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Spring Giant was superseded by the more adapted varieties such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
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:
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:
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:
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
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.
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:
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
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
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.