Briggs Avenue Garden Take-aways, 2023

by Kathryn Hamilton, EMGV

By virtue of both its size and the diversity of its gardeners, Briggs Avenue Community Garden offers a wealth of information and insight. Each season presents opportunities to capture both the favorite varieties of experienced gardeners and ambitious new trials from gardeners eager to improve their gardening lot.  The 2024 gardening catalogues are arriving. In case it’s helpful in making your choices, here’s a peek at how different varieties fared at Briggs.

At the spring plant sale, we offered three varieties that were new to the market this year: Pink Delicious, Jolene, and Lemon Boy Plus.

Pink Delicious turned out to be just that. Big, tasty, and juicy with little-to-no cracking. A regional All America Selections award winner based primarily on good flavor and juicy flesh, this indeterminate also carries a good disease package and has strong, productive vines. Definitely on order for next year.

Particularly in 2023, many companies came out with “Plus” versions of old favorites. The “Plus” is
essentially an improved variety adding either flavor, or, more often, increased disease resistance.

Lemon Boy, among the best-selling tomatoes in the US and Canada, has also been a perennial favorite among master gardeners during their annual tomato tastings. Although highly disease-resistant in the original version, Lemon Boy Plus adds additional disease-resistance and increased sweetness. A Brixx rating ranging from 5.7 to 6.6, puts it on par with Cherokee Purple (5.23) and Pink Brandywine (5.96). Tomatoes run eight ounces and larger. During a year in which early blight cursed the garden, this tomato produced well into September on a largely pristine plant. It will return to the garden in 2024.

We were interested in Jolene because it was designed to “resist the diseases of the Deep South,”
promised a high production of large fruit, and was designed to set flowers in extreme heat. Ultimately, it was “just a tomato” without any special flavor. Unfortunately, we were unable to observe its promise to flower in the heat. Master gardeners are likely to keep a better eye on this tomato in 2024 through one of our trials. Will the disease resistance and increased production make up for a lackluster taste? Stay tuned.

The unanticipated tomato star was introduced by one of our Briggs Gardeners, and it’s a product of our own NC State: Mountain Merit. This tomato was designed to provide NC growers with a “high-yielding, disease-resistant, fresh-market tomato cultivar with acceptable fruit quality.” It also carries substantial disease resistance. While it lacked an heirloom-quality taste, it was tasty and juicy. Perfect for a sandwich or salad. It also withstood disease better than any other tomato in the garden and was still producing in mid-October, when the only alternative is store-bought and shrink-wrapped. For that reason alone, we think it deserves a garden spot in 2024.

We grew six different varieties of cucumbers this year. Old standards included: Spacemaster; Poinsette; and Straight Eight. We chose three varieties for their resistance to bitterness: General Lee (“best-tasting slicer”); Suyo Long (“mild, sweet, and burpless”), and Tokiwa (“the standard for slicing cucumbers; buttery soft, supremely sweet, and never bitter”), and a 2023 introduction, Early Prince.

Unfortunately, we were unable to track production but in mid-August, following weeks of unrelenting 90° temperatures, we held two unscientific taste tests anticipating significant bitterness across the board. Although some tasters detected a “slight bitterness” in some cukes, not one was rated “Icky Bitter” (a very scientific term). However, there were two clear winners, largely chosen for their “crispness,” and General Lee had a slight advantage over Tokiwa.

Early Prince was developed for “early maturity, strong disease resistance, and high yield potential due to greater increase in female flowers.” The Master Gardener Volunteer who grew this cucumber confirmed its productivity, saying she had more than she could give away. Late-August, long after our Briggs cucumbers were done, this was still producing for her. At the same time, tasters noticed that it was the seediest of all the cucumbers we tasted.

It was also good to note that old standard cucumbers, which seeds are readily available in retail stores performed admirably well in very adverse conditions. Our existential question: why was a cucumber with a “greater increase in female flowers” named early PRINCE? For production alone, we plan to trial this cucumber in 2024.

We were absolutely captivated by Elevator Zucchini, a new trellis-grown variety from Renee’s Garden Seeds. While the plant exhibited an upright growth structure and had tendrils, we literally had to tie it up! We direct-seeded four seeds in each of two beds. Both produced healthy plants, but unsurprisingly the plant in the sunnier location produced more fruit sooner. These were very long-growing vines, which ultimately took up quite a bit of space. Is the production worth the space consumption? Check back in 2024. Nonetheless one healthy, but not overly seedy zucchini was more than enough for the three cups we needed to make a delicious Piña Colada Zucchini Bread.

Baby Bubba Okra was a genuine surprise: delicious, prolific okra on a fully grown plant standing a
petite 41 inches. According to Burpee, it is perfect in a large container and produces twice as much
fruit as a standard Okra plant in only 53 days. On October 14, the plant was replete with buds. It’s on the list for a 2024 trial.

About Mountain Merit
Delicious Zucchini Bread Recipe that Freezes Well