New is not always better. But it is always interesting, and sometimes profitable, to play with new produce variety and cultivar releases on the market. As consumers continue to demand more fresh and flavorful local produce, finding varieties that capture their attention is an ongoing pursuit for growers.
I spent part of my career in horticulture developing plant trials in a public garden setting and as an All-America Selections (AAS) Flower and Vegetable Trials Judge. Deciding what makes a new flower or vegetable better than the last one often comes down to splitting hairs (or petals). One wonders why so much time, effort and money goes into creating a variety that may end up offering no real meaningful differences or benefits. Now and then, however, you do find a valuable new gem in the mix.
When it comes to new vegetable and fruit cultivars, we are always looking for truly better flavor and color, significantly improved resistance or tolerance, and shelf-viability. We then must match these features with what consumers want more of, which is flavor, freshness, color and sustainability.
It can be tough to keep up with all the new variety releases and which ones are meaningful to you as greenhouse growers. So, I took a deep dive to seek out new — or new to you — edibles worth investigating.
Basil Everleaf Emerald Towers
When it comes to basil, flavor is always first, but if you can find a space saver with big yields and late flowering, then it is definitely worth a try. Everleaf Emerald Towers, from PanAmerican Seed, sports a unique narrow and columnar growth habit 8- to 12-inches wide, but two to three feet tall. Plants are late flowering, up to 10-12 weeks later than most varieties. Plants offer a classic ‘Genovese’ basil flavor.
Cucumber ‘Green Light’
A 2020 All-America Selections vegetable winner, cucumber ‘Green Light’ is a bountiful producer of mini seedless fruits, best picked when 3- to 4-inches long. These could make great snacker cucumbers as the tender skin does not need to be peeled and can be eaten with the rest of the fruit. ‘Green Light’ is purported to have a mild and good flavor and fruits are fast to mature.
Pepper ‘Orange Marmalade’
An early medium-sized orange bell, ‘Orange Marmalade’ has 4-inch blocky fruits perfect for stuffing or slicing. The intense ripe orange color looks hard to resist and the fruit promises a sweet flavor and excellent disease resistance. I would say this pepper is the perfect candidate for some homemade orange and pepper jelly.
When buying tomatoes, I am always looking for interesting colors, shapes and intense flavor. This pursuit pushes me to the heirloom types, but they do not always make it to the grocery store in great shape. Pink, orange and yellow tomatoes always catch my eye first. Some of these new – or new to you – tomato varieties promise to deliver both heirloom quality color and flavor, with better shelf life.
While there are other new varieties out on the market worth checking out, these five selections were standouts in my eyes, as I suspect they will be for many produce consumers.
As its name implies, ‘Apple Yellow’ produces the prettiest bright yellow apple- or bell-shaped fruits. Too cute. This heavy producing indeterminate vining variety is purported to produce up to 1,000 fruits per plant. Fruit is non-splitting with a firm texture, weighing in at about 20-25g each. I think this variety from Gana Seed is a real winner, and so did All-America Selections judges who awarded it an edible winner for 2020.
‘E15B.41786’ (still in trials)
A particularly exciting release from Enza Zadan, because of its color and shape, this pink beefsteak tomato offers a sweet delicate flavor. This cultivar has an heirloom look and interesting color that is always appealing to consumers but is supposed to also offer up size and weight uniformity. Plants are very productive with broad disease tolerance. Also, be sure to check out their new high-acid crack resistant cherry tomato ‘E15C.42149’.
This new compact hybrid grape tomato earned a 2020 All-America Selections award for its sweet flavor, early and bountiful yields of deep red oblong fruit and excellent tolerance to late blight. A semi-determinate, ‘Celano’ has a compact bushy habit that is suitable for container production.
Another 2020 All-America Selections winner, this rounded Roma tomato hybrid may take up the pole position when it comes to measuring the standards for Romas. Fruits have an intense color and good flavor. Improved resistance to blossom end rot results in high yields.
If you are looking for a pink tomato that combines heirloom flavor with improved disease r=esistance, check out ‘Mountain Rouge’. This beefsteak tomato produces big fruit with a low seed count and is a good choice for cooler growing and quicker turns — with fruit maturing at 73 days. This cultivar was a 2019 All-American Selections winner, but it is new enough I wanted to include it.