Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Understanding Veggie Varieties

Before you go drooling over the luscious veggies in catalogs, in garden centers, and online, it’s good to know a little about the varieties you can choose from. If you select your veggie varieties before you design your garden, you can ensure that you have the proper amount of space and the best growing conditions.

A variety is a selection of a particular type of vegetable that has certain predictable, desirable traits. These traits may include the following:

✓ Adaptation: Some varieties are particularly well adapted to certain areas and climates. For example, some tomato varieties produce good-tasting fruit in the cool, foggy coastal climates of the Pacific Northwest. And certain bean varieties are better adapted to the hot, dry deserts of the American southwest.

✓ Appearance: You can choose from a rainbow of fruit and leaf colors, such as purple peppers, yellow chard, and orange tomatoes. Leaf textures and shapes range from frilly to smooth to puckered. The flowers of some vegetables, such as okra and eggplant, are attractive in their own right. You get the idea. The more beautiful the vegetables, the more beautiful the vegetable garden — and the more stunning the food.

✓ Cooking and storage characteristics: Certain varieties of beans and peas, for example, freeze better than others. Some winter squash varieties may be stored for months, but others need to be eaten immediately.

✓ Days to maturity (or days to harvest): Days to maturity refers to the number of days it takes (under normal conditions) for a vegetable planted from seed (or from transplants) to mature and produce a crop. This number is especially important for vegetable gardeners who live in short-summer climates. Average days to maturity are listed for each type of vegetable in the appendix.

✓ Extended harvest season: A certain variety of corn, for example, may ripen early or late in the season. By planting varieties that ripen at different times, you can start harvesting as early as 60 days after seeding and continue for 5 or 6 weeks. Seed catalogs and packages often describe varieties as early season, midseason, or late season in relationship to other varieties of the same vegetable.

✓ Pest resistance: Many vegetable varieties are resistant to specific diseases or pests — a very important trait in many areas. Some tomato varieties, in particular, have outstanding disease resistance. You also can read about specific pestresistant varieties of individual vegetables.

✓ Plant size: The trend in vegetable breeding is to go small. Tomato, cucumber, and even winter squash varieties are available in dwarf sizes. These varieties are perfect for container growing or small-space gardens.

✓ Taste: Pick a flavor and you can find a vegetable that stars in it. You can grow fruity tomatoes, super-sweet varieties of corn, bitter melons, and spicy peppers. You’ll discover flavors for every taste bud.

To realize the scope of your vegetable variety possibilities, see the individual vegetable descriptions in Part II. It’s also important to note that you can categorize a variety as a hybrid, an open-pollinated, or an heirloom variety. Here’s what these terms mean:

✓ Hybrid: Hybrid seeds (also known as F-1 hybrids) are the result of a cross of selected groups of plants of the same kind, called inbred lines. (A cross is when pollen from one flower fertilizes a flower from another similar plant, resulting in seed.) Hybrid seeds generally are more expensive than open-pollinated seeds, and they can’t be saved and planted the next year because the offspring won’t have the same characteristics as the parents. If you did plant them next year, you’d get a mix of characteristics — some desirable and some not. The plants are uniform, but they often lack a diversity of shapes, colors, sizes, and flavors. However, hybrid plants are more vigorous, productive, and widely adapted than other varieties.

✓ Open-pollinated: Open-pollinated varieties basically are inbred lines allowed to pollinate each other in open fields. They produce offspring that are similar to their parents. Before the arrival of hybrids, all vegetable varieties were open-pollinated. Some gardeners like these varieties for their flavor, their diversity, and the fact that they can save the seeds each year to replant. The resulting offspring are pretty predictable, but they don’t provide the consistency of hybrids.

✓ Heirloom: Any open-pollinated variety that’s at least 50 years old is generally considered an heirloom. Heirlooms are enjoying quite a revival because of the variety of colors, tastes, and forms that are available. They’re worth trying, but keep in mind that some varieties may not have the disease resistance and wide adaptability that hybrids generally have.

One category generally available only to commercial farmers is that of the genetically modified variety. This kind of plant has a gene from a completely unrelated species inserted into it so that it exhibits a certain trait. For example, geneticists have inserted a gene of the biological pesticide Bt into potatoes so that when the Colorado potato beetle (their biggest enemy) eats a potato’s leaves, it also eats the pesticide and dies. Many questions exist about the longterm health risks and environmental safety of manipulating the gene pool so dramatically and quickly. For this reason, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) aren’t allowed in organic gardening.

Source of Information : vegetable gardening for dummies

No comments: