Category Archives: Plant & Garden Reviews

Tomato Variety Review for 2015

As usual, we have a range of tomato varieties in the Demo Garden and not all of them have been spectacular performers. Others have been pleasant surprises. I haven’t had the opportunity to taste every variety this year, so the flavor information isn’t complete. However, in regard to general plant health and yield I feel like we have a pretty good idea for how the varieties are performing.

‘Italian Gold’– This is an heirloom, yellow roma tomato. It was a last minute substitution, and I’ll admit to being skeptical. However, it is by far the most prolific variety in the garden. The flavor is actually slightly more acidic than I would typically expect from a yellow tomato. Is there something about yellow romas? We tried ‘Golden Rave’ roma a few years back to great success. The plant is a very vigorous indeterminate, and although the disease and spider mites are making the plant look ugly now, it hasn’t slowed production.

‘Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye’ – This is a relatively new variety, but one that I would consider an “heirloom-type” tomato. It is open pollinated, but recent. However, it has color and flavor characteristics that you would consider heirloom. As you can kind of tell in this picture, the tomato is dark red/purple with green stripes. I love the stripes, but some people do find them off-putting. That said, the stripes are only skin deep! The flavor of this tomato is great, although it is rather prone to cracking. I don’t think the cracks have been worse than several of the other varieties though. I grew this at home last year and the yield was spectacular. These plants aren’t quite as good, but not too bad as far as yield goes.

‘Beefy Boy’ – This hybrid has great yields of large fruit. As you can see, there has been some cracking, but no more so than other similar varieties (i.e. – Celebrity, etc). I haven’t had a chance to specifically taste this variety, so I can’t vouch for flavor.

Cherry Tomatoes – ‘Yellow Pear,’ ‘Chocolate Cherry,’ and ‘Sweet Million’ are the three cherry tomatoes we have in the garden this year. Unfortunately, we had to remove the yellow pear due to a wilt disease, but the yield before it succumbed was great. Of course, flavor on all of these was good and we still have plenty of cherry tomatoes to harvest.

‘Chef’s Choice Orange’ is a new variety that is also an All-America Selections winner for 2014. When fully ripe it has a beautiful orange color. It also has a very good flavor. I would consider it to be sweeter and milder than most red tomatoes, but perhaps more flavorful than your average yellow tomato. Our plants have performed very well. The vines are vigorous, but not too crazy, the fruit are good sized, and the yield has been good as well. Not as good as Beefy Boy (see above), but definitely on par with Celebrity (see below). Crack-wise…well…minimal to no cracks! That’s a win!

‘Indigo Apple’ – This is one of the “Indigo” series tomatoes that has the purple/indigo pigmentation on the shoulders. This varieties produces 2-4 oz. fruit, so a little smaller than most tomatoes, but larger than a cherry tomato. We tried ‘Indigo Rose’ (a cherry tomato) in the garden a few years ago and were definitely under-whelmed by the flavor. Yuck! So I’ll be honest that when I was preparing to try this one, I was steeling myself for the “it’s a tomato but I really wish I hadn’t just eaten that” experience. BUT I was pleasantly surprised. It had a nice fresh, acid flavor. It wasn’t extremely sweet, nor was it extremely bland. Yield-wise it has been fairly productive and the plants look okay. No cracking that I’ve seen!

‘Celebrity’ – Most of you are probably familiar with this stand-by variety. Lots of people love it, although I’m not a huge fan. I feel like it cracks worse than it is worth, although everything comparable is cracking this year. The yield isn’t quite as good as ‘Beefy Boy’ (above), but it is better than the other red slicers.

‘Mountain Merit’ and ‘Phoenix’ – These are both determinate varieties that are supposed to be crack resistant and somewhat heat tolerant. Both varieties have one plant that is small and looks awful with no production after the first flush of fruit. The other plant of both varieties is larger and still producing a bit. Both varieties are coated with spider mites. I haven’t tasted either of these, but the yields are lower than other varieties. That said, because the plants are smaller you should be able to plant more of them in the same amount of space, resulting in higher potential total yield. I can’t definitely report on the crack resistance…the few fruit still on the plants look a little bit better than ‘Beefy Boy’ and ‘Celebrity.’

Are you trying any different tomato varieties this year? What’s doing well for you?

Bean Variety Review, Part 1

Our Bean trial garden has finished up the first planting as of a couple weeks ago and we are now on to the second planting. I wanted to take the opportunity to give you a few thoughts on how the varieties performed from the spring planting. We planted different varieties earlier this week for the fall season.

Our beans got off to a bit of a rough start this spring with cool, wet soils. We think we had some seed corn maggot in the soil causing problems. The beans finally took off when it got warmer and did quite well.

‘Contender’ Green Snap Bush Bean

This is an old variety that has been around since 1949. The beans aren’t always the most beautiful shaped, but this was by far the earliest producing and highest yielding of all the varieties we planted this spring. Sometimes the oldies are the goodies!

‘Golden Rod’ Yellow Snap Bush Bean

Another older variety, I would consider the yield was acceptable, but not spectacular. In fact, I’ve seen us have higher yields on this variety before. That said, there may be other yellow varieties, like ‘Rocdor,’ that perform better.

‘Velour’ Purple Filet Bush Bean

This is a relatively new filet bean variety. I’ve decided after this year that I like the idea of filet beans (meaning the pods are more slender and theoretically more tender), but I don’t like the reality of them. There were times when this variety was loaded with beans, as you can see in the picture above, but the yield felt paltry because of the petite size of the beans. However, if that doesn’t bother you, I think the yield for this variety was quite good.

A note though – purple beans will turn green when you cook them. My family always planted purple beans rather than green beans because my dad liked the flavor better. Whether that is true or not it’s hard to say. You’ll have to test it out for yourself!

‘Dragon Tongue’ Flat Podded Bush Bean

This heirloom bean doesn’t really fit into any category. It is typically pale green to yellow with purple streaks when ready to harvest. You can also let it to until you harvest it for the bean seeds. While an interesting novelty, the yield was poor at best.

‘Jade II’ Green Snap Bush Bean

This is a more recent variety that boasts straighter pods and dark green color. It’s a little hard to tell, but the beans definitely were a darker green than the ‘Contender’ beans and had much better shape. This variety is also longer to maturity, making it a good option to extend the producing season a bit. So, from all those standpoints it seemed to live up to its billing. Since we weren’t specifically weighing the yields, it is a bit difficult to compare the yields with ‘Contender.’ I think it seemed a bit less, but it’s hard to say for sure. The Master Gardeners who were working with these beans all summer were very definite that ‘Contender’ was the most productive. Still, if pod straightness and color are important to you, this would be a good choice.

‘Carminat’ Purple Pole Bean and ‘Blue Lake’ Pole Bean

As per our expectation, the pole beans grew well, but produced next to nothing. We got a few beans from the ‘Carminat’ but the ‘Blue Lake’ plants were just starting to bloom when the spider mites arrived. We pulled everything down and replanted to see if the fall season is any better for the pole beans.

Varieties that have been planted for the fall include: ‘Provider,’ ‘Masai,’ ‘Romano Gold,’ ‘Amethyst,’ and ‘Carson.’ We also replanted the pole beans.

Year in Review: Taste of India Garden

Since we are basically done with Friday PhotoEssays for the year, I am going to switch gears a little bit and do a few more “Year in Review” posts to wrap up this year’s garden. We’ve already done the heirloom tomatoes, and today we are going to take on the Taste of India garden.

Cumin: We never managed to get the seeds to germinate. I don’t know if it was them or us, but we’ll have to give in a try another time.

Cuban Oregano

Ajwain/Cuban Oregano: This plant started as a tiny transplant that I thought for sure was going to bite the dust. And then it turned into this sprawling monster! Needless to say, it loved the summer. It did start showing cold injury once we got down to the 40s overnight. Unfortunately, I never got around to figuring out how to cook with it, so it was an attractive plant, but not overly useful.

‘Kesar’ Red Carrots: These carrots had huge tops, and the roots were decent sized as well. They were more purple than red, although a commenter did say that the name of the carrot indicated the more purple color than what we would typically call red. Unfortunately, we got a late start with them, since the seeds didn’t germinate readily. (Again, probably more us than them.) This meant that by the time we harvested, the carrots were pretty bitter due to the heat.

‘Samurai’ Red Carrot: More red colored than the ‘Kesar,’ these carrots also suffered from summer heat bitterness. Ugh.

‘Dulhan’ Pepper: This was a round, flat pepper that started pale cream/white and turned red. It was a sweet pepper with a little kick to it. It did fine, although by later in the summer it was getting too much shade from the trellises and didn’t produce very well.

‘Jwala’ Pepper

‘Jwala’ Pepper: This hot pepper did great, as most hot peppers are prone to do in Kansas summers.

‘Sagar’ Spinach: This spinach was a little bit slower to germinate than our regular spinach varieties, and the leaves were much more tender and succulent. I think that flavor-wise it was a little stronger flavored. Maybe a little more reminiscent of mustard or kale? It was no more heat/bolt resistant than other varieties, which I was hoping for. I’m curious to see how it compares to the other spinach when it gets cold next week, but I’m not expecting it to survive like our other spinaches.

‘Basanti’ Mustard

‘Basanti’ Mustard Greens: If you like mustard greens, this was a great, fast-growing variety. We had a hard time keeping up with it in the spring. It did bolt earlier than I thought it might, but we were really tired of mustard greens by then.

‘King Cobra’ Snake Gourd: The snake gourd plant was slower to get started in the summer, but it pretty much took over the world after that. It had really cool white flowers with nice fragrance. The plant itself was relatively productive, although we weren’t harvesting frequently to help keep it producing. We never got around to trying out recipes with these gourds, so it was more ornamental than anything.

‘Tagore’ Bitter Melon: The bitter melon plant did well initially, until it got swarmed under by the snake gourd. We did get some fruit off it earlier in the season, but then it quite producing. My best guess would be that was due to the snake gourd. Or maybe it just isn’t that productive. Denise did cook a couple of these, but we decided that it was a big hassle to cook with and that zucchini were tastier than the bitter melon.

Snake Gourd vs. The Garden

‘Poona Kheera’ Cucumber: This cucumber was quite productive in the first part of the summer and had decent flavor. It was pretty seedy, but that would be normal for this type of cucumber. Again, not much production later on, which I blame on the snake gourd.

‘Sambar’ Cucumber: Since this was the cooking cucumber that was harvested at the yellow stage rather than the green stage, the plants definitely didn’t produce as much as other cucumbers. Leaving maturing fruit on the vine usually limits additional fruit development. We got a decent harvest, but not spectacular. And they seemed to quit producing in the late summer. Dare I blame the snake gourd again?

‘Black Kabouli’ Chickpeas: The plants were attractive and the yield was okay, all things considered. We did have some caterpillar eating the peas out of the pods, which reduced the yield. Fun novelty, but not particularly productive for a small space. I still need to make up a batch of hummus from the chickpeas we harvested.

Green Cowpeas: The cowpeas went crazy over the summer. We ended up cutting them back several times. They also completely swarmed under the Curry Leaf and the Lemon Savory that were growing on the end of the bed. The yield was decent, although for the size of the plants I would have expected a little bit more. They had a couple different flushes of flowers and pods, but then quit as it got cooler in the late summer and early fall. Probably more effective as a cover crop than a yielding crop in a garden, but still fun to try.

So….this garden was a bit of a story of a couple plants taking over everything else and a few other plants that did well. Nothing particularly stood out as something that we need to try again or that we really liked.

Year in Review: Heirloom Tomatoes

Since I haven’t been very good about regular updates this summer, I figure it is about time I start doing some “Year in Review” posts to look at how certain groups of plants or garden beds did for us this year. The easiest and best place to start is the tomato garden!

We had a bunch of heirlooms in our Tomato Garden this year, and we had Master Gardeners plant them in their home gardens as well to give us more information. I had some of the varieties in my home garden too, so the information isn’t going to be strictly based on what we saw here in the Demo Garden, but kind of a combination of all that information.

‘Silvery Fir Tree’ – This heirloom was determinate, 3-4 oz. red fruit, purportedly 52 days to first harvest, and had cool silvery and kind of fine foliage. The general consensus was that while it was relatively early, the yield wasn’t very good and the flavor was even worse. Not much to recommend this one!

‘Large Red Cherry’ – This was an heirloom cherry tomato that we put on the trellis. The fruit was about 2 oz, which is large for a cherry tomato. Our vines in the Demo Garden were diseased pretty early in the season, so they never really produced well or looked healthy compared to others. Some of our Master Gardeners that tried this variety raved about it and how productive it was. I didn’t find the flavor to be particularly good or particularly objectionable, but others liked it. Worth a try, especially if you like large cherry tomatoes.

Northern Lights

‘Northern Lights’ – One of the reasons we chose this bi-color heirloom was because it was supposed to reach first harvest in 54 days with up to 1 lb. fruit. Well…it didn’t hit that mark, and wasn’t even the first variety ripe. It was relatively early, with first harvest the week after July 4th, but most of our varieties were much earlier than the days to maturity would indicate this year. I also have to be honest – I LOVE this tomato. I love the color, the fruit size, and the flavor. It is a little milder than some varieties, which I like. I had this one at home as well, and it averaged close to 1 lb. fruit most of the season. We had almost 100 lbs of tomatoes from 4 plants, which was pretty impressive. It also DID NOT CRACK. At all. Which in itself is pretty impressive for Kansas, especially when we had rainy and dry periods. I would like to see how it performs in a more normal Kansas summer, but it was great this year. I personally would highly recommend this one. Based strictly on our Demo Garden results, I would probably give it a recommended rating.

‘Pink Russian 117’ – This was a pink skinned and fleshed oxheart tomato. While I did hear some rave reviews of the flavor, a couple different times when we did taste testing it was rated as pretty bland and mealy compared to the other heirlooms. I think the ripeness really plays a role in its flavor. If it gets a little over-ripe, the flavor and texture go downhill quickly. In the Demo Garden, it wasn’t very early to start producing, but it wasn’t incredibly late either. The earlier yield was decent, but tapered off quite a bit. At home I just had one plant, and the first harvest was about 2-3 weeks later than other varieties. The yield was pretty minimal, especially compared to the other heirlooms, but I wasn’t concerned because the flavor wasn’t as good either. Not recommended. If you want a pink tomato or an oxheart shape, there are probably better options out there.

‘Amana Orange’ – This orange beefsteak was a variety that I was a little skeptical of because it was listed as 85-90 days to harvest. In a hot

Amana Orange

summer, that could have been a death knell for this variety as it probably wouldn’t have set fruit before it got too hot to set. This year, it was producing well before the 70-75 day mark, so I don’t know if that is courtesy to the strange summer or due to how the variety performs in Kansas! Everyone generally liked the flavor, although it wasn’t as mild as Northern Lights nor as strong as the Black Krim. Based on the Demo Garden alone, I would call the yield pretty average. I know that other Master Gardeners with this variety at home reported good yields. I would rate this one somewhere between “worth a try” and “recommended” because I’m still a little skeptical about the days to maturity and how that would play out in a hotter summer.

‘Black Krim’ – This is the purple/black/brown variety, and I really do like purple tomatoes. They seem to have a little something extra when it comes to flavor, and Black Krim is no

Black Krim

exception. The flavor was great! Another common characteristic of this variety, unfortunately, is the concentric cracking on the stem end, and that was evident this year as well. The real key with cracking is to pick the tomatoes before they reach full ripeness, which generally mitigates most of the cracking. We also had this variety at home, and it did very well. The yield was very good, especially for an heirloom, it produced early and consistently, and tasted great. As an earlier variety, it should produce some in most Kansas summers. Highly recommended.

‘Opalka’ – I’m really torn about this variety. There were things I liked and thing I didn’t. Once again, the plants in the Demo Garden succumbed to disease early, so we didn’t get a great look at them. The plant I had at home was still a mixed bag. The fruit was quite late, and the plant didn’t

Opalka, not yet ripe

really seem to hit its stride until August. The yield was tolerable, but nothing compared to the hybrid romas I had  growing. However, most of the fruit were HUGE! I mean…1 cup of tomato sauce from a single tomato? That’s crazy! The texture and flavor were also really nice for cooking. They definitely weren’t as firm as the hybrids, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. So…if you want huge, novelty romas, this would be a fun variety to try. If you want to do lots of canning, probably not a great choice. I will also say that I had grown this variety before, and it was nothing like this before, so one packet of seeds or the other was not true to type, and I don’t know which one was! Ah, the joys of growing heirlooms.

We did have some hybrids in the garden this year as well, but we’ll take a look at them in another post.

A Quick Tour of the MG Faves Garden

We haven’t done very many tours of individual garden beds this year, for some reason. I thought today seemed like a good day to take a look at the MG Faves Garden.

On the end of the garden, where the Yukon Gold potatoes resided earlier this year, we have a planting of ‘Rocdor’ yellow beans. They are generally looking pretty healthy and will probably start blooming in a couple weeks. Yum, fall beans!

Next to the ‘Rocdor’ beans is our fall planting of ‘Beananza’ beans. These were planted a couple weeks later, so they aren’t quite as far along. We had originally planned to try to keep the spring planting all year, but the spider mites just got too bad. So with that situation, we moved the ‘Beananza’ beans to this spot, where we would have other wise planted more root vegetables. Since this is the spot we just pulled beets and carrots out of, it wouldn’t have been ideal to go back in with more root veggies anyway.

The ‘Big Bertha’ bell pepper plants are huge, but they haven’t been very productive recently. They had a few peppers early in the summer, and all the remaining peppers are still pretty small. This isn’t uncommon with peppers, but my perception is that these plants are less productive than in other years we have grown this variety.

On the other side of the bed, we have two Cayenne pepper plants. They have been quite productive this summer. But then…it seems like hot peppers are always more productive than you wish they were!

Then we have the fall vegetable section, with a row of kohrabi (not pictured), and a row of healthy Watermelon Radishes. There will also be a row of lettuce or spinach planted in a couple weeks.

I didn’t take any pictures of the cucumbers on the trellis, because there isn’t much to see. I’m not sure why, but neither the ‘Sweet Burpless’ nor the ‘Straight Eight’ have been particularly productive. It may be the shading from other plants or something, but the plants aren’t huge and while we’ve gotten several cucumbers at a time, they aren’t spectacular. They do have a fair bit of anthracnose from earlier in the summer when it was rainy and cool, but I would have expected them to grow out of it by now.

We will probably pull them out and remove the trellis in a couple weeks to plant some fall salad greens.

The Jet Star has been reasonably productive, but again, not as productive as I think it should have been. In thinking about it and looking at the picture, I suspect that we should have used some fertilizer in the mid-summer after the first flush of fruit set. We put so much compost in during the spring, that I didn’t really think about it. However, the garden soil is pretty sandy and with all the rain and irrigation, these plants could be nitrogen starved. They do look a little bit yellow and peaked. At this point, I think that there’s not a lot of point in fertilizing, because I don’t know that it would get us anything. We’ll think about it!

The poor Cardinal basil! When we grew it 2 years ago, the plant was huge and gorgeous and full of blooms. This year I don’t think it has even considered blooming. I think this is a case of way too much shade from the nearby tomatoes and trellises. The plant looks generally healthy, just small. We have had more problems with shading this year than the last two years, it seems.

The sweet basil is sandwiched in between the Juliet tomato and the cucumber trellis. Can you see it there, stretching out? This basil also got shaded, but has just enough sun to encourage it to stretch. The ‘Juliet’ tomatoes have been fairly productive, as they do tend to be, although not quite as much as I would expect.

That’s what’s up in the MG Faves Garden! Is your garden starting to look tired too?