Historic Harvest [UPDATED]Published 7:21am Thursday, May 10, 2012 Updated 7:57am Thursday, May 10, 2012
When my husband and I moved to our country home 20 years ago my first flowers were purple petunias. It was a cool summer and the petunias flourished. Each subsequent year has brought new garden creations and interests — perennials, trees, shrubs, vegetables, lilies, raised beds, garlic, etc. There’s not a “master plan” for the yard but it is a creative, evolving enterprise!
For several years I have thoroughly enjoyed doing trial growing for North Dakota State University (NDSU), Bismarck. The goal of the Home Garden Variety Trials program is to identify the best vegetable and cut flower varieties for North Dakota. Western Minnesota has similar soil and climate, so the results are applicable here, too! The variety trials are conducted by a network of volunteer growers in North Dakota, northern Minnesota, northern South Dakota and Montana.
In 2012 the trials will include vegetables, cut flowers and herbs. The grower selects the varieties he/she wants to evaluate and NDSU provides the seed for a small fee. Each trial compares of two varieties, example: two varieties of buttercup squash or two varieties of zucchini. The seed packets contain enough seed to plant two ten foot rows. NDSU even provides labeled stakes, and a ten foot length of string to mark the rows! The two varieties are grown under as similar conditions as possible.
Data collection is pretty basic. The grower records the date planted, which of the two seed varieties germinated best, which variety was healthiest, which produced the higher yields and which produced the best quality product. “Best quality product” means taste-testing if you are growing vegetables! NDSU also asks which varieties the grower would recommend to other gardeners. At the end of the gardening season growers send their results to NDSU. During the winter the results from all growers are compiled and a report is available the following spring. The results are especially useful for households that have limited garden space available and want to maximize the productivity of their garden.
In 2011, I participated in the Winter Buttercup Squash trial. It compared Burgess Buttercup with Uncle David’s Dakota Dessert, a squash developed in North Dakota. NDSU found that, overall, Burgess was preferred due to the earlier maturity, higher yields, and uniform shaped fruit. Gardeners enjoyed the flavor of both.
The Romaine Lettuce trial compared Coastal Star to Winter Density, an heirloom from France. NDSU found Winter Density matured earlier and was more compact. The leaves of Costal Star were larger and heavier. Gardeners were split on appearance and taste preferences. My personal observation was that Winter Density is a beautiful, ornamental plant, and in my garden the flavor was sweeter than Coastal Star.
The Orange Hubbard Squash trials of 2010 compared Lakota (a native American heirloom) and Red Kuri. NDSU found gardeners liked both of them. Most preferred ‘Red Kuri’ for its impressive yields and rich flavor. They also enjoyed the beauty and sweetness of North Dakota native squash ‘Lakota‘.
Results from the NDSU Home Garden Trials are online at http://www.dakotagardener.com/trials/results.html. For information on the program contact:
Tom Kalb, Ph.D.
North Dakota State University
3715 East Bismarck Expressway
Bismarck, ND 58501
They are open-pollinated varieties with a history of being cultivated and saved within a family or community. Open-pollinated means the seeds will grow a plant with the same characteristics as the parent plant. Tomato heirlooms are available in an especially large variety of colors, shapes, and flavors. Heirloom tomatoes don’t have all the disease resistance of hybrids and often don’t have uniform shapes, but the taste difference makes growing heirlooms worthwhile.
Delores Campbell grows heirloom tomato plants for the Fergus Falls Area Garden Club’s annual plant sale held in May of each year. She grows about 20 varieties, including red, black, purple, yellow and pink fruiting. In red she always grows Box Car Willie and Brandywine. In black she especially likes Black Cherry and Black Krim. Another favorite is Virginia Sweets, a beautiful golden yellow with red stripes and wonderful flavor, weighing at least a pound. San Marzano Redorta is a huge plum tomato from Tuscany that is good for cooking and eating fresh.
Some heirloom tomato plants are available at local nurseries in spring. Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, a non-profit specializing in the long-term preservation of heirloom and open-pollinated (OP) varieties, has seed available for sale. Their website is www.seedsavers.org. Phone 563-382-5990.