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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Lettuce

'Jericho'

Seed source: Renee's Garden

Test Gardener: Don Boekelheide
Charlotte, North Carolina

Anyone who gardens in the South knows that some vegetables don’t hold up well to unrelenting heat. “Lettuce is a particular challenge during the Carolina Piedmont’s hot summers, and most varieties bolt and become so bitter you can’t eat them,” says organic market gardener Don Boekelheide. “Luckily, ‘Jericho’ can take the heat. It stays sweet and holds in the field at least a couple of precious weeks longer than my spring lettuce varieties.”

Originally from Israel, ‘Jericho’ is a romaine lettuce that forms full-size heads in about 60 days from seed. “Since germination can drop for lettuce when soil warms up, I usually transplant ‘Jericho’ and my other late lettuce varieties, then water religiously until established,” Don says.

“In the kitchen, ‘Jericho’ is nice and crunchy, suitable for sandwiches and wraps. Not surprisingly, it really shines in Caesar salad. ‘Jericho’ makes a good edible scoop for Middle Eastern dishes like hummus and tabouli.”

Not content to grow the same vegetables year after year, Don is continually trying new varieties, and in 2013 he discovered another outstanding romaine lettuce, ‘Dov’, which was also bred in Israel. “To round out my summer lettuces, I also like batavia types, especially ‘Magenta’,” he says.

Pepper

'Shishito'

Seed source: High Mowing Organic Seeds

Test Gardener: Nan Sterman
Encinitas, California

Sometimes the tastiest vegetables are hiding in plain sight—on the menu of a neighborhood restaurant.

“My husband and I often ordered ‘Shishito’ peppers as an appetizer at our favorite sushi bars,” says Nan Sterman. “They are served lightly salted, sautéed whole in oil and a bit of garlic, then served hot. A couple of years ago, it occurred to me that I could probably grow my own ‘Shishito’ to cook at home.”

 Nan, who is the host and coproducer of the San Diego–area television program A Growing Passion, located a source for the seeds and planted them. Soon she was harvesting “tons” of the slender, thin-walled, 3-inch peppers. Many gardeners pick ‘Shishito’ green for a quick sauté; it matures to glossy red if left on the plant. Green or red, the fruits are lightly spicy—usually.

“The funny thing about ‘Shishito’ peppers,” Nan reports, “is that 9 out of 10 are mild, but that 10th one—watch out, it has a bite! There’s nothing visible to alert you to the ones that will start your eyes tearing, so it’s a bit like playing Russian roulette. Even so, the peppers are so delicious that it’s well worth taking the chance.”

Use this Shishito pepper in a Roasted Eggplant Salsa for your turkey burgers!

Portaits by Kyle Pearce, Lyudmila Zotova.

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