First it was the seed catalogs that appeared on the heels of Christmas. Now the seed packets are showing up in my mailbox. Spring must not be far away.
Being a garden writer, I often get packs of new seed introductions that various seed companies and promotional groups want me to try. It’s always fun to see what they send and over the years I’ve found a few new favorites that stay in my garden.
The latest collection was a sampling of the All-America Selections winners for 2014. AAS is an independent group that tests new introductions and improved varieties of vegetables and flowers for the home gardener. Dozens of varieties are grown by more than 70 trial judges around the country; the top performers are designated as winners for the year.
This year’s selection includes several annuals, a couple of perennials including a new red and white bicolored penstemon “Arabesque” and several vegetables.
My problem is that most of them need to be started indoors and right now my seed-starting space is full of our grown kids’ stuff. However, these new winners did get me to thinking about what some of my all-time favorite garden vegetables were.
In the bean category, my favorite is Rattlesnake Snap Pole Bean. These vigorous climbing beans produce a 6-inch-long green pod with purple splotches. They are similar to the old standards, Oregon Giant and Cascade Giant. I grow them on a section of cattle panel bent into an arch. When they are ready to harvest, I simply walk under the arch and pick the low-hanging fruit – pun intended. The best way to eat them is steamed with butter.
Music garlic is my favorite in the garlic category. This hardneck garlic has large heads with large, easy-to-peel cloves with a nice, spicy flavor. I save the largest heads at the August harvest as my seed stock for planting in October. The rest of the crop I hang in the garage to dry before storing them in a box in a cool but frost-free place. The heads usually stay firm into April.
No vegetable garden is complete without a zucchini plant. After growing several canoe-sized monsters, I started looking for a variety with smaller fruits. Seems I wasn’t the only one looking – soon after the Eight Ball zucchini was released. Eight Ball, like its name indicates, is round and can get from 6 to 8 inches across if you don’t find them quick enough. They are best when they are a little bigger than a billiard ball, sliced and steamed. The larger ones can be hollowed out, stuffed and then steamed.
Lastly, there is nothing better than a carrot pulled fresh from the garden. However why settle for an orange carrot when you can pull up red, yellow and purple ones instead. There are several multicolored rainbow mixes available from different seed companies. The one down side? The color usually disappears when they are cooked.