by Gena Moore, CFSA Organic Research Coordinator | Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020 —

Picking peppers at Lomax Farm

Above: Picking peppers in the high tunnel at Lomax Farm

We all know variety selection is a key factor in crop success. Here in the Southeast, we face issues like excessive summer heat, high humidity, and insect pest pressure—just to name a few. Choosing the right variety to fit your farm and market is more exciting than ever before with an expansive collection of cultivars to choose from. For example, there are thousands of tomato varieties grown around the world; however, there are certain types that carry resistance to our common diseases in the Southeast U.S. Even further, there are varieties that respond best to various trellising or that yield in flushes as opposed to consistent harvesting to suit different markets.

In this article, we will dive into some results of a recent variety demonstration conducted at CFSA’s research and education Farm in Concord, NC (Lomax Farm), as well as some favorite varieties from Carolina farmers. We hope this information helps you plan for big harvests next year! We want to give a big thank you to Vitalis Organic Seeds for donating seed for our variety demonstration and to our local food pantries for accepting and distributing the produce to our communities in need.

Lettuce

We planted five lettuce varieties in the early spring of 2020:

  • Milgro (butterhead) – Milgro was a light green, dense butterhead with tender sweet leaves. It was large and quick growing.
  • Jara (romaine) – Jara was an upright, dark green romaine. We found that it was pretty versatile, being suitable for smaller harvests with good field-holding capacity.
  • Tropicana (green leaf) – Tropicana were large-leaved and had minimal insect damage. The loose, frilled leaves were beautiful and sweet but the most difficult to wash, dry, and pack.
  • Marciano (red leaf) – Marciano had small, dark purple heads.
  • Xalbadora (green leaf) – Xalbadora were also small heads but with thick, green leaves. Both were great for mini-head production and packed well…

Jara, Marciano lettuce photos Milgro, Tropicana lettuce photos

Tomatoes

We tried two determinate tomato varieties: Suwanee and Sunfresh. Both varieties performed well in the field and high tunnel. Each yielded large, red slicers and showed minimal signs of disease. The plants were strong and dense with heavy clusters. These varieties would be great for Florida weave trellising and require minimal maintenance.

 

Cucumbers
Our cucumber demonstration was limited to the high tunnel and included three varieties:

  • Excelsior (pickler)
  • Paraiso (slicer)
  • Socrates (slicer)

All varieties were prolific and great representations of their individual cucumber types. Paraiso maintained good health and continual harvest throughout the entire growing season. Socrates was harvested at full size and at snacking size. All varieties were pruned to a single leader and trellised via a drop line system. All varieties were parthenocarpic (Excelsior and Socrates were also gynoecious) and well suited for the high-tunnel environment.

Socrates and Excelsior Cucumbers

Bell Peppers

Our pepper demonstration was also limited to the high tunnel and included three varieties:

  • Abay (yellow)
  • Milena (orange)
  • Placepack (green)

We had hefty yields from all the varieties, but Placepack was the first the reach marketable size, had larger fruit, greater marketable yield, and held the potential for a longer harvest. All plants were trellised via the Florida weave system. The Placepack outgrew the trellising capacity and could have continued later in the season. Growing all three varieties together was nice for the color array.

Placepack peppers

Above: Placepack peppers

Hopefully, this gives you some ideas or maybe new varieties to try. What was my favorite variety of the demonstration you ask? Socrates! This has been a favorite of mine for some time, and it didn’t disappoint this year. There’s just something about a thin-skinned, tender, crisp cucumber straight off the vine.

 

A Few Farmer Favorites

As farmers, we’re all experts on what we do. We asked some CFSA member-farms which varieties are their favorites. Here’s what they said.


Vera Fabian, Ten Mothers Farm (Hillsborough, NC):

“We always grow sweet peppers from Wild Garden Seed. They’re a dehybridized corno di toro type from seed breeder Frank Morton and they do super well for us each year. Delicious raw or cooked, pick them at full ripeness for best flavor. The two types we grow are Early Perfect Italian and Gatherer’s Gold.”


Joey McQuade, Sylvan Farm (Saluda, SC)

“I like the Red and the Bronze Torch tomato: striking appearance, great size to put in mixed pints, very productive, good disease resistance, excellent shelf life, and awesome taste. My favorite new variety this growing season for outdoor production.”


Millard Locklear, New Ground Farm (Pembroke, NC):

“Saving seed and planting stock is a big part of New Ground Farm. Our two favorite varieties include sweet potatoes (Old Porta Rican) and sugar cane that have been grown and cultivated by our family for several generations. Another favorite is okra seed that was gifted by a friend many years ago. While the varietal name is unknown, we like its compact growth habit and prolific fruiting.”

Old Puerta Rican sweet potatoes at New Ground Farm in Pembroke, NC Okra at New Ground Farm in Pembroke, NC

Left: Old Porta Rican sweet potatoes Right: Okra field at New Ground Farm. Credit: Millard Locklear


Dylan Alexander, Lomax Research & Education Farm (Concord, NC):

“One of my favorite crops is carrots and my go-to variety is Yaya. These carrots size up even with thick plantings, making thinning minimal. They have small, strong tops, making harvesting and post-harvest easy with a never-fail sweet flavor.”

 


Questions?

If you’re interested in learning more, contact Gena at [email protected].