BEST VARIETIES OF THE GARDEN VEGETABLES
It is my purpose in this chapter to assist the gardener of limited experience to select varieties sure to give satisfaction.
To the man or woman planning a garden for the first time there is no one thing more confusing than the selection of the best varieties. This in spite of the fact that catalogues should be, and might be, a great help instead of almost an actual hindrance.
I suppose that seedsmen consider extravagance in catalogues, both in material and language, necessary, or they would not go to the limit in expense for printing and mailing, as they do. But from the point of view of the gardener, and especially of the beginner, it is to be regretted that we cannot have the plain unvarnished truth about varieties, for surely the good ones are good enough to use up all the legitimate adjectives upon which seedsmen would care to pay postage. But such is not the case. Every season sees the introduction of literally hundreds of new varieties—or, as is more often the case, old varieties under new names—which have actually no excuse for being unloaded upon the public except that they will give a larger profit to the seller. Of course, in a way, it is the fault of the public for paying the fancy prices asked—that is, that part of the public which does not know. Commercial planters and experienced gardeners stick to well known sorts. New varieties are tried, if at all, by the packet only—and then “on suspicion.”
In practically every instance the varieties mentioned have been grown by the author, but his recommendations are by no means based upon personal experience alone. Wherever introductions of recent years have proved to be actual improvements upon older varieties, they are given in preference to the old, which are, of course, naturally much better known.
It is impossible for any person to pick out this, that or the other variety of a vegetable and label it unconditionally “the best.” But the person who wants to save time in making out his seed list can depend upon the following to have been widely tested, and to have “made good.”
_Asparagus:_--While there are enthusiastic claims put forth for several of the different varieties of asparagus, as far as I have seen any authentic record of tests (Bulletin 173, N. J. Agr. Exp. Station), the prize goes to Palmetto, which gave twenty-eight per cent. more than its nearest rival, Donald’s Elmira. Big yield alone is frequently no recommendation of a vegetable to the home gardener, but in this instance it does make a big difference; first, because Palmetto is equal to any other asparagus in quality, and second, because the asparagus bed is producing only a few weeks during the gardening season, and where ground is limited, as in most home gardens, it is important to cut this waste space down as much as possible. This is for beds kept in good shape and highly fed. Barr’s Mammoth will probably prove more satisfactory if the bed is apt to be more or less neglected, for the reason that under such circumstances it will make thicker stalks than the Palmetto.
_Beans (dwarf):_--Of the dwarf beans there are three general types: the early round-podded “string” beans, the stringless round-pods, and the usually more flattish “wax” beans. For first early, the old reliable Extra Early Red Valentine remains as good as any sort I have ever tried. In good strains of this variety the pods have very slight strings, and they are very fleshy. It makes only a small bush and is fairly productive and of good quality. The care-taking planter, however, will put in only enough of these first early beans to last a week or ten days, as the later sorts are more prolific and of better quality. Burpee’s Stringless Greenpod is a good second early. It is larger, finer, stringless even when mature, and of exceptionally handsome appearance. Improved Refugee is the most prolific of the green-pods, and the best of them for quality, but with slight strings.
Of the “wax” type, Brittle Wax is the earliest, and also a tremendous
yielder. The long-time favorite, Rust-proof Golden Wax, is another fine
sort, and an especially strong healthy grower. The top-notch in quality
among all bush beans is reached, perhaps, in Burpee’s White Wax—the
white referring not to the pods, which are of a light yellow, and flat
--but to the beans, which are pure white in all stages of growth. It has
one unusual and extremely valuable quality—the pods remain tender longer than those of any other sort.
Of the dwarf limas there is a new variety which is destined, I think, to become the leader of the half-dozen other good sorts to be had. That is the Burpee Improved. The name is rather misleading, as it is not an improved strain of the Dreer’s or Kumerle bush lima, but a mutation, now thoroughly fixed. The bushes are stronger-growing and much larger than those of the older types, reaching a height of nearly three feet, standing strongly erect; both pods and beans are much larger, and it is a week earlier. Henderson’s new Early Giant I have not yet tried, but from the description I should say it is the same type as the above. Of the pole limas, the new Giant-podded is the hardiest—an important point in limas, which are a little delicate in constitution anyway, especially in the seedling stage—and the biggest yielder of any I have grown and just as good in quality—and there is no vegetable much better than well cooked limas. With me, also, it has proved as early as that old standard, Early Leviathan, but this may have been a chance occurrence. Ford’s Mammoth is another excellent pole lima of large size. Of the other pole beans, the two that are still my favorites are Kentucky Wonder, or Old Homestead, and Golden Cluster. The former has fat meaty green pods, entirely stringless until nearly mature, and of enormous length. I have measured many over eight and a half inches long—and they are borne in great profusion. Golden Cluster is one of the handsomest beans I know. It is happily named, for the pods, of a beautiful rich golden yellow color, hang in generous clusters and great profusion. In quality it has no superior; it has always been a great favorite with my customers. One need never fear having too many of these, as the dried beans are pure white and splendid for winter use. Last season I tried a new pole bean called Burger’s Green-pod Stringless or White-seeded Kentucky Wonder (the dried seeds of the old sort being brown). It did well, but was in so dry a place that I could not tell whether it was an improvement over the standard or not. It is claimed to be earlier.
_Beets:_--In beets, varieties are almost endless, but I confess that I have found no visible difference in many cases. Edmund’s Early and Early Model are good for first crops. The Egyptian strains, though largely used for market, have never been as good in quality with me. For the main crop I like Crimson Globe. In time it is a second early, of remarkably good form, smooth skin and fine quality and color.
_Broccoli:_--This vegetable is a poorer cousin of the cauliflower (which, by the way, has been termed “only a cabbage with a college education”). It is of little use where cauliflower can be grown, but serves as a substitute in northern sections, as it is more hardy than that vegetable. Early White French is the standard sort.
_Brussels sprouts:_--This vegetable, in my opinion, is altogether too little grown. It is as easy to grow as fall and winter cabbage, and while the yield is less, the quality is so much superior that for the home garden it certainly should be a favorite. Today (Jan. 19th) we had for dinner sprouts from a few old plants that had been left in transplanting boxes in an open coldframe. These had been out all winter—with no protection, repeatedly freezing and thawing, and, while of course small, they were better in quality than any cabbage you ever ate. Dalkeith is the best dwarf-growing sort. Danish Prize is a new sort, giving a much heavier yield than the older types. I have tried it only one year, but should say it will become the standard variety.
_Cabbage:_--In cabbages, too, there is an endless mix-up of varieties. The Jersey Wakefield still remains the standard early. But it is at the best but a few days ahead of the flat-headed early sorts which stand much longer without breaking, so that for the home garden a very few heads will do. Glory of Enkhuisen is a new early sort that has become a great favorite. Early Summer and Succession are good to follow these, and Danish Ballhead is the best quality winter cabbage, and unsurpassed for keeping qualities. But for the home garden the Savoy type is, to my mind, far and away the best. It is not in the same class with the ordinary sorts at all. Perfection Drumhead Savoy is the best variety. Of the red cabbages, Mammoth Rock is the standard.
_Carrots:_--The carrots are more restricted as to number of varieties. Golden Ball is the earliest of them all, but also the smallest yielder. Early Scarlet Horn is the standard early, being a better yielder than the above. The Danvers Half-long is probably grown more than all other kinds together. It grows to a length of about six inches, a very attractive deep orange in color. Where the garden soil is not in excellent condition, and thoroughly fined and pulverized as it should be, the shorter-growing kinds, Ox-heart and Chantenay, will give better satisfaction. If there is any choice in quality, I should award it to Chantenay.
Cauliflower;--There is hardly a seed catalogue which does not contain its own special brand of the very best and earliest cauliflower ever introduced. These are for the most part selected strains of either the old favorite, Henderson’s Snowball, or the old Early Dwarf Erfurt. Snowball, and Burpee’s Best Early, which resembles it, are the best varieties I have ever grown for spring or autumn. They are more likely to head, and of much finer quality than any of the large late sorts. Where climatic conditions are not favorable to growing cauliflower, and in dry sections, Dry-weather is the most certain to form heads.
_Celery:_--For the home garden the dwarf-growing, “self-blanching” varieties of celery are much to be preferred. White Plume and Golden Self-blanching are the best. The former is the earliest celery and of excellent quality, but not a good keeper. Recent introductions in celery have proved very real improvements. Perhaps the best of the newer sorts, for home use, is Winter Queen, as it is more readily handled than some of the standard market sorts. In quality it has no superior. When put away for winter properly, it will keep through April.
_Corn:_--You will have to suit yourself about corn. I have not the temerity to name any best varieties—every seedsman has about half a dozen that are absolutely unequaled. For home use, I have cut my list down to three: Golden Bantam, a dwarf-growing early of extraordinary hardiness—can be planted earlier than any other sort and, while the ears are small and with yellow kernels, it is exceptionally sweet and fine in flavor. This novelty of a few years since, has attained wide popular favor as quickly as any vegetable I know. Seymour’s Sweet Orange is a new variety, somewhat similar to Golden Bantam, but later and larger, of equally fine quality. White Evergreen, a perfected strain of Stowell’s Evergreen, a standard favorite for years, is the third. It stays tender longer than any other sweet corn I have ever grown.
_Cucumbers:_--Of cucumbers also there is a long and varied list of names. The old Extra Early White Spine is still the best early; for the main crop, some “perfected” form of White Spine. I myself like the Fordhood Famous, as it is the healthiest strain I ever grew, and has very large fruit that stays green, while being of fine quality. In the last few years the Davis Perfect has won great popularity, and deservedly so. Many seedsmen predict that this is destined to become the leading standard—and where seedsmen agree let us prick up our ears! It has done very well with me, the fruit being the handsomest of any I have grown. If it proves as strong a grower it will replace Fordhood Famous with me.
_Egg-plant:_--New York Improved Purple is still the standard, but it has been to a large extent replaced by Black Beauty, which has the merit of being ten days earlier and a more handsome fruit. When once tried it will very likely be the only sort grown.
_Endive:_--This is a substitute for lettuce for which I personally have never cared. It is largely used commercially. Broad-leaved Batavian is a good variety. Giant Fringed is the largest.
_Kale:_--Kale is a foreigner which has never been very popular in this country. Dwarf Scott Curled is the tenderest and most delicate (or least coarse) in flavor.
_Kohlrabi:_--This peculiar mongrel should be better known. It looks as though a turnip had started to climb into the cabbage class and stopped half-way. When gathered young, not more than an inch and a half in diameter at the most, they are quite nice and tender. They are of the easiest cultivation. White Vienna is the best.
_Leek:_--For those who like this sort of thing it is—just the sort of thing they like. American Flag is the best variety, but why it was given the first part of that name, I do not know.
_Lettuce:_--To cover the lettuces thoroughly would take a chapter by itself. For lack of space, I shall have to mention only a few varieties, although there are many others as good and suited to different purposes. For quality, I put Mignonette at the top of the list, but it makes very small heads. Grand Rapids is the best loose-head sort—fine for under glass, in frames and early outdoors. Last fall from a bench 40 x 4 ft., I sold $36 worth in one crop, besides some used at home. I could not sell winter head lettuce to customers who had once had this sort, so good was its quality. May King and Big Boston are the best outdoor spring and early summer sorts. New York and Deacon are the best solid cabbage-head types for resisting summer heat, and long standing. Of the cos type Paris White is good.
_Muskmelon:_--The varieties of muskmelon are also without limit. I mention but two—which have given good satisfaction out of a large number tried, in my own experience. Netted Gem (known as Rocky Ford) for a green-fleshed type, and Emerald Gem for salmon-fleshed. There are a number of newer varieties, such as Hoodoo, Miller’s Cream, Montreal, Nutmeg, etc., all of excellent quality.
_Watermelon:_--With me (in Connecticut) the seasons are a little short for this fruit. Cole’s Early and Sweetheart have made the best showing. Halbert Honey is the best for quality.
_Okra:_--In cool sections the Perfected Perkins does best, but it is not quite so good in quality as the southern favorite, White Velvet. The flowers and plants of this vegetable are very ornamental.
_Onion:_--For some unknown reason, different seedsmen call the same onion by the same name. I have never found any explanation of this, except that a good many onions given different names in the catalogues are really the same thing. At least they grade into each other more than other vegetables. With me Prizetaker is the only sort now grown in quantity, as I have found it to outyield all other yellows, and to be a good keeper. It is a little milder in quality than the American yellows—Danvers and Southport Globe. When started under glass and transplanted out in April, it attains the size and the quality of the large Spanish onions of which it is a descendant. Weathersfield Red is the standard flat red, but not quite so good in quality or for keeping as Southport Red Globe. Of the whites I like best Mammoth Silver-skin. It is ready early and the finest in quality, to my taste, of all the onions, but not a good keeper. Ailsa Craig, a new English sort now listed in several American catalogues, is the best to grow for extra fancy onions, especially for exhibiting; it should be started in February or March under glass.
_Parsley:_--Emerald is a large-growing, beautifully colored and mild-flavored sort, well worthy of adoption.
_Parsnip:_--This vegetable is especially valuable because it may be had at perfection when other vegetables are scarce. Hollow Crown (“Improved,” of course!) is the best.
_Peas:_--Peas are worse than corn. You will find enough exclamation points in the pea sections of catalogues to train the vines on. If you want to escape brain-fag and still have as good as the best, if not better, plant Gradus (or Prosperity) for early and second early;
Boston Unrivaled (an improved form of Telephone) for main crop, and Gradus for autumn. These two peas are good yielders, free growers and of really wonderfully fine quality. They need bushing, but I have never found a variety of decent quality that does not.
_Pepper:_--Ruby King is the standard, large, red, mild pepper, and as good as any. Chinese Giant is a newer sort, larger but later. The flesh is extremely thick and mild. On account of this quality, it will have a wider range of use than the older sorts.
_Pumpkins:_--The old Large Cheese, and the newer Quaker Pie, are as prolific, hardy and fine in quality and sweetness as any.
_Potato:_--Bovee is a good early garden sort, but without the best of culture is very small. Irish Cobbler is a good early white. Green Mountain is a universal favorite for main crop in the East—a sure yielder and heavy-crop potato of excellent quality. Uncle Sam is the best quality potato I ever grew. Baked, they taste almost as rich as chestnuts.
_Radish:_--I do not care to say much about radishes; I do not like them. They are, however, universal favorites. They come round, half-long, long and tapering; white, red, white-tipped, crimson, rose, yellow-brown and black; and from the size of a button to over a foot long by fifteen inches in circumference—the latter being the new Chinese or Celestial. So you can imagine what a revel of varieties the seedsmen may indulge in. I have tried many—and cut my own list down to two, Rapid-red (probably an improvement of the old standard, Scarlet Button), and Crimson Globe (or Giant), a big, rapid, healthy grower of good quality, and one that does not get “corky.” A little land-plaster, or gypsum, worked into the soil at time of planting, will add to both appearance and quality in radishes.
_Spinach:_--The best variety of spinach is Swiss Chard Beet (see below). If you want the real sort, use Long Season, which will give you cuttings long after other sorts have run to seed. New Zealand will stand more heat than any other sort. Victoria is a newer variety, for which the claim of best quality is made. In my own trial I could not notice very much difference. It has, however, thicker and “savoyed” leaves.
_Salsify:_--This is, to my taste, the most delicious of all root vegetables. It will not do well in soil not deep and finely pulverized, but a row or two for home use can be had by digging and fining before sowing the seed. It is worth extra work. Mammoth Sandwich is the best variety.
_Squash:_--Of this fine vegetable there are no better sorts for the home garden than the little Delicata, and Fordhook. Vegetable Marrow is a fine English sort that does well in almost all localities. The best of the newer large-vined sorts is The Delicious. It is of finer quality than the well known Hubbard. For earliest use, try a few plants of White or Yellow Bush Scalloped. They are not so good in quality as either Delicata or Fordhook, which are ready within a week or so later. The latter are also excellent keepers and can be had, by starting plants early and by careful storing, almost from June to June.
_Tomato:_--If you have a really hated enemy, give him a dozen seed catalogues and ask him to select for you the best four tomatoes. But unless you want to become criminally involved, send his doctor around the next morning. A few years ago I tried over forty kinds. A good many have been introduced since, some of which I have tried. I am prepared to make the following statements: Earliana is the earliest quality tomato, for light warm soils, that I have ever grown; Chalk’s Jewel, the earliest for heavier soils (Bonny Best Early resembles it);
Matchless is a splendid main-crop sort; Ponderosa is the biggest and best quality—but it likes to split. There is one more sort, which I have tried one year only, so do not accept my opinion as conclusive. It is the result of a cross between Ponderosa and Dwarf Champion—one of the strongest-growing sorts. It is called Dwarf Giant. The fruits are tremendous in size and in quality unsurpassed by any. The vine is very healthy, strong and stocky. I believe this new tomato will become the standard main crop for the home garden. By all means try it. And that is a good deal to say for a novelty in its second year!
_Turnip:_--The earliest turnip of good quality is the White Milan. There are several others of the white-fleshed sorts, but I have never found them equal in quality for table to the yellow sorts. Of these, Golden Ball (or Orange Jelly) is the best quality. Petrowski is a different and distinct sort, of very early maturity and of especially fine quality. If you have room for but one sort in your home garden, plant this for early, and a month later for main crop.
Do not fail to try some of this year’s novelties. Half the fun of gardening is in the experimenting. But when you are testing out the new things in comparison with the old, just take a few plants of the latter and give them the same extra care and attention. Very often the reputation of a novelty is built upon the fact that in growing it on trial the gardener has given it unusual care and the best soil and location at his command. Be fair to the standards—and very often they will surprise you fully as much as the novelties.