The Annual Test Garden Review

Meet the organic growers who test vegetables for this magazine—and some of their favorite varieties.

By Doug Hall

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Broccoli

'Calabrese'

Seed source: Nichols Garden Nursery

Test Gardener: John Lewis
Newport, Rhode Island

Broccoli is a stalwart presence in John Lewis’s garden. “It’s not a show pony like eggplant or long awaited like the first ripe tomato,” he says. “It’s just sort of always there—yet incredibly versatile and tough.” John, a university librarian whose urban yard is small and shady, maintains a vegetable garden on his uncle’s farm nearby. Every year, he includes the open-pollinated sprouting broccoli ‘Calabrese’, a prime example of a hardworking, reliable vegetable.

“I’m sure it was the first broccoli variety I grew when I started gardening 23 years ago,” John says, “and I know my father grew it, as well, because I came across some of his old seed packets in his garage a few years ago.” As a sprouting broccoli, ‘Calabrese’ is known for its steady production of small side shoots instead of a single massive head. Many cooks praise the hearty flavor of its leaves and florets.

“My preferred method of cooking is to throw the side shoots into a stir-fry with some carrots, peppers, onions, and chicken or beef,” John says. “I also like to steam them quickly as a side dish, or if I’m really buried in broccoli, I make cream of broccoli soup. Occasionally I throw small florets raw into a salad.”

Check out more of our favorite vegetables from this year's test garden!

Squash

'Tahitian'

Seed source: Sustainable Seed Co.

Test Gardener: Andres Mejides
Homestead, Florida

Andres Mejides has a 5-acre farm in subtropical south Florida, where he specializes in microgreens, edible flowers, tropical fruits, herbs, and vegetables. He began gardening at a young age and remembers discovering ‘Tahitian’ squash as a teenager. Five decades later, Andres is still growing this huge, butternut-type winter squash.

“Of course, the taste is very good,” he says. Also praiseworthy is this long-necked squash’s healthy constitution—an essential trait for any vegetable exposed to Florida’s countless pests and diseases. Its fast-growing vines spread far and wide; ‘Tahitian’ is not a vegetable for small-space growers. “You probably should keep an eye on it when working in the garden,” he jokes. “It may decide you’d make a good trellis.”

Andres can harvest fresh produce year-round in his climate, so he doesn’t necessarily choose vegetables for their storage capabilities. But ‘Tahitian’ excels in that category, too. “It’s nice to toss the extra ‘Tahitian’ squash in the pantry or garage and be able to enjoy it months later,” he says. With a hacksaw or machete, cut off the portion you plan to cook, Andres suggests, and leave the remainder at room temperature for later use. “Refrigeration is actually a detriment to the keeping qualities.”

Portaits by Gabriella Bass, Sonya Revell.

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