What Vegetable Variety You Grow Does Matter

Vegetable Varieties

At the Garden Expo this year, while talking with some fellow gardeners they mentioned their terrible luck with peppers last year – their fruit didn’t ripen to red. I immediately asked them what variety they grow. They looked at each other and shrugged, “We just bought starts from Farm and Fleet.” That can be a problem.

When I was about to leave for a visit with my brother this past March he left me a message asking if there was any way to bring him some tomato seedlings. He wanted to grow varieties that were picked out by a “professional”. When I probed further he told me that last year when he went shopping at the local farmers market he asked the person selling seedlings which tomato varieties were indeterminate. They didn’t know the answer to his question. That would be enough to make me walk away from that vendor.

We all have times when we cut corners in the garden. But, buying vegetable starts is not the place to do so. When I was a beginning gardener I thought all varieties of one vegetable were pretty much the same. Especially things like broccoli, cabbage and basil, since there’s not much observable difference between the varieties. I would just go to the local store selling seeds and seedlings and buy a handful of what looked good. I often had mixed results and wasn’t sure why.

It wasn’t until I started working on farms that I realized how much time and effort growers put into selecting varieties that perform well in their fields. A pepper is not a pepper is not a pepper. Variety does matter.

I advised the couple from the Garden Expo to buy pepper seedlings from a local farmer this year. Buying from someone who is actually growing those same varieties allows you to ask them about each one. If you have your heart set on red peppers, ask the farmer which one she has success with in her own fields. Ask him for suggestions of his own personal favorites. Ask her which varieties her CSA members can’t get enough of each season. The seedlings that are sold at the big box stores are not necessarily selected to do well in your local climate. The variety might be more acclimated to a garden in Texas than one in Wisconsin. Those are two very different worlds!

My brother’s story is evidence that the person who was selling the seedlings was not the one who was selecting and growing out the varieties. They likely bought their seedlings from a wholesaler. Knowing which varieties are determinate and indeterminate is basic knowledge and information you should expect from a plant seller. Just like the couple above, I advised my brother to seek out farmers from his area who are selling seedlings. They will be much more knowledgeable about the plants and will be able to answer his specific questions.

Many days pass between when we tuck a seedling into the ground to harvest time. It’s definitely worth the effort to seek out varieties that are more likely to succeed in your local conditions. This year, go to your local farmers market, find a vegetable farmer and ask questions about the plants before you buy them. They’ll likely be tickled to share their favorites and I bet you’ll experience a higher level of success in your garden as a result.

In Madison, my favorite place to get seedlings is from my CSA, Troy Community Farm. They have an annual plant sale the second Saturday in May. My favorites: Carmen sweet pepper for reliable red peppers each year and Green Zebra tomato for a mild fresh eating variety. See this year’s dates and times here.


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