Over the last 100 years, the reasons gardeners grow edible crops have changed. What was once a need to grow for survival has become a desire to grow vegetables, herbs, and fruits for their superior quality and flavor. To grow the best edible garden requires advance planning, and that's where we come in. Not only have we combed seed companies' lists of new vegetables, herbs, and fruits to select promising new introductions, but last summer our crack team of 220 testers evaluated many of these vegetable varieties in their home gardens. We highlight the new stars below.
Every year, National Gardening enlists the services of gardeners across the country to grow new varieties of vegetables a year before they are released to the public. Our testers are experienced vegetable gardeners; many are Master Gardeners. We asked them to test 25 new introductions--from colorful lettuces to heirloom beans--against their favorites. The results are summarized here.
To determine the best varieties, we asked two key questions: How did overall performance (production, vigor, and taste) compare to an established variety on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high)? Would they plant the variety next year (percentage saying yes)? Multiplying these two numbers produced the NG score, which we used to rank all the varieties from most to least favorite.
Here are the top 10 from our test. A "t" after days to maturity is the number of days from transplant to first harvest; no "t" indicates days from seeding to harvest. "AAS" refers to winners in the All-America Selections program, a commercial program that tests new vegetable and flower varieties each year at trial grounds across the country.
1. 'Outredgeous' lettuce
NG score: 7.3; Test score: 8.3; Plant it again? 88%; Days to maturity: 28 as baby greens, 57 to full heads
This deep red romaine was unique in showing its outstanding color early, making it great as baby greens for mixed salads. Young or old, the leaves were tender and tasty, withstood hot weather, and as one tester said, "were pretty as a flower."
2. 'SunSugar' hybrid cherry tomato
NG score: 7.2; Test score: 8.8; Plant it again? 82%; Days to maturity: 62t days
Vigorous indeterminate plants produced lots of 1/2-ounce golden fruits with a very sweet flavor. If you like 'Sungold', you'll love the very similar 'SunSugar', since it is more crack resistant.
3. 'Sure Thing' hybrid zucchini
NG score: 6.62; Test score: 8.0; Plant it again? 82%; Days to maturity: 50
Who needs another zucchini variety? If zucchini in your garden doesn't set fruit well or sets it late when squash vine borers are active, try 'Sure Thing'. It is parthenocarpic (sets fruit without pollination), so testers found it set seedless fruits a week or two earlier than other varieties, allowing many gardeners to harvest before the borers struck. The compact plants are also great in small-space gardens.
4. 'Ithaca' carrot
NG score: 6.08; Test score: 7.8; Plant it again? 78%; Days to maturity: 65
This is one hardy carrot. It grew well under adverse conditions such as drought, had a strong germination rate, and produced long, smooth roots that were sweet even when picked young, before the full flavor normally developed.
5. 'Blushing Beauty' hybrid pepper
NG score: 6.00; Test score: 7.9; Plant it again? 76% Days to maturity: 75t
Bush plants of this AAS winner produce beautiful pink fruits that turn red when ripe. They are thick-walled, juicy, and mild-tasting. However, fruits were smaller than on common varieties such as 'California Wonder', and in cold areas they were slow to turn red.
6. 'Nantindo' hybrid carrot
NG score: 5.6; Test score: 8.05; Plant it again? 70%; Days to maturity: 68
This Nantes-type carrot had 7-inch-long smooth, straight roots that germinated and grew well. However many testers found nothing unusual or unique about this variety.
7. 'French Rose' hybrid tomato
NG score: 5.33; Test score: 7.5; Plant it again? 71%; Days to maturity: 67t
This early-maturing, disease-resistant, and indeterminate plant produced pink fruits that have full-bodied flavor with a good balance of sweet and acid tastes. Many testers found this one more productive than the comparison 'Brandywine'.
8. 'Sugar Sprint' snap pea
NG score: 5.32; Test score: 7.6; Plant it again? 70%; Days to maturity: 62
This bushy 2-foot-tall snap pea grew vigorously, resisted powdery mildew, and produced high yields of sweet, stringless peas. Testers found it very similar to 'Sugar Ann'.
9. 'Saber' hybrid pepper
NG score: 5.10; test score: 7.7; Plant it again? 66%; Days to maturity: 67t
This bushy plant produced huge yields of 4-inch-long mild-flavored jalapeno peppers, so much so that one tester called it "a jalapeno on steroids."
10. 'Serendipity' hybrid sweet corn
NG score: 4.85; Test score: 7.7; Plant it again? 63%; Days to maturity: 82
This bicolor corn has the growth qualities of a sugary enhanced (se) variety, with added sweetness because 25 percent of the kernels are supersweet (sh2). Testers liked the long-lasting flavor and large, well-filled ears.
Charlie Nardozzi is senior horticulturist at National Gardening.