Vegetable Varieties for Home Gardens

Each year Cornell University publishes and distributes through the Cooperative Extension offices around the state a Selected List of Vegetable Varieties that have proven success records over the years. The list is very extensive and covers vegetables from asparagus to zucchini. When I say extensive I mean it. Take, for example, peas. There are seven varieties of early peas, six of late peas, four of snow peas, and four of snap peas.

The University also publishes a second list, New Vegetable Varieties. This list for 2007 consists of new releases or introductions not yet proven to be worthy of addition to the Selected List mentioned above. That's where you come in. Before any of these can be considered for addition to the recommended Selected List, the University wants to hear from you. It wants to know how well it grows and produces in New York State gardens just like yours. The request is to "Grow these and then share your opinions via" on your computer.

Here comes the best part. When you go to this page, you have the opportunity to become a participant along with other gardeners and Cornell researchers in a Citizen Science program. Whether you grow six or one hundred and six different vegetables, you'll have the luxury of like-minded gardeners sharing and rating some of the very same vegetables based on your personal experience.

Just as no two soils are the same, no two gardens are the same. Most gardeners realize the value of knowing the soil pH. The more serious gardener also has a nutrient analysis of his garden soil done every few years. Those economically dependent on the quantity and quality of their produce are usually farmers and have these soil tests done every year.

Some gardeners are specialists growing only a few vegetable varieties. Others are generalists, growing a multiplicity of varieties and experimenting each season with new ones. Some will only grow in raised beds, and others in cultivated areas rotating their crops religiously. Still others might be advocates of no-till gardening. Some will make every effort to stay as organic as possible, and others will rely on commercial fertilizers and pesticides. Those familiar with IPM (Integrated Pest Management) know the value of this program and most likely adhere to its principles.

Think about the many ways you can rate a vegetable. All of these can become a part of your contribution. Some of the parameters might include ease of seed germination, growth rate under droughty or wet weather conditions, heat or cold tolerance, difficulty or ease of cultivation, pest susceptibility or resistance, days to maturity, difficulty or ease of harvest, color, taste, size, yield, keeping quality, appropriateness for container growing, performance vs. expectation, and special characteristics. These are the kind of entries you might make in your garden diary, and the very same comments you might make as member of the Citizen Science program.

Once you have arrived at the above Cornell website, prepare to be thrilled by an abundance of useful information. More than 4100 varieties of vegetables are included, growing guides for sixty-one vegetables and a browse list of seventy-four crops. This is the staggering part. This browse feature releases vast amounts of information. An example: click on tomatoes and 699 all different tomatoes pop up (as of this writing). Of these, 280 are rated from one star to five. In addition, they may be ranked by any of the following categories just by changing with a click: overall, taste, yield, ease, most popular, days to maturity, and variety name. They are also sorted in either descending or ascending order, your choice (by a click).

The website is easy to navigate. Hitting the back button, clicking on eggplant yields 147 eggplant varieties, 46 rated to date. Arugula yields 19 varieties, and so on.

As an experiment, I click on Growing Guides. I'm taken to Home Gardening. I click on Vegetables. I click on Arugula. Up comes the Arugula page with Site Characteristics, Plant Traits, Special Considerations, Growing Information, Pests, Diseases, and Varieties. One couldn't ask for more. The site is still under development, so I don't yet have a photo of arugula to look at. No doubt, that will be coming soon.

Another experiment, just to see how complete this website is. Above I mentioned that a list of seventy-four crops could be browsed. I see that watermelon is not one of them. On the left of my screen I see a search window. I type in watermelon and hit the search button. Bingo! One hundred and thirty-four varieties come up, forty-seven rated so far. Clearly the seventy-four listed that can be browsed is just a suggested list. Many more are possible.

Clicking on Cornell Gardening Info and a page full of additional links arrives. These consist of Gardening Resources, Home Gardening, Recommended vegetable varieties for the home garden, Basic Concepts of Seed Production and Seed Regeneration, Find local help (this relates to CCE offices and Master Gardener resources), Gardening publications, Horticulture Distance Learning, and links to Vegetable Cultivar Descriptions for North America, and World Crops.

Through the wonders of the World Wide Web, this site offers links to Cornell's Organic Seeds Partnership, Cornell Cooperative Extension offices and well as Cooperative Extensions throughout the U. S., plant databases, and ethnic crops for the Northeastern U. S.

Other features of this site include a link to blogs, polls, and complete instructions on how to use it to your benefit. Before long, you will register, login, create a "my varieties" and "my profile" and be on your way as a citizen scientist partner with Cornell University, Cornell Cooperative Extension and gardening enthusiasts across the state. What a wonderful opportunity to grow, learn and share.

The next time you visit your garden, bring a notebook. Then when you go inside and have a little quiet time, log in and visit Cornell's vegetable variety web site. You might be both surprised and delighted. I know why it's my favorite gardening site, and I have it bookmarked so I can find it fast.


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on July 25, 2007

© 2007 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.