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New Seed Varieties for 2019
by Erika Jensen - posted 03/04/19

Winter is prime time for seed catalogs. While others are watching the Super Bowl, I’m usually knee deep in catalogs, obsessively planning for spring. When choosing varieties, I definitely look for organic seed, and here’s why.  

First, the basics: Certified organic seed is harvested from plants raised without the use of synthetic chemicals. Further, the seed cannot be treated with fungicides or insecticides. It turns out that the seed business is very chemically intensive, and that’s just plain bad for the environment. This alone should be reason enough to purchase organic, but there are some other reasons.  

Put simply, plants bred in an organic system are better suited to thrive in organic gardens, which might include more weeds and pests. Plus, plant breeders selecting organic varieties often put flavor at the top of the list of characteristics they breed for.

A few programs are developing new varieties for organic growers, including Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. If you are looking for a good local seed company, the Seed Alliance (seedalliance.org) is a great place to start.

NEW VARIETIES FOR 2019 
I spoke with representatives from Johnny’s Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com), High Mowing Seeds (highmowingseeds.com), and Seed Savers Exchange (seedsavers.org) to compile this list of some new and very promising varieties for the upcoming year.  

‘Benefine’ endive  
A frisée variety with improved performance and less tip burn. The variety was sourced through Enza/Vitalis, a Dutch seed company that is a leader in the organic industry. 

‘Cool Customer’ pickling cucumber  
Early, uniform, vigorous and tasty – and makes great pickles. Developed by Dr. John Novazio, it’s an improvement over the former offering, ‘Northern Pickling’. 

‘Magic Lime Green’ feverfew  
Developed by Oregon plant breeder Frank Morton, this is one of the few varieties of organic feverfew available.  

‘Galaxy’ tomato  
These cherry tomatoes were bred for flavor, but they also resist cracking and store well at room temperature. ‘Supernova’, a mini red Roma with yellow striping, is the brightest star in the constellation, while ‘Midnight’ a pear tomato, ‘Comet’ a red grape tomato, ‘Sungrazer’ an orange grape tomato, and ‘Starlight’ a yellow grape tomato, are also stellar.  

‘PLS 595’ shell pea  
This is the first organic selection of a tried-and-true shell pea used for processing. It has great flavor and productivity, with an average of 11 peas per pod. 2-3 feet tall, it doesn’t need staking, since the tendrils cling to each other, providing support.  

‘Pinwheel’ marigold
An attractive combination of maroon and yellow, ‘Pinwheel’ reaches 2½-3 feet tall. It attracts pollinators and works well as a cut flower. An heirloom variety from the 17th century, this selection is well adapted to cold climates, since it was grown and stewarded in the northeastern U.S.  

‘Wisconsin 55’ tomato  
Rescued from the USDA seed bank, this heirloom was rigorously selected from the original genetic stock for this variety. An old favorite first developed by the University of Wisconsin and released in 1946.  

‘Waldoboro Green Neck’ rutabaga  
This heirloom rutabaga was reportedly salvaged off a shipwreck that occurred off the coast of Maine. But the story is just the beginning of a great variety with decorative purple leaves and an especially sweet flavor.  

STORING YOUR SEEDS
Organic seed can be expensive to purchase. But if you store your seed correctly, you can use it for several years. Seed stores best under cool, dry conditions. I store mine in either the refrigerator or freezer. Left is a chart showing how long seeds can be expected to remain viable. If you purchase pelletized seed, it generally only lasts a year.

 


Erika Jensen is a former vegetable farmer.