Ray's Garden Rows: Variety trial episode yields results today

Ray Mueller

It seems difficult to believe that it was 10 years ago this summer when I participated in a state wide home garden trial of some 44 categories of vegetables and 21 of flowers and sunflowers. There were two cultivars for each category.

At the time, I was in my second year of having a garden on my cousin's farm in northeast Fond du Lac County. I was still getting acquainted with the quite varied growing conditions within that site of about a third of an acre.

I don't recall how I became aware of the invitation to home gardeners to take part in the trial. It might have happened through the Master Gardeners organization. The project was coordinated by Eau Claire County Extension Service horticulture educator Tom Kalb, who departed for North Dakota State University a year later.

Variety selections

Each trial participant was entitled to two varieties of up to five different cultivars for which we paid $1 per seed packet. I chose Eclipse and Wando green peas, Diva and Sultan cucumbers, Beer Friend and BeSweet edible soybeans, Earliqueen and Halona muskmelon and Passport and Arava honeydew melons.

Among the trials of the vegetables across the state, each of them was grown at between two (purple cauliflower) and 27 (green beans) sites. Of those I grew, the honeydew melons were in the trial at five sites, the cucumbers at seven sites, the peas at nine sites, the muskmelon at 11 sites and the edible or vegetable soybeans at 13 sites.

So, how did all of this turn out? My part of the trial turned out quite well but there were some great differences between the vegetable varieties. As result, I could file a fairly informative report — one of the requirements of being in the project.

Trial year experiences

I was most thrilled with the edible soybeans. When picked at the right time as green pods, they were ideal for roasting in the oven with an olive spray on the stone platter and then salting before they were eaten. At the farmer's market, I was also advised to boil them — something I didn't do.

Since then, I have tried growing those soybeans again with mixed results. Some years, very few of them emerged. I still have plenty of seeds. So I'm going to try again this year.

With the cucumbers, I was satisfied with both of them but agreed with the other participants that the Diva were better on several points. With the peas, I was happy with the Eclipse but not the Wando.

Among the melons I choose, there were several problems, ranging from poor germination to damage by garden visitors (animals and insects) along with a poor taste in the fruit.

Longer-term results

So, what has happened since? As I page through current garden seed catalogs, I see that Wando peas, the Arava honeydew melon, the Halona muskmelon and the Diva cucumbers are offered in some of them.

I haven't seen any listing of the other varieties and there's no mention at all of the edible soybeans, also known as vegetable beans. I have purchased Diva seed several times and again this year but have never had a crop as good as I had during the trial year.

For quite a few years, I've saved all of the seed for the peas that I grow, finding that they germinate far better than those offered in the seed catalogs. And I've got a great excess of home-grown seeds for the several varieties of green, yellow and purple beans that I grow.