New varieties may tempt traditionalists

February 23, 1991|By Amalie Adler Ascher

Traditions die hard in gardening, especially where vegetables are concerned. When a variety performs well year after year, the grower is loathe to give it up for the uncertainties of an unknown. Some of the entries in the latest seed catalogs, though, sound as though they'd be worth taking a gamble on.

If you've never grown popcorn before, Tom Thumb Hulless from Bountiful Gardens might tempt you to check it out. Practically hulless as its name implies and lacking the usual hard center after it's popped, the breed is called "the finest eating of all open-pollinated varieties." Ready for popping soon after husking, Tom Thumb is, moreover, dwarf-growing, the stubby ears slightly over 5 inches long.

Also from Bountiful is Alba eggplant, a prolific producer of pure-white full-size fruits the firm rates in flavor and vigor with purple types.

The Cook's Garden brings us Dorable wax filet bean, described as the "current state of the art in its class." Crunchy, high-yielding and completely stringless, the pods are top-rated in flavor at either the early or fully mature stage.

Monstruoso chard, a striking plant with its exceptionally broad white stems, is the "ultimate stem chard," the firm says. Ghada Lebanese squash is praised for its compactness and intense flavor (a special characteristic of Lebanese types), while Sierra lettuce, an intermediate butterhead-batavian type, is noted for its heat resistance.

Space spinach is the first spinach in more than 5 years that Pinetree Garden Seeds has found deserving enough to add to its catalog. The variety is bolt-resistant, which in prolonging the harvest adds up to a longer season of productivity and a higher yield. Leaves are meaty and full-flavored. Benewah tomato is sweet-tasting, Pinetree says, and besides bearing 60 days after transplanting, is relatively disease and crack resistant.

Johnny's, a marketer of vegetable and fruit seeds exclusively, targets for notice Secret purple pepper and Vulcan lettuce. The pepper emerged the favorite in trials against rivals for, among other things, its sweet taste and salad quality. At full ripeness, both skin and flesh are dark red. Red features in the lettuce as well, a brilliant "candy-apple" shade on a pale green background.

Gurney is making a fuss over Crescent bush crookneck squash for its "super" taste and space-saving vines that grow to only 2 to 4 feet long. The reduced size of the seed cavity makes room for more "meat" to enjoy.

Sugar snap peas have become a consuming favorite of gardeners ever since the first breakthrough variety, called merely Sugar Snap, was introduced in 1979. The latest in the line (debuting this year), is Oregon Giant from Nicholas Garden Nursery. Having overcome the bitterness afflicting its predecessors when fruits are left too long on the vine, this newest member of the tribe allows waiting for pods to grow fatter before they are devoured.

Addresses for the firms mentioned are: Bountiful Gardens, 19550 Walker Road, Willits, Calif. 95490; The Cook's Garden, P.O. Box 535, Londonderry, Vt. 05148; Pinetree Garden Seeds, New Gloucester, Maine 04260; Johnny's Foss Hill Road, Albion, Maine 04910; Gurney's Seed & Nursery Co., 110 Capital St. Yankton, S.D. 57079; Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 North Pacific Highway, Albany, Ore. 97321.

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