Garden season

The variety trials are located at Georgeson Botanical Garden where visitors can compare how different varieties look and grow and talk to the researchers. 

In summer 2019, we tested different vegetable varieties at the Georgeson Botanical Garden. In replicated trials, we trialed beets, snap beans, carrots, celery and corn. Brussels sprouts were trialed in unreplicated or preliminary trials.

Replicated trials mean the vegetables were grown in three different plots. Preliminary trials were done mainly to decide which crops and varieties warranted further testing.

The goal of these trials is to help Interior Alaska gardeners and farmers like you decide whether or not to stick with your tried-and-true varieties or try something new. Sometimes we’re forced to try new varieties when old favorites are “improved” or discontinued.

We’re also focusing on crops that have been considered borderline in the past either because of the number of days to maturity or because of their heat requirements. It’s possible that climate change could expand the number of crops and varieties we can grow in Interior Alaska. The Alaska Garden Helper app could help gardeners and farmers understand the influence more. You can find it at www.snap.uaf.edu/tools/gardenhelper.

For example, most varieties of Brussels sprouts need 100 days to mature and some even require upwards of 200 days. Even though there are more and more short day corn varieties, corn still loves the heat. Heat is not so important for celery, but it does require most of the summer to mature. I should mention too that these are not the best crops to grow if you have a small space and want to maximize your production. I talk about the crops where you can get the biggest bang for your buck in this article: bit.ly/2Twb7mf.

You can find the 2019 vegetable variety report and variety trial reports from past years by going to http://afesresearch.uaf.edu/publications and selecting “variety trials” from the drop-down menu.

If you don’t get a chance to read the full report, here are some highlights. Surprisingly, in snap bean trials, Provider was the lowest performing variety. This is surprising because Provider has long been the standard for cold hardiness. I welcome this development as Provider has a tough, leathery texture and has never been a favorite of mine. As the name would imply, Jumbo is a large bean, and it tied Rocdor for the highest yield and also scored highest in taste tests. Larger beans could be an advantage for a busy farmer or gardener because it’s faster to pick larger beans. Rocdor, a yellow bean, scored second highest on taste and highest for texture.

Subeto and Zeppo were the top two yielding beets, and in some cases, produced beets almost half a pound in size.

Bolero was the highest yielding carrot variety, followed by Napoli, followed by Napoli. Nelson, an old favorite that is no longer widely available, was the lowest yielding variety, but we think that’s because it was old seed. Bolero also received the highest taste and texture scores, but because taste tests were done a month or so after they were harvested, this is more an indication of storability.

Corn varieties Legend, Café and Espresso (I’m not sure what the coffee connection is) were the top producers, but other varieties were close behind. Early Sunglow and Earlivee produced smaller ears and weren’t as tasty but they were early as the name advertises. Sugar Pearl was a standout in terms of taste and texture, while Sugar Buns, Sweetness and Espresso followed close behind.

Some of varieties produced truly behemoth heads of celery — Nero and Tall Utah 52-70 Improved produced heads that averaged close to 5 pounds a head. Some of the Tall Utah stalks were hollow, though. Merengo was the best tasting variety and also was the highest yielding variety.

We had problems with loose Brussels sprouts in several varieties, but in our preliminary trials, Dagan was the top yielding variety. Gustus was the lowest yielding but had the best flavor and texture.

In addition to weighing each crop and variety, we also rated each variety in terms of plant vigor, bolting sensitivity (or susceptibility to bolt), uniformity, pest resistance, disease resistance and taste.

You can look forward to more vegetable trials in the summer of 2020. While we, unfortunately, are not able to test as many crops and varieties as we would like to, you can consult the “Recommended Variety List for Interior Alaska” for additional suggestions on what you might want to grow this year, at bit.ly/2U6Ptn9.

Heidi Rader is a tribes Extension educator for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service and the Tanana Chiefs Conference. She can be reached at 474-6620 or hbrader@alaska.edu.