The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

New Veggie Varieties for 2015

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator
slmason@illinois.edu

I have a Pavlovian response to the mere glimpse of a new garden catalog. I drool over each picture of voluptuous vegetables and bodacious blooms. Catalogs are part reunion and part Broadway premiere. We can revisit our beloved plant friends and salivate over seductively new plant stars.

A great deal of toil, trouble and time goes in to getting new plants into those catalogs. The plants must survive the producer's quality check then on to independent growers for their critique.

To help us wade through the jungle of plant choices groups such as All America Selections (AAS) announce their winners each year. AAS, a not-for-profit organization of seed developers and producers, helps to entice gardeners to try new cultivars of flowers, vegetables and herbs.

AAS winners are tested at trial gardens across North America including the Hartley Gardens at University of Illinois Arboretum. Each winner must show superior qualities or traits that distinguish them from similar varieties in side-by-side trials.

2015 marks many new vegetable varieties as AAS Winners. These cool season vegetables may sound more like a girl band or cartoon family, but this year's winners include 'Sandy' lettuce, 'Roxanne' radish and 'Bopak' pak choi.

I'm a bit uncomfortable with sharing a name with a vegetable for fear the analogy might go too far, but here goes. 'Sandy' lettuce is the first AAS lettuce winner since 1985. 'Sandy' is an attractive oakleaf type lettuce with a multitude of sweet tasting frilly dark green leaves. Not just pretty and tasty, 'Sandy' lettuce has exceptional disease resistance, especially to powdery mildew.

When the weather becomes hot most lettuce tastes bitter and bolts (sends up a flower stalk); however, 'Sandy' lettuce remains productive when heat-stressed (an attribute I wish the human Sandy possessed). Harvest 'Sandy' lettuce as cut-and-come-again baby leaves, or grow to full maturity for loose salad heads. When planted with cool season edible flowers such as pansies, 'Sandy' helps to create an attractive, edible combination for patio containers. 'Sandy' lettuce is the second AAS Winner that is available as organic seed.

'Roxanne' radish is tasty and very attractive as radishes go with a uniform, bright red color and a stunning creamy white interior. Radishes grow fast and gardeners often sacrifice quality by letting them get too big before harvest. 'Roxanne' is a great tasting radish since it does not get pithy, even when left growing in the garden too long. 'Roxanne' radish can easily be grown in a pot that is at least 4 inches deep.

In the history of All America Selections, 'Bopak' is the first pak choi (bok choy) to become an AAS Winner. 'Bopak' is a striking plant with dark green leaves framing bright white stalks. Its sweet crisp flavor is a tasty addition to stir fry and tender young leaves can be eaten raw in salads or sandwiches. 'Bopak' stalks can be used in place of celery sticks, added to soups and stews, or grilled on the barbecue. As with other leafy greens, seeds should be planted every couple of weeks until weather turns hot for a longer harvest. 'Bopak' pak choi is also valuable planted in late summer and harvested as a fall garden crop.

'Bopak' is multi-use, both edible and ornamental. It produces compact, uniform plants perfect mixed with flowers in patio containers or raised beds. 'Bopak' matures in about 60 days when planted as seed, about 5 days earlier than other pak choi varieties. It can also be harvested early as baby pak choi. 'Bopak' pak choi is multipurpose in its culinary uses and compact in its growth in the garden, a great versatile option for home gardeners with limited space.

Thank you to All America Selections for information and pictures. Check out their website for more winners and for seed sources. http://all-americaselections.org/

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