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.
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.