What is a hybrid vegetable?
Hybrids are compatible plants that have been intentionally cross pollinated to create a plant that will combine the best attributes of both parents. This thoughtful work by plant breeders or hybridizers has brought us hundreds of new vegetable varieties that have more disease resistance, heat resistance, different coloring, or some other desirable trait.
Hybrids have been created over the eons when plants naturally cross pollinated because pollen had been carried by the wind or by insect pollinators. Hybridizers have been breeding new plants for decades to make it easier for gardeners to grow healthier more disease resistant plants. I want to stress that hybrids are not the controversial Genetically Modified Plants (GMOs) which are created through technological gene splicing procedures.
Tomatoes are among the most popular vegetables to eat and one of the most popular to plant because there is nothing like the fragrance and flavor of a fresh ripe tomato off the vine. There are now dozens of hybrid tomatoes on the market. This year Johnny’s Selected Seeds of Maine has developed Jasper, a new cherry tomato that not only has a sweet rich flavor, but a vigorous growth habit that is resistant to several diseases including early and late blight which have been such a problem lately.
Johnny’s is also offering a new late blight resistant slicing tomato, Mountain Merit. Disease resistance is an important attribute to be looking for in any vegetable or flower.
As Americans we often like to look for big vegetables. Burpee’s new big tomato is the meaty Supersauce which can reach a weight of two pounds. “One tomato will fill a jar” the catalog says, but this disease resistant tomato is also good for salad.
If I could have only a tiny vegetable garden it would be a salad garden with tomatoes and salad greens. Now it is easier for us who like a mixture of greens, but have no need of six packets of seed to gain satisfaction. Renee’s Garden has several lettuce mixes including Farmers Market Blend consisting of Little Gem, Cimarron, Outrageous and Tango lettuces, green and red varieties. What I like about the lettuce-only blends is that they all ripen at about the same time instead of the mesclun blends where harvest times can vary.
The lettuce and greens sections in the catalogs is filled with familiar varieties, but even so I found a new pale green oakleaf, Ocate, in the Johnny’s catalog with strong disease resistance. It is slow to bolt, a big plus as far as I am concerned.
Broccoli is a big item in my weekly grocery basket, and in my garden. Burpee’s is offering a new broccoli variety, Sun King, that tolerates more heat than most other broccoli which grows best during the cool seasons, but stops growing when it is too hot.
While some cauliflower varieties are not brand new, many companies offer a fascinating array of this often ignored vegetable. Veronica produces a surprising looking head that is lime green with pointed, spiraled pinnacles. This is a perfect variety for succession planting because it can be planted in summer for fall harvest .
Graffiti is a brilliant purple cauliflower and Cheddar is an orange shade that becomes brighter when lightly cooked.
One of the biggest and most beautiful catalogs around is the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog. You will not find any new hybrids here, but you will find many open pollinated vegetables and flowers that will be new to you.
Squash is not a very exciting vegetable, but Baker Creek offers some of the most weird or beautiful squashes you will ever see. I was particularly taken by the Galeux D’Eysines winter squash which is billed as one of the most beautiful heirloom squashes. This 10-15 pound French heirloom has a salmon-peach skin covered with large gold-mustard warts. It doesn’t sound beautiful, but it certainly is interesting looking. It has deep orange flesh and is good for baking, and for making soup.
Closer to home is the Boston Marrow squash. This red-orange squash will reach about 15 pounds and was first documented in 1831. According to the Baker Creek catalog “Mr. J.M. Ives of Salem, MA . . .received seeds from a friend in Northampton who had obtained his seeds from a friend in Buffalo.” Apparently the seed first came from Native Americans in the Buffalo area. Boston Marrow became one of the most important commercial squashes through the 19th century. It is rarely offered anymore, but it was chosen for a place in the Slow Foods “Ark of Taste” for its superior flavor.
High Mowings Organic Seed Company of Vermont is now offering Winter Luxury pumpkin for the first time. This heirloom pie pumpkin has orange skin with a silvery netting so it is especially pretty. The flavorful flesh is velvety and sweet, making it perfect for pies, cheesecake and soup.
Whether your desire to try something new takes you to the newest disease resistant varieties, or back to an unusual heirloom variety, or to a new seed mixture that will give you an interesting variety in a single seed packet, or simply a new to you variety, seed catalogs and websites offer you a myriad of choices.
Between the Rows January 19, 2013