Eat This

Seed Stars of 2010

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Merry Christmas!

2010 was a great year in my vegetable garden, and the third year in a row that I have managed my garden with almost no irrigation, not even bothering to set up my sprinkler on a timer.  But, unlike in 2008 and 2009, it wasn't raining buckets. 2010 was wet when it was supposed to be–in spring–and dry when it was supposed to be–in July and August, when everything was ripening.

So, many of my $1.50 investments in vegetable seeds proved extremely rewarding.  Here is my annual roundup of the best of those purchases:

  • L'agretto.  It is not at all clear what this vegetable, which I ordered from Seeds from Italy, even is.  It looks more like a white pine seedling than your normal table green. It forms hairlike clumps of succulent leaves with woody stems. The Oxford Companion to Italian Food says agretti are the greens of salsify–but then unhelpfully adds that other greens, too, are called agretti in Italy.  Some British bloggers refer to it as an entirely different plant, glasswort, that grows near the sea. It certainly looks just like this edible native glasswort, Salicornia virginica. Plus, l'agretto germinates poorly, and not just in my garden, but in my friend Martha's garden and in this Brit blogger's garden. Why bother? It's delicious, delicious, delicious, and retains a texture like a Japanese seaweed salad even when sauteed.
  • 'Poona Kheera' cucumbers: An Indian heirloom variety, it is not bothered by the stuff that bothers many cucumbers in my part of the world, namely, cold rains that provoke mildew and sulking.  In 2010, it was by far the most prolific cucumber in my garden, generating so many lemon-yellow cucumbers that I was forced to take up pickling.  It has a nice lemony flavor, too. When ripe, it turns a matt brown color like a potato and is willing to sit on a countertop without refrigeration for at least a week without going bad, thanks to that tough, dry skin.
  • 'Keuka Gold' potatoes: Developed at Cornell, these have been touted as a 'Yukon Gold' replacement.  'Yukon Gold' is a super-delicious potato with yellow flesh that is also very early, which is important! I stick my seed potatoes in the ground in late April and then spend the next two months in a state of fuming impatience for my tubers. What's the problem with 'Yukon Gold'?  It doesn't yield a lot of potatoes.  'Keuka',on the other hand, is a good-tasting yellow potato that doesn't disappoint when you yank its dying stem and start digging around for buried treasure.  It's not as early as 'Yukon Gold', but I'll be planting it again.
  • Fedco's Broccoli Blend: I always considered broccoli a pain in the neck, in that it always matured all at once, and just at the wrong moment–in the wilting weather of late July or early August, when the cabbage moths were at their worst, and when the extreme heat made it flower quickly and stink up the garden with an unpleasant cabbage smell.  But then in 2010, I tried direct-seeding my broccoli in early June rather than buying seedlings on Memorial Day, as I usually do.  Direct seeding convinced the broccoli to head up a little later, more towards the cool weather.  And I used this mix of varieties from Fedco, which staggered the harvest for me.  A total success.
  • Cowpeas: Until inspired in 2010 by the nice selection of cowpea varieties at Baker Creek, I never tried this legume before. It's a do-nothing vegetable: I just stuck the seeds into the soil next to my fence, let them vine their way around and through it, and then picked the strange, long, erect, paired pods when they turned brown. Cooked with ham or bacon, cowpeas are creamy and delicious.
  • 'Piatta di Bergamo' onions: I've always started leeks from seed because it's impossible to find seedlings in the nurseries around here. They're easy: I just sprinkle seeds on a flat very early–late February or early March–and then plant out the hair-like things in May.  (Actually, I try to bribe a child into planting them, a fussy repetitive task that threatens my sanity.)  Onions, I've always started from sets of tiny bulbs I grabbed at the Agway. But the Agway stopped carrying sets, so I idly ordered some seed from Seeds from Italy. I started and planted them just like the leeks. God, I love the garden for these revelations! My onions grew even better from seed than from bulbs. They were delicious, delicious, delicious, especially the red ones! So much more delicious than whatever industrial variety the Agway used to sell. I've never really cooked with red onions before, but because I grew so many, wound up sauteeing some.  Fantastic, sweet, amazing.

In addition to the successful experiments of 2010–Doctor, the patient lives!–the stars included many of my old favorite varieties that I've written about ad nauseum, spectacular in every year: "Jarrahdale' pumpkins, 'Pineapple' tomatoes, 'Benning's Green Tint' patty pan squashes, 'Blue Coco' pole beans, 'True Red Cranberry' beans for drying, 'Rapa di Milano Colletto Viola' turnips.

Of course, I have to end with a disclaimer: Just because a vegetable variety did brilliantly in my boggy Zone 4 garden with the ridiculously fertile soil in 2010 does not guarantee it will do brilliantly in yours in 2011. 

Of course, it doesn't mean it won't.  Sometimes, a great variety (see 'Jarrahdale' and 'Pineapple' above) is just great.

Posted by on December 24, 2010 at 4:45 am, in the category Eat This.
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12 Responses to “Seed Stars of 2010”

  1. shira says:

    Thanks for sharing. We don’t celebrate Christmas, so this week there isn’t much going on, planning to pull out the seed catalogs and start organizing my order. Always nice to know what works well, especially in the ridiculous Northeast weather!

  2. greg draiss says:

    HUMBUG!
    we’ll all be nice for a day or two and then go back and attacking lawn lovers.

    THE TROLL

  3. Erica says:

    Well, it’s definitely not salsify greens, because those look like thick-bladed grass. I got agretti seeds two years ago, but they didn’t germinate and I was later issued a refund because the whole lot turned out to be bad.

    I had great luck with Poona Kheera here in Maryland too. Not so great with the Blue Coco, but it was a horrible year for beans here between soaring temperatures and brown marmorated stink bugs. Will try again, hope springs eternal…

  4. Aunt Ida says:

    In 2009, I started three butternut squash plants from seed and got two yummy squashes for winter. In 2010, I planted three butternut seeds from the 2009 packet and they yielded over 125 pounds of squash.

    This was a bad summer for tomatoes in the Boise area. The toms just wouldn’t get ripe. Heard from a friend in Chicago who had the same problem. Was this a nationwide thing?

  5. I’m glad you tried cowpeas. Cowpeas, blackeyed peas, cream peas, zipper peas, etc. are all old favorites around here, and good for the soil too. Plus I think the flowers are pretty.

  6. Foy says:

    This is my favorite kind of post: recommendations from actual experience. It is now book marked for later in the year when I get around to ordering seeds.

  7. hb says:

    I was given a packet of “Atlantis Hybrid Broccoli”. Here we grow Cabbage-family veggies in fall/winter. Wow, excellent results: great taste, great productivity, more delicate flavor than regular broccoli.

    I tried a fall (Sept 15) planting of green beans, and got 3 lbs of green beans for Thanksgiving.

    Because of the abnormally cool summer, we had an outstanding crop of bell peppers. Other than that, same old same old around here. :) I want to try the Jarrahdale pumpkin next year, they sound good. I’ve never been all that thrilled with ‘Small Sugar’–good but not great.

  8. Laura Bell says:

    Merry Christmas ! Not a good year here garden-wise, but now that the hoiday rush is done, I’m glad to sit down finally with my seed catalogs & dream. And order something from Seeds of Italy this year … I’m thinking those onions & potatoes would be a good start.

    I think the Troll with his attitude should be expecting a visit from a certain bunch of ghosts, next year if not this one.

  9. Mary Schier says:

    @Aunt Ida — Same thing happened in Minnesota: Terrible tomato year, epic year for butternut squash. I also love the Poona Kheera cucumbers.

  10. Simon Suter says:

    From a “Brit Blogger” :-)

    a few further words about L’aggretti. Yes, seed viability can be a problem although if you have “good” seed, germination is not a problem. The seed merchants (Seeds of Italy in my case) recognise this and are usually happy to refund or supply replacements.

    If you treat the crop as “cut & come again” you can extend the season into the autumn (fall). By not doing so there is a danger that the leaves/stems will become tough & less edible.

    East to grow, delicious & unusual – what more could you wish for.

    p.s. agree 100% with your onion recommendation

  11. Michele Owens says:

    Dear Troll, we love you…and we know you love us. Merry Christmas!

  12. Michele Owens says:

    Simon, welcome! Fantastic information on your blog. Many thanks!

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