.

  15. 'Turino' Sweet Pepper NG score: 5.4. Test score: 7.2. Testers who would plant it again: 76%.Days to maturity: 68t.

  16. This hybrid bucks the "smaller is better" trend in vegetables. The tall plants are more vigorous growers than the comparison, 'Sweet Banana'. They produce 8-inch-long, thick-walled, meaty peppers. However, some testers reported inconsistent fruit sizes from plant to plant.

  17. 'Ganti' Tomato NG score: 5.4. Test score: 7.1. Testers who would plant it again: 77%. Days to maturity: 90t.

  18. This vigorous determinate variety produced large, junglelike plants. 'Ganti' was larger, juicier, and more flavorful than 'Oregon Spring', its comparison. Testers didn't like the short production season, however.

    Charlie Nardozzi is a senior horticulturist at National Gardening.

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