In the Garden:
Upper South
June, 2007
Regional Report

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Garden festivals often provide tastings where you can compare flavors.

A Matter of Taste

A recent stint as a judge at the Starlight Strawberry Festival reminded me how important variety selection is with regards to flavor of whatever food crops we're growing. For example, 'Allstar', an often-recommended variety was practically tasteless, while 'Cabot', the winner, tasted exactly the way a strawberry should.

Of course, growth characteristics, such as hardiness and pest resistance, also have to be taken into consideration when choosing varieties, but, for me, flavor is a key element. Except for locally grown food from a farmer's market, with so much of our food we're at the mercy of some commercial grower whose main objective is production, not flavor, so we've come to accept whatever is available. If we're going to the effort to grow our own, then why not let the taste of the food be a primary consideration?

To that end, I spend hours pouring over garden catalogs and Web sites, often trying to read between the lines of variety descriptions, attempting to choose varieties with the best flavor. Two aspects can make this difficult. One is that garden companies are trying to sell product, so the job of each copywriter is to make everything sound wonderful. The second is that what tastes great to one person may not appeal to another.

Fortunately, many catalogs and Web sites have comparisons of flavor as well as other characteristics, especially for fruit varieties. Or, you can purchase and try different varieties at farmers' markets. Sometimes local farms will have festivals with tastings, too. Otherwise, it comes down to experimentation. Each year I grow at least a few that I haven't tried before to see if there are better ones.

Some Berries To Consider
Nutritionists and other health experts are continually exhorting us to eat more berries, and since these are the easiest of fruits to grow in the home garden, I hope you consider adding these sometime. Which ones to consider? I'm looking not only for good flavor but also for varieties that freeze well, and some of the most recommended options are 'Earliglow', 'Cavendish', 'Mesabi', 'Jewel', and 'Sparkle'.

Of the blueberry varieties suited for the Midwest and East, those with both excellent flavor and winter hardiness include 'Northland', 'Blueray', 'Bluecrop', and 'Jersey'.

Raspberries are expensive to buy, not because they're difficult to grow but because they are so perishable. In fact, they are amazingly easy to grow, especially the fall or everbearing types. Although you can get both a spring and a fall crop, the easiest way to prune is to just mow down the entire patch in spring and get only a fall crop. Although 'Heritage' has long been the standard-bearer for red everbearing raspberries, consider growing 'Caroline', as it has better flavor, bigger berries, and has been shown to have the highest nutrient content of any raspberry.

A Look At Garden Peas
Peas were my primary comparison crop in the spring garden. I grew five kinds of the baby French petit pois, two varieties of super sweet peas, three snow peas, two sugar snaps, and two dwarf peas. Of the petit pois, 'Citadel' has been the earliest and most productive with the best flavor. The super sweets, 'Eclipse' and 'Garden Sweet', both hold their flavor well, but the predominant flavor is sugar not that of peas; I probably won't grow them again.

The snow peas provide the most pea flavor, with widely grown 'Oregon Sugar Pod II' having the best flavor and growth. The challenge now with them is to see how well they freeze. For sugar snaps, 'Cascadia' and 'Sugar Sprint' are running a close race; because 'Sugar Sprint' grows only about 18 inches, it is a prime candidate for my experiment in growing in the greenhouse this winter. The dwarf novelty peas 'Tom Thumb' and 'Peas 'n-a-Pot', both grown in containers, were just that, novelties.

Coming Up
Among this summer's comparisons are about ten kinds each of beets and Romano beans, plus 50 kinds of tomatoes. I realize that probably not everyone is going to go to my effort of comparison, but I do encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and try at least a few varieties this year that are new to you. Your taste buds will celebrate.


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