When choosing vegetable varieties for a small space garden, identifying varieties that will live, in your garden’s soil and local climate, to produce good food, is essential. You can read Part 1, the previous post, to learn one way to find reliable crop varieties to grow. This post, Part 2, offers another, less formal way.
Simple project that identified reliable heirloom varieties for my area
A couple of years ago, a friend — Electa — and I discovered that, between us, we had
grown more than 300 vegetable varieties, in Georgia, listed in Baker Creek’s 2017 Whole Seed Catalog. This wasn’t a truly random discovery. We were going through the vegetable section of the catalog together, page by page, noting which varieties we had grown and how those varieties did in our gardens, as part of another project.
How does this help you? We created a list, with some notes, of all the Baker Creek varieties either Electa or I had grown (or tried to grow). If your garden is in the Southeastern U.S., planting zone 7b or 8, then plants that did well for us may be ones you want to try.
If you live in a very different climate/soil zone, you might want to try creating a similar list with gardening friends near you.
A short version of the list is included below (keep reading, it’s down there).
Heirloom varieties may be desirable, but disease resistance is unknown
Many organic gardeners are drawn to heirloom varieties of vegetable crops. These varieties have been saved by individuals and families, because of flavor (usually) or because they freeze well, or are good for canning or for drying, or because they are an essential ingredient in a beloved recipe. Heirloom varieties provide the base for a lot of good food. However, there is a downside to heirloom varieties.
Varieties that were developed in university research programs usually have been tested for disease resistance. Heirloom varieties haven’t.
To find out which varieties will grow and produce well, gardeners either have to rely on trial-and-error in their own gardens, or they need to talk with other local gardeners to find out which varieties have done well in gardens nearby.
Heirloom vegetable varieties in our list
As you probably know, Baker Creek specializes in heirloom and open-pollinated varieties. These do not come with lab-verified disease resistance, but some of the varieties offered in the 2017 Whole Seed Catalog have done great for us, here in the humid Southeastern U.S., where plant diseases can destroy a garden. Other varieties died within weeks, before much — if any — food could be harvested.
Not all of the varieties Electa and I have grown are appropriate for small space gardens. Most winter squashes and pumpkins, for example, are vining plants that can grow 20-30 feet, smothering the nearby lawn and the rest of the garden if care is not taken to re-direct the growing vine-tips back into their own space. Some okra varieties grow to be 8-or-more feet tall.
A short version of the list that Electa and I created, after going through the catalog and marking all the varieties we had tried, is below.
Our heirloom varieties report for North Georgia
We had more to say about some crops than others. This is our experience with the listed cucumber varieties we had tried:
If you want to see the full list, all 13 pages, you can download Electa and Amy’s list of vegetable varieties from the 2017 Baker Creek Whole Seed catalog, with notes about productivity (including scientific terms like “recommended”, “iffy”, and “no”) and about flavor, with regard to how they did in our gardens.
Our favorites from the list, for most vegetables, are included below:
- BEANS – Rattlesnake Pole, Mountaineer Half Runner, Jackson Wonder bush lima
- BEETS – Bull’s Blood (but harvest early), Detroit Dark Red
- BROCCOLI – Goliath, Waltham
- CABBAGE – Golden Acre
- CAULIFLOWER – Purple of Sicily
- CARROTS – Oxheart, Danvers 126 Half Long, Little Finger, Nantes Scarlet, Parisienne
- CORN – Glass Gem (because it is so beautiful), Dakota Black Popcorn
- COWPEAS – Purple Hull Pinkeye, Pigott Family (needs a trellis)
- CUCUMBER – Beit Alpha, Marketmore 76, Straight Eight
- EGGPLANT – Aswad, Casper (especially for container growing), Black Beauty (gets seedy, so harvest early), Ukrainian Beauty, Rosa Bianca
- ENDIVE AND ESCAROLE – Batavian Full Heart, De Louviers
- SOLANUM BERRIES – Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherries (same family as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, which can make crop rotation difficult)
- ORIENTAL GREENS AND CABBAGE – Tatsoi (unusual flavor, but grew well)
- SALAD GREENS – Corn Salad-Dutch and Corn Salad-Mache (both need cool weather to do well, and harvests are tiny – but tasty)
- KALE AND COLLARDS – all are fine, Tronchuda gets huge (hilariously so)
- LEEK – Giant Musselburgh (start in spring and allow a full year until harvest)
- LETTUCE – Bronze Beauty, Buttercrunch, Henderson’s Black Seeded Simpson, Merveille des Quatre Saisons (Marvel of Four Seasons), Mignonette Bronze, Oak Leaf
- MELON – Schoon’s Hardshell
- OKRA – Louisiana 16″ Long Pod
- ONION – all bulb-type onions must be Short Day type for Southern gardens
- PARSNIP – Hollow Crown
- GARDEN PEAS – Lincoln, Little Marvel, Wando
- SNOW AND SNAP PEAS – all are fine
- HOT PEPPERS – Leytschauer Paprika, Lightning Mix
- SWEET PEPPERS – Banana, Chocolate Beauty, Lilac Bell, Quadrato d’Asti Giallo, Sheepnose Pimento
- RADICCHIO & CHICORY – Italika Rosso Dandelion
- RADISH – Chinese Red Meat, German Giant, Long Scarlet, Purple Plum
- RUTABAGAS – American Purple Top
- SPINACH – Bloomsdale Longstanding
- SUMMER SQUASH – Yellow Crookneck, Zucchini Rampicante (vigorous, very long vines, productive)
- SQUASH AND PUMPKINS – Big Max, Candy Roaster, Long Island Cheese, Seminole, Sucrine du Berry (all of these varieties grow to be crazy long vines)
- SWISS CHARD – Perpetual Spinach
- TOMATOES – Kellogg Breakfast (good flavor, but not a big producer), Arkansas Traveler, Black Krim, Rutgers, Great White, Yellow Pear
- WATERMELON – Ali Baba, Crimson Sweet, Golden Honey, Sugar Baby
These are not the only varieties we grow
Collectively, Electa and I have more than 60 years of gardening experience in Georgia (we have both gardened in other states, too), so the “more than 300 varieties” should not have been a surprise. What really made us laugh was when we noticed that some of our favorites were missing from Baker Creek’s very large catalog, and we realized how many more than just 300 varieties we have tried.
Here is an example: when we finished the radish pages, Electa asked “Where are the Daikons?” She loves Daikon radishes, but there weren’t any in the 2017 catalog. My own favorite pole beans, ‘Blue Marbut’, I have seen only at Sand Hill Preservation Center, which is also the only source for ‘Straight Nine’ cucumbers.
The “more than 300 varieties” listed in Baker Creeks 2017 Whole Seed Catalog that we have grown were not all purchased through Baker Creek, but the names were the same, so we have counted them as being the same for this list.
Which heirloom varieties are in your tried-and-true list?