Like most gardeners, I try a lot of new stuff every year. Some of it fails, some is good enough to make a nice novelty but not good enough to make the long-term cut, and some new items become a part of my regular line-up.
This was a tough year for my garden, and everything that survived deserves some credit. The blistering heat, unusual for this area, and a lot of neglect on my part due to other pressing matters made for a veritable Darwinian demo of natural selection in action.
A special Most Tolerant Vegetable award goes to sweet potatoes. They might get an award for Most Nutritious Vegetable, too, and possibly for Most Delicious Vegetable. No matter what kind I plant, they seem to flourish. I pick so many of the leaves off for greens and salads that it’s a wonder they survive, but I got a very nice crop of roots too. I tend to like the dry yellow types better than the moister orange types, but the latter are healthier to eat, so plant both. Can’t beat ’em. Grow plenty.
The other winners were:
Squash: Waltham Butternut, Chiriman and Kikuza, three C. moschata subtypes. They were resistant to borers, laughed off squash bugs, and soaked up the heat. All had delicious flesh when cured, a little on the moist side but sweet, stringless, and close in quality to my beloved Buttercup, which I can’t grow here because the borers always get it. They were watered irregularly and tolerated that.
Greens: Malva sylvestris. This is an attractive ornamental with mauve flowers, and it makes good healthy leaves for greens in the hottest weather. I’ve chosen it over my old favorite Malva verticillata because it’s a more ornamental plant and equally good to eat. It’s less prolific, but that’s a good thing.
Chicory “Trieste sweet”. This was advertised as less bitter than other chicories, but in my garden it wasn’t. That’s fine with me, since I love the light clean bitterness of well-grown chicory in a salad, and this one was a very strong grower with pretty light green smooth leaves.
Carrot: “Purple Rain.” I love purple carrots for some reason, and the darker the better. This one fit the bill, dark purple right to the core. See chunks of it, loaded with anthocyanins, in the post “Root Vegetables Chairoscuro.”
Parsnips: “Turga.” I only grew a few, and next year I’ll be growing a lot more. They tolerated heat and drought and heavy clay soil. By December when not much else is available fresh, they’re sweet and delicious. They don’t need any special storage for the winter; just leave them in the ground and dig them whenever the ground isn’t frozen.
Potatoes: Red Norland. I adore Peruvian Purple potatoes and have always grown a lot of them, but this year they were a complete crop failure, while ordinary Red Norlands came through shining, as they always do. So experiment all you like with exotic potatoes, but have a few hills of the Old Reliable. Even if you don’t have room to grow main crop potatoes for storage, you’ll want a few hills to dig for gossamer-skinned new potatoes.
Spinach: America. This very old hybrid is still going strong. Not as big as some, not as smooth as some, not as savoyed as some, it just produced lots of tasty leaves in cold weather and in hot, unruffled by the changes that nature threw at it.
Swiss chard: Fordhook Giant. For years I flirted with the multicolor types, but they don’t produce as well as this old stalwart, and I grow leafy greens to eat, not to look at. It mixes nicely with flowers.
Squash: Sucrine de berry and Musque de Provence. Both had come highly recommended by the catalog for flavor and lack of fiber, and unfortunately both were just awful. Both had stringy unpleasant flesh, and Musque had very little sweetness or flavor of any kind while Sucrine was watery and had a strong unpleasant scent and taste that one taster described as “Squnk.” Both were vine-ripened and cured for two months, so I can only assume that the seedstock was not pure, but since I rely on winter squash for a lot of my winter vegetable supply, I can’t take a chance on them again. They are quite decorative on the end of my dining room table, and the chickens will eat the flesh if I bake it for them, but that wasn’t my plan for my squash supply.
Summer squash: Trombocino. This is a vining summer squash that gets high marks for flavor in some catalogs. I can only say that in my garden it was hugely prolific but had no flavor at all. I’ll be going back to some zucchinis that I like better to eat.
Mirliton These are a common vegetable in Louisiana where I grew up, and they love heat, so I thought that if I supplied water they would do well here. Unfortunately, they shriveled in our dry heat. They might do better if given some shade, and I’ll probably try that this summer.
Milk thistle: I was bamboozled by some foragers into introducing this pernicious weed to my yard. It’s very pretty in an architectural way, but the leaves are touchy to pick, prickle removal is somewhat tedious, and the green that you’re left with doesn’t taste that great. The flavor isn’t bad, but certainly it isn’t anything I’d go out of my way to eat. And once having introduced them, they take hold with frightening avidity. Better not to get started with them. By the way, some people on the Internet say that if you boil the leaves, they can be eaten prickles and all, to which I say “Bah.” Further, I say that they’ve never really tried it. I would buy a ticket to watch one of those people eat a plate of thistle boiled stickers-and-all.