Plant Answers  >  WHERE, OH WHERE HAVE MY FAVORITE VEGETABLE VARIETIES GONE!?!

WHERE, OH WHERE HAVE MY FAVORITE
VEGETABLE VARIETIES GONE!?!

Where can you get an unbiased, scientific appraisal of which vegetable varieties perform best in this area? From the Texas Cooperative Extension horticulturists, of course! We don't just pull these varietal recommendations out of thin air either - - the Cooperative Extension horticulturists work diligently with local farmers and transplant producers to test and evaluate a wide range of new plant varieties.

Over the years major advancements have been in the area of production reliability. Reliable production has been made possible by new hybrid varieties of vegetables which are earlier producers of larger yields. These hybrids are disease resistant as well as vigorous growers. For instance, thirty years ago the tomato variety, Homestead, was the most widely planted variety in this area. It would do ok in the spring, but in the fall it was rare to harvest a ripe tomato before frost destroyed the plants loaded with green tomatoes. The Texas Cooperative Extension horticulturists introduced the hybrid Spring Giant and growers could then depend on a harvest of tomatoes every fall. Hybrids such as the Spring Giant and Surefire tomato were being harvested before the first fruit was being set on the Homestead plants. Spring Giant was superseded by the more adapted varieties such as Surefire, Heatwave and SunMaster.

In the 30 years which I have been in San Antonio as a horticulturist for Texas Cooperative Extension, this system of cooperative testing and local marketing has introduced productive hybrid tomatoes (Spring Giant, Big Set, Celebrity, Jack Pot, Bingo, Carnival, Whirlaway, Heatwave, SunMaster, Surefire and Merced); peppers (Summer Sweet 860 Bell Pepper, Bell Tower Bell Pepper, Capistrano Bell Pepper, Hidalgo Serrano, TAM Mild Jalapeño, Grande Jalapeño and Rio Grande Gold Sweet Jalapeño); Brussels sprouts (Prince Marvel); cantaloupe (Magnum 45, TAM Uvalde); sweet corn (Funks Sweet-G 90, Honeycomb, Merit); onion (Texas A&M Supersweet 1015Y, Grano 502, Granex (Vidalia); squash (Dixie, Multipik); broccoli (Green Comet, Baccus); spinach (Fall Green and Coho) and cauliflower (Snow Crown). Now, most of these tried-and-proven superior varieties are no longer available for home gardeners to enjoy. How and why could something like this happen?!?!

The short story is: There are only a few vegetable seed companies left in the world and they are eliminating the older, Texas-proven varieties in favor of new, "improved' hybrids. This elimination includes Merced, Heatwave , Surefire, SunMaster tomatoes and Green Comet broccoli. Remaining supplies will soon be depleted. Dr. Larry Stein and I, reworked the Extension Vegetable Recommendation list and sources after a long period of denial about the non-existence of Porter & Sons Seedmen in Stephenville, Texas, which used to be a major seed supplier for Texas gardeners. The Cooperative Extension Vegetable Recommendation list and sources can be found at:

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/PLANTanswers/vegvar.html

Seed of the Texas SuperStar tomato varieties (Merced and Surefire) have been discontinued so those seed will soon be eliminated from the market. SunMaster and Heatwave have also met similar fates. However, the most recent SuperStar tomato named 'Tomato444' can be found in the list as BHN444 and a new tomato named SunLeaper (available from Stoke's Seeds Ltd. http://www.stokeseeds.com/cgi-bin/StokesSeeds.storefront )

is showing promise as per our demonstrations at:

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/vegetables/2003falltomatotrials/index.html

So, we recommend for tomatoes this spring that gardeners use Carnival, Celebrity, SunPride and/or Tomato444 for seed-you-can-find home garden tomatoes. If gardeners will look around the Internet, they may also be able to find seed of Amelia and SunLeaper which have also performed well for San Antonio gardeners.

We have been testing broccoli for several years (as seen at:

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/vegetables/2003broccolitrials/index.html

and

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/vegetables/2004broccolitrials/index.html

trying to find a replacement for Green Comet which is no longer available. Notice in the 2004 Spring trials that there were only two varieties with images attached. That is because these were THE ONLY TWO varieties which made heads in the spring!

Green Magic broccoli was first put on the San Antonio market in the fall of 2004 but because of the hottest October in history, the quality of early (Aug-Oct) planted broccoli was not what we had experienced in our testing. The later planted Green Magic broccoli was high quality and it should be wonderful this spring because broccoli performs best when it experiences cool growing conditions. Broccoli transplants can be planted in the San Antonio area as late as March 15 and in the hillcountry as late as April 1.

We could not find a seed source for Green Magic so the best chance for that are transplants in San Antonio. We do have a seed source for Emerald Pride at: Stoke's Seeds Ltd.
http://www.stokeseeds.com/cgi-bin/StokesSeeds.storefront
The Emerald Pride broccoli variety performs well in a fall planting if gardeners want to grow their own plants from seed. Plant seed for fall broccoli according to the planting guide at:

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/PLANTanswers/fallgarden/falldirect.html

It is too late to seed spring broccoli directly into the garden.


All of these new varieties are hybrids. What is this thing called a hybrid? What makes it so special and so expensive? A hybrid is "the offering of two plants of different races, breeds, varieties or inbred lines of a particular crop. Sweet corn offers an excellent example of the procedure followed in the development of hybrids. Individual plants are selected from ordinary open-pollinated (inbred) and the resulting seed from each plant is sown separately the following year and selected plants are again self-pollinated. This procedure is repeated for several generations until the plants of each inbred line have become very uniform. The inbreds are then combined in various F-1 hybrid combinations and evaluated. Those hybrids which appear superior are tested extensively and some may achieve commercial acceptance.

Because the development of hybrids and hybrid seed production entail extra work and expense, the hybrid crop must possess some advantage. One such advantage of most hybrids is that they have greater vigor which may be expressed as greater size of plant, higher yield or earlier maturity.

Another important advantage which some hybrids possess is greater uniformity. Most of the broccoli hybrids now being grown are considerably more uniform in plant and head characteristics and especially in time of maturity than the open-pollinated varieties which they have replaced.

One disadvantage of hybrids is that seed from the hybrid plants cannot be saved with the expectation of obtaining plants with the same degree of vigor and uniformity in the following or F-2 generation. In the F-2 generation there is no loss of viability of the seed and the crop will grow normally but the marked uniformity characteristic of F-1 hybrids is usually lost and instead there may be wide differences between individual plants. For this reason it is generally unwise to save seed for planting from F-1 hybrids for over 4 consecutive years.
.
Another disadvantage of hybrids is that the seed is usually more expensive than that of true-breeding varieties. This is primarily due to the special techniques necessary in hybrid seed production. By one means or another the pollen of the seed producing parent of a hybrid must be destroyed and pollen from the desired male parent must be allowed to function instead. Obviously this requires time and labor. Because of the seed expense, purchasing transplants of hybrid vegetables enables a gardener to enjoy the benefits of hybrid plants without the cost and care of producing hybrid transplants.

All hybrids are not good. There are hybrids such as the ones previously mentioned which are adapted to this area and there are hybrids such as Big Boy and Beefsteak which are not as productive in comparison. The Texas Cooperative Extension horticulturists continually test new hybrids to determine if they are adapted. Believe me, one cannot base a decision on claims made by the seed company, i.e., according to each company, their hybrid is the best! And it may be - in Michigan - but not in Texas. Regardless, hybrids do offer answers to some serious problems with which Texas gardeners have to contend.
Each hybrid has its own distinct characteristics of taste, maturity rate, plant size, pest resistance and adaptability. Gardeners should grow some of each available hybrid to determine which ones they like the best. Hybrids require attention to culture if maximum yields are expected. For tomatoes, for instance, follow the recommendations at:

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/tomato.html

And last but certainly not least-DO NOT be fooled into believing the heirloom tomato varieties are better tasting and easier to grow than hybrids just because heirloom varieties are older. There are old hybrid varieties which are not recommended because even though they are old, they are not adapted to Texas' growing conditions. Each hybrid has its unique taste as does each heirloom variety. The difference is that every recommended hybrid produces many times more fruit on smaller, more manageable plants than do any heirloom.

So make your choice from available varieties and enjoy spring gardening in Texas.

 


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