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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Tomato

'Hawaiian Tropic'

Seed source: Sweet Tomato Test Garden

Test Gardener: Leslie Doyle
Las Vegas, Nevada

Most beefsteak tomatoes simply drop their blossoms when faced with the intense, dry heat of a Las Vegas summer. In her quest for a heat-tolerant beefsteak, Leslie Doyle found ‘Hawaiian Tropic’.

“Although the smallish and cherry-size tomatoes seem to grow without concern for our sizzling temperatures, most of us lust over the big guys,” she says. “I was joyful when I discovered that this tomato, besides being very productive and large, is also delicious.”

Leslie teaches other desert gardeners how to grow vegetables through workshops, books, and videos. She has developed a technique for cultivating tomatoes in the desert, using plastic film mulch—and no stakes or cages. “Because of our dry climate, I can let tomatoes sprawl on the silver reflective mulch that covers the soil. It is cooler for them when they grow in a heap,” she says.

Because ‘Hawaiian Tropic’ performs so well in her extreme climate, Leslie now sells the seeds to fellow desert gardeners. “It has become my main-crop tomato, weighing in from 8 ounces to a few as big as a pound, and is very popular among gardeners in Las Vegas,” she says.

Try this tomato in a delicious Galette with zucchini and fontina cheese!

Cauliflower

'Skywalker'

Seed source: Seeds of Change

Test Gardener: Bill Nunes
Gustine, California

Despite his love for heirloom vegetables, CSA farmer Bill Nunes turned to the hybrid cauliflower ‘Skywalker’ after becoming disenchanted with the small heads and inconsistent results of the older open-pollinated varieties. ‘Skywalker’, with heads as large as 2 pounds, doesn’t disappoint.

“Here in California’s Central Valley, we grow cauliflower right through the winter,” Bill says. “Freezing temperatures here rarely go below 26°F, so crucifers just breeze right through.” When spring arrives and temperatures begin to climb, ‘Skywalker’ is better than the older varieties at withstanding heat, he says.

The leaves of ‘Skywalker’ curl over the developing head, helping to keep it white. “As we reach warmer, sunny days in spring and early summer, the curds can take on a cream to light tan color, which doesn’t seem to affect the flavor,” Bill says. “Still, I sometimes close the leaves over the maturing head with a rubber band. This blanching method works well, but covering the heads for too many warm, damp days can bring on dots of black mold.”

Bill, an adventurous cook, prefers a classic approach to cauliflower, steaming the head whole until the stem end is barely tender.

“I put good olive oil and apple cider vinegar on the table so each person can drizzle a little of each over the top. Occasionally I’ll make a simple mustard dressing instead. I love the flavor of cauliflower, raw or cooked, so I generally keep preparation very simple.”

Not enough?  Check out more of our favorites from this year's test garden!

Portaits by Jared McMillen, Michael Harlan Turkell.
Vegetable photography by Patrick Montero.

Originally published in Organic Gardening magazine, February/March 2014

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