Looking Back For 2011

I guess it is traditional for people to look to the future this time of year. Some make resolutions, goals, and to-do lists. Gardeners like to leaf through seed catalogs and see what is new. But I am convinced that when it comes to vegetables, new is not always better. This year I am continuing my trend of growing more and more OLD varieties in the garden, with a few exceptions of course.

Why grow more old varieties instead of the new ones? For one thing, I like to think of the heirloom varieties as having stood the test of time. Oakleaf lettuce was introduced around 1771, and has been in gardens and salad bowls ever since. While there are dozens of more modern green oakleaf lettuce varieties that are available, are any of them a real improvement over Oakleaf? I’m not really sure they are. Salad Bowl is another bolt-resistant oakleaf type that has been around since 1952, when it was an All-American Selections winner. I’ve grown both Salad Bowl and Oakleaf for years, and they’ll surely be back in 2011. In fact, I started seeds of both last week.

Salad Bowl and Red Salad Bowl lettuces

I am also going back to the past for heirloom tomatoes in 2011. I’ll be trying Red Pear, Beam’s Yellow Pear, and Black Plum this year. Also returning are Amish Paste, Black Cherry, Jaune Flammee, and Cherokee Purple. I’ve grown all these before, except for the Beam’s Yellow Pear and Black Plum. I’ll also be growing old standby hybrid varieties like Better Boy, Early Girl and Sun Gold. Jetsonic and Jetsetter will be back too.

But as much as I love growing the old varieties, I am going to try a few fairly new ones. I’ve ordered Hyper Red Rumple Waved lettuce from Fedco. This Frank Morton introduction promises to be a dark red and deeply savoyed leaf lettuce. I’m also going to try Morton’s new Merlox Red Oak, which is a cross between the wine-red Merlot and Emerald Oak. And thanks to some seed-swapping with Mr H at Subsistence Pattern blog, we’ll be trying Morton’s Rainbow Lacinato kale.

A new (for me) Asian green I’m going to try is Senposai, which is a mustard/cabbage cross much like Komatsuna. It is supposed to be both heat and cold tolerant. I hope it is a nice addition to our current mix of greens. I’m also trying Vitamin Green from Johnny’s, another leafy green that is good for all seasons.

Another old variety I’m growing this year is Lucullus chard. It was first introduced around 1914, and has green leaves with white stalks. I’m also going to be growing Ruby Red Rhubarb chard, which dates back to 1857 according to most sources.

I am really looking forward to growing Viroflay Giant spinach this fall. This French heirloom, introduced before 1875, can reach up to two feet in diameter. It’s also known as “Monstrueux de Viroflay”, the monster spinach of Viroflay. How’s that for a name? I would like to compare it to the Italian Gigante d’Inverno (giant winter) variety I’ve been growing, which was the best producing spinach for us in the 2009/10 season.

That’s a little sampling of the old and new vegetables I will be growing in the gardens this year. Are you going back to the past and trying any heirlooms this year? If not, you might want to consider giving a few of these tried and true varieties a spot in your garden.

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5 Responses to Looking Back For 2011

  1. Robin says:

    I have to agree with you. I think that the old varieties are definitely the best tasting! There were a few vegetables that “The Italian” didn’t really care for until he tasted some of the old varieties that I grow…..now he loves them!

    It’s funny, my mother was an avid vegetable gardener. However, she gardened during the time when the “new” vegetables were coming out. I have to say that they did not taste nearly as good as the old varieties do.

  2. Daphne Gould says:

    I am a lover of both the old and the new. To me they are all good. Though I do mostly grow OP tomatoes so I can save the seed. So I rarely grow hybrids of those.

  3. Mike says:

    I am really looking forward to seeing how all of your greens look and grow this next season. That Viroflay Giant spinach sounds fascinating…never heard of such a thing. We too have more than a few old varieties that are grown year after year and always perform well for us and that traditional oakleaf lettuce is one of them.

  4. debsgarden says:

    I grew Cherokee Purple the last two years, and I love the taste. My vegetable plot is quite small, but Cherokee Purple will have a place, for sure. Best wishes for 2011; it looks like you are off to a great gardening year!

  5. I am very into the heirloom varieties of everything I can get my hands on. That is why I regularly order from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds in Missouri. I live close enough to them that I can go to the Spring Planting Festival on their grounds and buy already started heirloom tomato seedlings from organic growers. I get the best of both worlds, and stimulate the economy too.

    I used to start my own tomatoes and peppers, but I don’t have enough room in the house for them any more. The house plants have proliferated. Someday I will have a green house, and then I’ll be back at that propagation thing.

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