The Annual Test Garden Review

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

By Doug Hall




Seed source: Johnny's Selected Seeds

Test Gardener: Kathy Shaw
Neenah, Wisconsin

Many gardeners express a love-hate attitude toward the ‘Brandywine’ tomato. It can be notoriously slow to ripen and stingy with fruits, and its rambunctious growth overwhelms traditional staking systems. But when the first massive pink fruit is ready to savor, all is forgiven.

“I love the flavor of ‘Brandywine’,” says Kathy Shaw. “It has a true tomato taste that isn’t too tart or too sweet. The fruits are very meaty and the few that make it to a weekend canning session add a lot of bulk to the kettle.” Dual-purpose tomatoes like ‘Brandywine’ are important to Kathy and her husband, who depend on their home garden to produce more than 90 percent of the vegetables and fruits they eat year-round.

She isn’t alone in her admiration for this heirloom variety: In the Organic Gardening 2013 taste test, ‘Brandywine’ won top honors, outscoring 14 other varieties. And it’s big, with some fruits weighing more than a pound.

“These are bragging-size plants and fruits,” says Kathy, who works for a manufacturer of sustainable forest products. “I must admit that we don’t always get as large of a harvest as other indeterminate varieties in our climate, but I wouldn’t be without it for its flavor or looks.”

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

Ground Cherry

'Aunt Molly's'

Seed source: Seed Savers Exchange

Test Gardener: Linda Crago
Wellandport, Ontario

For those who have not experienced a ground cherry, it can come as a revelation: Inside the papery husk is a small berry with a tropical taste, hinting of pineapple and guava. Like other small fruits that ripen in abundance, many of them never make it to the kitchen.

“Because they are tedious to pick when you have a lot of plants, the snackability factor makes the job go much faster,” says Linda Crago, who runs Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm in the Niagara region of Ontario, Canada. “I pick, I eat. It is nice when some get into the kitchen, though, as they make a stunning pie or tart.” Ripe fruits stay fresh for a surprising 3 or 4 weeks in the husk.

Thriving in hot summers, ‘Aunt Molly’s’ is cultivated in a manner similar to tomatoes, but it doesn’t share the tomato’s pest and disease problems. “Other than the odd flea beetle damage to the leaves, I’ve had no pest or growing problems with them, making them one of the more reliable and dependable plants in my garden,” Linda says. Her customers like them, too.

“When my CSA customers see that little husked fruit sitting on top of their veggie basket, they usually dig in before they can make the trek back to their car on pickup day.”

Try this easy Ground Cherry Marmalade on a roasted turkey breast!

Portaits by Julie Schroder Photography, Mollie Crago.