Our previous blog covered some of our "winners" for the 2021 gardening year, and now it's time to tell you about the rest! These are varieties that we found to be especially impressive, productive, and vigorous. Most of these "winners" so far have been warm-season vegetables, but we'll also cover a few cool-season vegetables here. So let's get started!
PUMPKIN - SPECKLED HOUND
We really enjoy growing winter squash/pumpkins because they provide a great long-term food source for our homestead. They do require a decent amount of space to grow, so it might not be best option for a small garden. But if you have the space, you should definitely be growing winter squash pumpkins.
This past spring we devoted an entire plot to several different varieties of winter squash and pumpkins. We had giant pumpkins, kabocha squash, butternut squash, and cushaw squash in the same plot. And the big winner was a kabocha squash variety called Speckled Hound.
We planted one 30' row and harvested over 50 of these beautiful and delicious fruits. Most of the pumpkins were a chalky orange and green color, but there was quite a bit of variation amongst the ones we harvested. We stored them under the barn and enjoyed them throughout the fall months. They make excellent pies, breads, and work great for any pumpkin recipe you may have.
PUMPKIN - POLAR BEAR
Although we knew it was going to be a battle, we decided to try growing pumpkins in the fall this past year. Our pest and disease pressure is highest at the end of summer when they needed to be planted for a fall harvest, so we knew it wasn't going to be easy. But we found a variety that could take the pressure.
We grew a white variety called Polar Bear and were pleasantly surprised at the number of pumpkins we harvested. We collected around 18 large pumpkins from a single, 60' row, just in time for fall decorating. These pumpkins averaged 20-30 lbs each and were bright white at harvesting. They not only made great fall decorations, but they can be used for pies as well.
WATERMELON - ORANGE CRUNCH
We planted a couple "rounds" of watermelons this past spring. We transplanted the first round (see next "winner") and direct-seeded a variety called Orange Crunch about a month later. And we're so glad we did!
These uniquely-colored watermelons were the most juicy and tasty watermelons we had ever eaten. The production was so great that we were able to enjoy one a day during the hot summer months. They were easy to grow and did exceptionally-well considering they were direct-seeded and planted later than they should have been.
WATERMELON - SUMMER BREEZE SEEDLESS
Our first round of watermelon planting in 2021 was a seedless variety called Summer Breeze. We planted these from transplants, although germinating seedless watermelon seeds proved to be pretty difficult. We were fortunate to have enough viable transplants for one 30' row.
We frequently hear from viewers that the new and improved seedless varieties don't compare in flavor to some of the older, heirloom watermelon varieties. But that was not the case with this seedless variety. These watermelons, when picked at peak ripeness, were sweet and juicy.
FIELD PEA - TOP PICK PINKEYE
Field peas, also known as cowpeas, are one of our favorite crops for freezing and preserving the harvest. We grew Top Pink Pinkeye many years ago, but had almost forgotten how great it was. The prolific plants for this variety produce all the pods on top of the plant, so they're easy to see and easy to harvest. Unlike other cowpea varieties, these tend to produce all their peas at one time and then they're done.
BEAN - CHRISTMAS LIMA
This is another variety that we've grown in the past -- many times in fact. But this is the first time that we've grown it on a really tall trellis. Our previous plantings have been on a cow panel or netting trellis that was only around 5' tall. But this year we planted them on our new arch panel trellis and they produced significantly more than prior attempts. It appears the key to this variety is giving them something very tall to climb.
ENGLISH PEA - PLS 595
English peas are tough for us. If we plant them too early in fall and have a prolonged summer wave, the heat will zap them. But if we plant them too late, a frost will damage the pods before they're ready to harvest. This year we planted a variety called PLS 595 in mid to late September and had two substantial harvests. This is a very productive variety with large pods that contain 10-13 peas per pod. We'll definitely be growing this one again.
OKREE - RUIZ
A subscriber and a fellow Valdosta State University grad sent some okree seeds that had been in his family for decades. He didn't have a name for the variety, so we appropriately named it "Ruiz" okree based on his last name. And while it took a little while for it to start producing, we were pleasantly surprised with the production and exceptional flavor of this heirloom variety.
OKREE - CHOPPEE
This was one of the many okree varieties we trialed in 2021, and one of our favorites due to the plant height and the lengths at which the pods remained tender. We liked the fact that the plants didn't get too tall too fast as we pruned the lateral leaves during harvesting. And we also liked the fact that we could harvest these 2x a week instead of every other day.
OKREE - EMERALD GREEN VELVET
We grew this variety for the first time in 2021 and were pleased with the tenderness and shape of the pods. Unlike some okree varieties that have a ribbed pod, this one has a smooth exterior. This makes it an excellent option for pickling or fermenting whole pods because you can pack the pods in the jars more tightly. The pods also stay tender for a while as this long, skinny okree grows.
OKREE - BURMESE
We had heard good things about Burmese okree, but really didn't know what to expect when we planted it in our late-summer trials. This variety produces the longest okree pods we've ever seen and they stay surprisingly tender at those longer lengths. The pods are lighter in color than traditional okree varieties, but they're tasty and great for any preparation.
COLLARD - FLASH
Our favorite collard variety that we've ever grown was called "Tiger." But unfortunately, that hybrid variety was discontinued several years ago. Since then, we've been searching for a suitable replacement. And it appears we've found it! The Flash variety is the closest thing we've found to Tiger and we're loving the productivity and flavor so far.
MUSTARD - SAVANNA
This is a variety that we grow every single year, and for good reason! This is one of the fastest-growing greens you'll find and the best-tasting mustard variety in our opinion. The leaves are smooth, tender, and delicious! The plants also have long stems with an upright growth habit, so the leaves don't require much cleaning after harvesting.
KALE - BEIRA
We like growing many different types of kale, but had never tried Portuguese kale until 2021. We chose a variety called Beira and have been very pleased with the production and versatility of these. They grow much like a collard and look much like a collard, but the leaves are more tender than collard leaves. As a result, they cook faster and are very versatile as far as the number of ways they can be prepared.
FLOWER - GIANT ORANGE MARIGOLD
The last variety on our 2021 winners list is not a vegetable, but a flower. We plant marigolds in our vegetable gardens every year to provide beauty, attract beneficial insects, feed bees, and provide some natural pest-deterrence. This year we tried a variety called Giant Orange and I don't think we'll be going back to the standard marigold varieties.
These make significantly larger blooms and have longer stems so they can also be harvested and put in a vase. The only downside is that the plants become heavy with blooms and they'll likely need some type of support to keep them standing. We "hilled" ours by pulling soil to the base of the stems with a garden hoe and it worked very well.
NEW WINNERS EVERY YEAR!
We hope you enjoyed Part 1 and Part 2 of our 2021 winners series. As we have more trials comparing different varieties, we'll hopefully have more great winners in 2022 to share with you. Happy Gardening!