Top Picks from the Grow Indie Test Garden

11 Apr 2011

In 2010, the Grow Indie team tested out more than 300 varieties from the top independently owned seed companies in our half acre test garden, and with the help of test gardeners all over the country.  And, what a season it was-----the tomatoes thrived, the zukes kicked it out and the hops climbed sky high. But, there were some stellar varieties, some new to us and some old favorites, that especially stood out, making our must-grow list for 2011.

We judged each variety based on how easy it was to grow, disease resistance, looks, and of course, how it tasted. (And, boy did we eat well.)

Without further ado, here were our favorites from Grow Indie test garden and beyond:

1. Saxa 2 Radishes, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

This is a really, really, easy radish to grow. Ours were placed very close and still did quite well, resisting crowding and coming to full globe size. Not pithy, perfectly round 1 to 1.5 inch globes with a spicy kick. We ate these fresh, and used them in Kimchi. YUM.

Storage tip: cut off roots and place radishes in a bowl of water to keep them in the fridge.

2. Dragon's Tongue: Seeds Saver's Exchange

This tasty bean was so easy to grow, and looked beautiful in salads, stir fries and even on sandwiches. WOW. People who had never heard of this bean were amazed. And, it tasted as good as it looked.

Tip: If you cook them, they loose their stripes; try marinating them instead and adding them to salads, and they’ll keep their looks.

3. Early Moonbeam Watermelon, Seeds of Change
Cute perfect round melon with tiger stripes and hyper yellow color inside. So, so sweet. We ate it with a spoon as dessert.

4. Delicata and Butternut mix, Renee's Garden

These both did great despite the squashbugapocolypse of 2010. Each plant produced a good amount of both squashes.The compact was true to it's name and was good for small spaces. Delicata squash is always a favorite and is a great size for sharing----we cut ours in half, roasted it, and stuffed it in quinoa, serving it as it's own bowl. FYI: You can eat the skin of the delicata squash.

5. Top Tomato: Tim's Black Ruffles, Happy Cat Farm

The flavor of this tomato was so good we worshipped it all summer long. Bred by Happy Cat's owner Tim Mountz, this large beefsteak size tomato is great for slicing/salads/everything.

blue potato frittata 6. Blue Potatoes, Peaceful Valley Farm

Good texture, high yields, and a goergous purple/blue color that is definitely a conversation starter. These potatoes made the best fritattas, and were great roasted.

7. Black plum, Underwood Gardens

Great for sauces, ketchup, and chutneys. These perfect mini plums were one of the first tomatoes out of the test garden, and kept producing until frost. Very reliable and good disease resistance. Raw taste is not great, but they make a fantastic sauce, especially since they have fewer seeds.

8. Top Sauce Tomato: Speckled Roman, Happy Cat Farm

A favorite paste tomato among our testers, this stunning tomato is
good for canning or fresh, has few seeds, and makes a fantastic sauce.

9. Best Cherry Tomato: Black Cherry, Underwood Gardens

Amazing flavor burst from this tiny tomato. Gorgeous color, great sliced in half and eaten raw in salads. Does really well in all conditions. Kept kicking it out all summer.

10. Chiquita Tomato, Johnny's Seeds

Picked our first tomato 6/25! The Chiquita was the first one to turn. Iridescent pink plum shapes are absolutely prolific. Wait till they turn really pink for best flavor. Make a great roasted cherry  tomato sauce.

11. Neon Glow Swiss Chard, Renee's Garden

We planted this swiss chard once in April, and were harvesting until frost. Compared to our other swiss chards, Renee’s Neon Glow performed way better than others, with uniform leaves, rust resistance, and stunning vibrant colors.

12. Lacinato Kale, Peaceful Valley

Prolific variety of heirloom kale that had good resistance to disease. tasty raw, or cooked up with garlic. 

13  Sungold, Renee's Garden

The sweetest, earliest tomato there is, these little yellow suns are bursting with flavor, and extremely prolific.

14. Champion Collards, Fedco Seeds

Reliable, large leafing collard that shows great pest resistance. These leaves get bigger than your head, and are good in stir fries, marinated, in green smoothies, or rolled up and used as taco shells.

15. Long island Cheese, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Huge creamy cheese wheel pumpkins did well despite cucumber beetle attacks. These pumking look like big ol’ wheels of cheese (hence the name) and were great roasted, pureed, and turned into pies, dumplings,and gnocci. They also freeze well.

16. Poona Kheera Cucumber, High Mowing Seeds
Large capsule shaped cukes turn russet brown, and have a delicate flavor and firm crunch. During the summer, we just eat these right out of the garden they are so good.

17. Spoon gourds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Each one of these plants brought us a gajillion pretty little tiny bi-colored gourds. We are drying them out now for making spoons! or maybe xmas ornaments? hmmmm.

18. Chioggia Beet, Peaceful Valley
“I love the color of these Beets; red and white rings on the inside,” says Kristi. “and the flavor is exceptional. They are great grilled---just slice them thin, brush with oil and put them on the grill.”

19. Tiger's Eye Bean, Seed Savers Exchange

This bean was prolific, and ripened really fast---one day it was a fresh bean, next day it was dried and ready to be turned into soup. When you open the brown, dried up pod, you are rewarded with some of the most beautiful beans you ever saw.

20. Golden Sweet Peas, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

These peas have a mild sweetness and have a nice crispness for a snow pea. Their light yellowish green color makes them a beautiful addition to any spring garden. An excellent producer.
"You can almost skip lunch if you are picking these because a bunch of them will and up in your mouth no matter how hard  you try to resist," says Kristi.

21. Red Burgundy Okra, Seed Savers Exchange

Stunning 4 foot plants were taller than other varieties and the okra sometimes curled into a spiral which was neat. These were tasty with with stewed tomatoes or jambalaya.
“My wife likes them coated in coarse corn meal and fried,” says test grow David Keller. “Beat an egg in a bowl. Dip the okra in the egg. Mix up corn meal, a pinch of sea salt, ground red & black pepper on a plate. Coat the okra with the corn meal mixture and fry in a cast iron skillet at medium high heat. Even okra non-believers will like these.”

Tip: Best when picked young before getting tough. Keep an eye on your okra. They will be too small one day and two days later they might be past their prime for tenderness.

22. Wachichu Flint Flour Corn, Seeds of Change

Beautiful multi colored blue, red, yellow, white and kernels that can be dried and ground into flour. Use to make your own corn tortillas and cornbread!

23. Cuccuzi squash, Seeds of Italy

Crazy looking, italian heirloom that prolifically produces 36 inch long squashes. Good for frying,steaming, canning, or freezing.

24. Red Noodle Bean, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

This is a super fun bean to grow. It is majestic burgundy pole bean that needs a sturdy trellis. The beans can reach about 18 inches long. They are sometimes called Asian yard-long beans.
“The beans are so cool to wear as an interesting living scarf, however my husband will dispute they are much better in a stir fry,” says test grower Kristi Rice. “You can tie them iinto intricate knots and sauté them and serve them on top other dishes. You only need two or three for a full meal. Grilling is another nice option. Brush them with oil and put them right on the grill.”

25. Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

If you ain’t dutch, you ain’t much. This native did really well in our Kutztown, PA test garden (which makes sense, but you could tell this squash LOVED this area). Tons of huge 10 to 20 pound squashes, sweet and great for pies. Each one makes enough for 2 to 3 pies, easy.

And a huge thank you to all of our Grow Indie test growers and helpers:

Colleen Underwood, Dave Beltz, Paul David, Wayne Miller, Anney Ryan, Paul Lynch, Dave and Kristi Rice, Eric de Jesus and Beth Duby, Chris Eugster, Holly Cadwallader, Paige Fulton Persky, Poppy and Tigercatt Biggs, Jeri Collichio, Monica Elliot, David Hettinger, Tamu Ngina, Meadowview Farm, Danny Sevem, Katie Newcomer, Lloyd Chesterfield, and Mark Stiehl (who still claims he did most of the work on this thing).