The Annual Test Garden Review

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

By Doug Hall



'Osaka Purple'

Seed source: The Cook's Garden

Test Gardener: Tracey Parrish
Boulder, Colorado

Tracey Parrish counts herself among those who enjoy their greens on the zesty side. Her partiality to spicy flavors makes mustard an essential crop on her ¾-acre urban farm in Boulder, Colorado.

“I love the tastes of mustards and grow a number of different varieties,” says the former plant geneticist. “‘Osaka Purple’ is one of the prettiest mustards I’ve grown; it has a very large leaf, dark purple on the upper surface and lime green underneath.”

Mustard is a cool-season crop and matures quickly. Baby greens of ‘Osaka Purple’ can be harvested in as little as 3 weeks from sowing. “Here in Colorado, I seed it under glass as early as early March, in the open garden in April and May, and then again in late summer for a fall crop,” Tracey says. Like many mustards, ‘Osaka Purple’ is very easy to grow and readily self-seeds in the garden.

“I eat mustard raw as a salad green, very thinly sliced with a simple vinaigrette. It’s not suitable for all palates, as it is rather spicy and becomes even hotter with warmer weather,” she acknowledges. Its sharp taste mellows with cooking.

We also grew lots of flowers in our test garden... check out this year's favorites!


'Black Seeded Simpson'

Seed source: Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply

Test Gardener: Jackie Smith
Belle Plaine, Minnesota

Before she retired in 2012, Jackie Smith’s job included coordinating vegetable and flower trials for the University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener Program. She has grown countless varieties of edible crops over the years, always with an analytical eye toward weighing positive traits against faults. When it comes to lettuce, Jackie recommends the heirloom loose-leaf variety ‘Black Seeded Simpson’.

“Red and speckled lettuce varieties add visual spice, but nothing beats ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ as the dynamite background lettuce in any salad,” she says of this prolific standby. “The pale green to chartreuse leaves never fail to look delightful and taste sweet with a tender, yet crisp, texture. And the plants hold well in the garden without turning bitter; I have even harvested them as they were starting to bolt and found the flavor still perfectly acceptable.”

An advantage that open-pollinated varieties hold over hybrids is their ability to reproduce true to type from seeds the gardener collects—or from seeds that fall to the ground.

“Since ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ is an open-pollinated lettuce variety, I generally let a few plants go to seed in late spring, when they will happily spread their seeds around the garden,” Jackie says. “Most years, I am able to harvest a second crop in the fall from these spring-sown volunteers, and I can reliably count on self-sown seedlings the following spring—all without any more work on my part!”

Portaits by Esther Cummings, David Bowman.