Varieties: The Spice of Life in the Garden, An Important and Fun Tool
Why are there so many varieties of some vegetables? Different uses dictate different varieties. If you want to make pickles, then you want to select a pickling cucumber variety.
Take Tomatoes for instance, the nation’s favorite vegetable, (which is actualy a fruit!), has so many varieties that even the varieties have varieties! But why? When I say the word tomato in my garden class I can almost see the vision of a huge Brandywine tomato in thought bubbles of each person, the bread and mayo ready for a thick slab of juicy goodness.
I always pop that bubble by explaining that it is best to start with Cherry Tomatoes, I can see the shoulders slump and disappointment on their faces!
There are two general categories, Bush (determinate) and Vine (indeterminate). Then there are different sizes, Cherry, Saladette, Grape, Medium Slicers, Paste, and Beefsteak or Brandywine. There are Hybrids, Heirlooms, Greenhouse and Grafted tomatoes. To add to this there are Red, Pink, Yellow, Orange, Black, Purple, Zebra and Green Tomatoes (Pink Berkley Tie Dye). Then add to this we have Early, Mid-season and Late
But Why? Why So Many Different Varieties?
Well besides the ‘Spice of life’ thing, there are good reasons to choose and that comes down to what you plan to use the tomato harvest for when they are ripe.
To start, decide if you want bush or vine tomatoes. I apologize it is not either or bush or vine. The bush tomato will produce a crop that is ripe and ready within a short window of time so you can get several large batches to can, freeze or dry all at once. So for storage bush is the way to go.
The vine type produces tomatoes regularly over the season so are best for daily salads and cooking. But you will need staking or a trellis to support the vine. So you may want some of both varieties.
What Ripens When
First to ripen are the cherry, grape and saladette (1 to 4 ounces), for the early salads and eating out of hand – plant these. For beginners it is the easiest to succeed with smaller varieties, and the Sungold Orange are like eating candy. Most cherry tomatoes are vine types and need a trellis. Mine will usually grow 6 to 8 feet tall and will produce fruit up until the last frost.
For sauce, drying or freezing, select the Roma Paste tomato types (4 to 12 oz) I suggest you only use red tomatoes for sauce because the colored tomatoes tend to turn the sauce brownish.
The Medium slicers (4 to 12oz.) are great for general use and if the meat is solid they will work for sauce as well. I know Ed liked the Jet Star, a great producer bush type.
Beefsteak and Brandywine (12 to 16 oz.) are the largest and we love to make sandwiches from these big boys. They are also the most difficult to grow. They are heavy feeders, require pruning the fruits to one or two per bunch and need strong supports so they don’t fall over from their own weight. With the work goes the reward!
All the colors are just for spice. The green tomatoes of ‘fried green tomatoes’ are unripe tomatoes but there are green varieties that are green when mature. They are a novelty but useful when you make a Tomatillo Salsa to add for flavor and retain the unique green color of tomatillos. I plant a red, yellow and orange variety for my salads.
Bean varieties are similar to tomatoes. There are Bush and Pole Beans, each has it own purpose for the gardener. The bush beans, like the bush tomato bear fruit in a short window of time, good for canning and freezing. Pole beans bear over the whole season for fresh eating. We love to steam the beans to just tender, dress with butter, and Umeboshi vinegar, a salty plum vinegar from Japan. It’s like eating popcorn. Both Pole
There are also Shell beans for eating the bean and not the pod like Fava and Soybean Edamame, as well as Lima Beans and Black Eyed Peas for eating fresh.
Then there are Dry Beans like Kidney and Black Beans that are dried and cooked. Great for long term storage. There are too many varieties to cover here So we will stick to Green Beans.
You get the idea, make sure that the variety that you choose fits your goal, your season and you soil conditions, and the time of year you plan to plant.
Thanks. That’s it for this show. See you In The Garden next week when we’ll talk about Green Manure.