Back to Basics

The best of the best from the 2011 OG Test Gardens.

By Doug Hall

Photography by Christa Neu


To celebrate our 70th anniversary, we brought back some of our favorite vegetable varieties from the past. Caught up in the promotion of new varieties of vegetables, gardeners can lose track of the proven performers. In the Organic Gardening Test Garden, we’re as guilty as the next gardener in our obsession with all things “new and improved.”

In 2011, to prepare for the 70th year of Organic Gardening, we decided to take a different approach: We brought back some of our favorite vegetable varieties from the past. At the same time, we quizzed the horticulturists at some trusted seed companies to tell us what varieties in their catalogs had undiscovered virtues—outstanding vegetables that we should be growing, but weren’t.

We then dedicated our trial beds at the Rodale Institute, near Kutztown, Pennsylvania, to these tried-and-true standards, familiar open-pollinated varieties, and lesser-known heirlooms. Our team of 13 test gardeners scattered around the country grew the same varieties. What follows is the best of our 2011 harvest.

lime basilLime Basil

Easily grown like sweet basil, lime basil has a refreshing citrusy tang all its own. Use lime basil leaves to flavor marinades, salad dressings, or salsa—or brew a cup of herbal tea.

Seed source: John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds

Growing tip: “Harvest often! With the onset of heat, most basil varieties will start going to seed, leaving you less foliage for culinary use,” says Leslie Halleck, our Dallas test gardener. Instead of pinching off individual leaves, Leslie harvests by cutting the stems back about a third, prompting new growth. “Regular harvesting will result in sturdier plants that continue producing new foliage,” she says. And when the Texas sun and heat become brutal in late summer, Leslie drapes floating row covers over her basil plants to protect them from scorching.