Basil: 'Boxwood' basil
The flavor and aroma are similar to traditional sweet basil, but this compact, mounded herb has much smaller leaves. Grow it in pots or as a kitchen-garden edging.
Vegetable: 'Jacob’s Cattle' bean
A much-loved heirloom, ‘Jacob’s Cattle’ is a meaty, kidney-type dry bean that holds its own in hearty dishes. Bush habit.
Vegetable: 'Provider' bean
This open-pollinated bush bean sets a super-productive, flavorful standard for green snap beans.
Vegetable: 'On Deck' sweet corn
We were intrigued by Burpee’s description of a sweet corn so diminutive it could be grown in a container. Our plants grew taller than the catalog description—about 6 feet—and produced smallish ears of sweet, tender kernels. A supersweet hybrid variety.
Vegetable: 'Japanese Long' cucumber
The slender fruits of this popular heirloom are firm and crisp with a mild flavor. Harvest regularly to keep the vines producing.
Vegetable: 'Karikachi' edamame
A Japanese soybean, ‘Karikachi’ has been bred for large, sweet seeds. When boiled briefly in salted water, edamame is a nutritious snack; it’s also good in soups, stir-fries, and other dishes. Edamame is grown in the same way as bush beans, but be prepared to harvest the crop all at once, because the pods ripen simultaneously.
Vegetable: 'Listada de Gandia' eggplant
‘Listada de Gandia’ is a stunner, and delicious to boot. The thin-skinned, streaked fruits are about 6 inches long and egg-shaped.
Vegetable: 'Bronze Arrowhead' lettuce
A favorite of test gardener Linda Crago, this beautiful oakleaf lettuce forms a tight rosette of bronze-tinged leaves. It has a great crunch and taste and holds for a long time in the garden before bolting.
Vegetable: 'Clemson Spineless' okra
This open-pollinated variety has become a reliable standard since its introduction in 1939. Be prepared to pick okra daily during summer, because the flavor is best when the pods are harvested small—about 4 inches long.
Vegetable: 'Big Red' sweet pepper
We were impressed by this bell pepper’s heavy fruit set and the heft of its juicy, thick-walled fruits. They were slow to mature to red here in Pennsylvania, however, and in our impatience we harvested many of them green.
Vegetable: 'Gemini' sweet pepper
This hybrid pepper matures to brilliant yellow and has a pleasantly sweet flavor. The fruits taper from broad shoulders.
Vegetable: 'Hot Portugal' hot pepper
A bit hotter than a jalapeño but nowhere near a habanero, this glossy red beauty has many culinary uses, such as grilling, frying, and pickling. At about 8 inches long, it’s a generous size for a hot pepper, too.
Vegetable: 'Jimmy Nardello's' sweet pepper
Amazingly prolific and quick to mature, this thin-walled pepper has a sweet, fruity flavor. Enjoy it fresh or lightly sautéed in the traditional Italian style.
Vegetable: 'Musquee de Provence' pumpkin
It’s hard to beat this French heirloom for flavor—just be sure your growing season is long enough, as it takes a good 4 months of warm weather to ripen fully.
Vegetable: 'Bloomsdale Long Standing' spinach
A fixture in seed catalogs since 1826, this spinach bears large rumpled leaves that are unbeatable for flavor, fresh or cooked.
Vegetable: ‘Golden Sunrise’ Swiss chard
A real beauty in the garden, ‘Golden Sunrise’ positively glows when the sun illuminates its yellow stalks. A spring sowing in the test garden lasted us all the way through fall frost, and the leaves didn’t become bitter, even in summer.
Vegetable: 'Hakurei' turnip
The surprise star of the 2013 trials: a turnip? The small roots mature almost as quickly as a radish—35 days—and are consistently sweet, crisp, and mild.
Vegetable: ‘Jaune Boule d’Or’ turnip
We were dazzled by white-rooted ‘Hakurei’ turnips—but this slower-maturing, pale yellow variety had its fans too. The large roots have a mild flavor and fine texture; the greens are tasty.
Vegetable: 'Dark Star' zucchini
This bush zucchini bears attractive dark-skinned fruits over a long harvest season. It was bred for growing in arid regions and is said to require less moisture than other varieties of zucchini.
Vegetable: 'Ortolana di Faenza' zucchini
Early to mature, this Italian heirloom has streaked white-and-green skin and a shape that’s chubbier than other zucchinis. Its taste is pleasantly mild.
Even MORE from the 2013 test gardens:
Photography by Patrick Montero