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Jessica Walliser

The 5 best vegetable varieties from my 2018 garden

Jessica Walliser
| Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, 12:03 a.m.
“Red Cored Chantenay” is an heirloom carrot that’s about 6 inches long. The flavor is as sweet as can be.
Jessica Walliser
“Red Cored Chantenay” is an heirloom carrot that’s about 6 inches long. The flavor is as sweet as can be.
“Italian Orange” peppers
Jessica Walliser
“Italian Orange” peppers

Now that the first frost has struck the Pittsburgh region and the gardening season is drawing to a close, it’s a good time to assess what performed well in your vegetable garden this year and what did not.

Like many gardeners, I like to grow plenty of “old favorites” in my veggie patch; things I know my family already loves. But, I also like to try some new-to-me varieties, too, just to see if we might find a new favorite.

This summer, we were fortunate enough to enjoy a long and productive growing season, filled with great harvests. But, there were a few plants in my vegetable garden that were complete knock-outs. They outshined the other varieties in one way or another, and introduced something new to my kitchen.

Today, I’d like to share some of these extremely successful varieties I grew this season so that you, too, might take a chance on growing them in the future. They did not disappoint.

“Dragon Tongue” Bush Bean I purchased these seeds from one of my favorite catalogs, Territorial Seeds ( territorialseed.com ) this spring, after seeing the plants on a garden tour in Buffalo last summer. I knew they were going to be delicious because I tried one on that tour, but what I didn’t know was how productive the plants would be. My “Dragon Tongue” beans produced oodles of beautiful, greenish yellow beans with purple stripes, though the purple disappears when the beans are cooked. I grew one 10-foot row and we had more beans than we knew what to do with. We ate some, froze some, and I even left some of the pods on the plants to dry so I could save the seeds for next year. This is an old-fashioned heirloom variety that grows about 18-24 inches tall.

“Italian Orange” Pepper Every May, I head to the May Mart at Phipps and purchase starter plants of my favorite tomato and pepper varieties from a small urban farm in Wilkinsburg called Garden Dreams Urban Farm and Nursery ( mygardendreams.com ). This year, I tried a sweet pepper from them called “Italian Orange” for the first time and was blown away. I harvested dozens of elongated, thick-walled, sweet, orange peppers. Each one was about 6 inches long and packed with flavor. The plants grew between 3 and 4 feet tall and were a dark, beautiful green. This open-pollinated heirloom pepper was, hands down, the best pepper I’ve ever grown.

“Red Cored Chantenay” Carrot Each year I grow “Scarlet Nantes” carrots, along with some other varieties. But this year I had a gift certificate to spend from Botanical Interests, a rock-star of a seed catalog ( botanicalinterests.com ), and I decided to buy a packet of “Red Cored Chantenay.” This heirloom carrot is 6 inches long, and the flavor is as sweet as can be. There was zero root forking and I had great germination rates. I think every seed grew into a full-sized carrot. I’ve been harvesting since early summer, and the roots that are still in the garden have now been covered with a thick layer of straw. I’ll harvest more as I need them throughout the winter or until they’re gone.

“Litt’l Bites Cherry” Tomato Admittedly I’m a bit of a tomato snob, especially when it comes to cherry varieties. My personal favorite is a white cherry tomato called “Snow White,” but it grows into a huge plant. I was looking for a good cherry tomato for a patio container when I spied “Litt’l Bites Cherry” in the Renee’s Garden seed catalog ( reneesgarden.com ). I grew just a single seed from the packet, figuring I didn’t have much to lose if I ended up not liking it. Well, by the time August rolled around, I wished I’d grown a few more of those seeds. This turned out to be a great choice for a container garden. The plants were compact and super-productive. The tomatoes were sweet and cascaded in clusters down the side of the container. The plant itself was shaped like a little mound on top of the pot; I didn’t even have to stake it. Next year I may try it in a large hanging basket or in the elevated raised bed planter I have on my patio.

“White Wonder” Cucumbers I’ve grown and loved another white cucumber variety called “Silver Slicer” for the past five years, so I thought I’d give another white selection a try. In my garden, the white cucumbers tend to have less damage from cucumber beetles and they produce well regardless of the weather conditions. “White Wonder” is an heirloom from the 1800s, while “Silver Slicer” was bred more recently at Cornell University, so I was curious to compare the two. I found them both to be exceptional. White cucumbers may at first seem odd, but their flavor is mild and absolutely delicious, with nary a hint of bitterness. The texture is crisp and crunchy. Though, in all honesty, I didn’t think “White Wonder” would even begin to compare to “Silver Slicer,” both varieties are well worth growing.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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