Archive for category Varieties

Pepper, Doux D’Espagne

Capsicum Annuum Doux D’Espagne

A long, sweet pepper also known as Sweet Spanish Mammoth an heirloom, which dates back to 1859, according to Thomas Etty.
I first grew this pepper in 2006 and it did so well, providing huge crops of delicious sweet peppers, that I have grown it each year since. I usually grow 6-12 plants, because I make a lot of pepper preserves, but if I was just growing it for eating fresh I would probably only need 3 to 6 plants.
Image Doux D’Espagne, green

So far it has seen off all competition, Big Banana an F1 that struggled to produce fruit in a dry season, Red Goats Horn (Corno di Torro) not nearly as meaty or tasty, and Buran nice but not much of a crop. Doux D’Espagne is my favourite by far and the sweet red pepper to measure others by. It really is outstanding, great in the kitchen and a prolific and reliable cropper. Green the fruit are delicious sweet and crisp with a hint of aniseed in the taste, once matured to red they are sweet and packed with flavour. They are delicious raw and make a wonderful Turkish Red Pepper Paste, or Roast Pepper Salad and contribute bulk to hot Harissa.

Image pepper growing in the lush foliage

The plants are robust and grow fairly tall, 3-5 foot depending on the season, with lots of mid to dark green foliage. The white flowers set green fruits that mature to red fairly early and crop until the first frost. The peppers are huge, 20cm long, 3 sided, tapered and smooth. The flesh is thick, crisp and juicy. A great all purpose sweet red pepper, I haven’t found anything to beat it yet, though I do still keep trying.


I have had success growing this variety as a perennial in my unheated polytunnel. It survived and cropped for three seasons before I had to remove the huge plant when the polytunnel had an overhaul and clean out in 2008.

Seed Source Original seed source was a French commercial seed company Gondian.
MDD Growing Log
2006 S:Feb 3 Set out 16 plants May 15, brilliant crop outdoors from early August, pest free. Block planted, mulched with straw they seemed to really like that
2007 S: March 26 Set out 6 plants May 20, excellent crop
2008 S: April 7 Set out 6 plants July 4, cropped ok but not enough time to mature and fully crop as in previous years
2009 S March 5. Pricked out 12 plants April 20. Set out 8 plants May 31. Great crop but would have benefitted from moving schedule forward 1 month as in 2006.

Original Seed Source Gondian 
this is part of a series on favourite varieties  ones that I will continue to grow, save seeds and hopefully produce enough seeds to share. Keeping a variety log is useful particularly  if you want to save the seeds .

Endangered Seed Status
According to the Canadian Seeds of Diversity Heritage Plants Database  this pepper is an endangered one as few seed companies carry it and it is not maintained in the US or Canadian gene bank. However I have found several companies that carry seeds: Thomas Etty-UK, Vilmorin-FR, Gondian-FR

Mas du Diabl;e Original Posted 7/2/2009

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Lettuces, Winter Varieties

Winter Lettuces are varieties of lettuces that can be sown late in the season, will tolerate cold and low light levels and still provide leaf pickings for the salad bowl right through winter and into spring. Some of my favourite lettuces are these hardy types because they have robust flavours, crisp leaves and good textures.

Winter Lettuce Rouge Grenobloise

Winter Lettuce Verde D’Inverno

Lettuces mature in around 50-60 days when grown at optimum temperatures but the lettuce will slow down in cold weather, a trait which gardeners can use to their advantage. In cold weather a lettuce can stand fresh and ready to be picked for 2 or more months, it won’t go to seed and if you can protect the crop from very cold or wet weather and if you can get the timing right it will stand in perfect condition right through winter. So plan your winter crop of lettuce so that it is almost ready to pick by the first frosts of winter. At that stage it is large enough to stand light frost outdoors and undercover survive happily in surounding tempertures of -10c.

Lettuces Winter Density young heads ready to cut

My pick of varieties
To get a good lettuce crop throughout winter it is best to select winter lettuce varieties, those that have proven themselves or been selected for thier growth habit and hardiness. My favourites include:
Winter Density (Cos) a lovely solid crisp green heading cos, standing tall and fairly tightly wrapped; excellent undercover in winter and outdoors in late winter/early spring. Rouge Grenobloise (Batavian) Large crispheads with red-tinted ruffled leaves, good flavour, cold hardy and will grow happily in shade; an excellent winter lettuce outdoors. Ubriacona (Loose Leaf Batavian) This Italian Heirloom has beautiful green hearts with red outer edged leaves, performs well and has great taste and texture. Provides cutting lettuce all year and will overwinter in my garden. Verde D’Inverno (Cos) Tall mid green heads crisp leaves with good taste. Stands well through winter. Rougette de Montpelier, (Butterhead) tight heading lettuce with crisp white stalks and soft green leaves tinged red at the edges, this variety can be grown undercover or outdoors but I find the flavour is better and the heads are crisper if grown outdoors. Valdor (Butterhead) I grew this lettuce for the first time 2 years ago so I am still testing it out and cannot thoroughly recommend it yet. It grew well in the polytunnel producing voluminous green heads with large fleshy leaves. But it suffered from mildew undercover, as spring approached and temperatures soured undercover, it may do better outdoors so I’ll give it another try this winter.

Rougette de Montpelier, Winter Density, Ubriacona, Valdor

Read more about growing lettuces
Cultivating Lettuces in Summer

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Tomato, White Rabbit

Tomato, White Rabbit

Indeterminate Cherry Tomato. Early-mid season: 65-80 days
Description Small cherry sized tomatoes that mature from creamy white to yellow when fully ripe.
Flavour A warm very unusual fruity flavour not really tomato like and not acid but delicious in its onwn right. Makes a wonderful cocktail with a mixture of coloured cherry tomatoes.
Plants Huge prolific plants that if left unchecked wild form a sprawling mass of stems, leaves and fruit.
Yield Megga productive.
Seed Source Kokopelli        Origin Developed by Joe Bratka in New Jersey.
Seed Saved 2008
Resistance Suffered from no disease, virus or pest in my garden. Skins are thin so fruit are succespible to cracking if overwaterered.
USP More like a sweet fruit than a tomato so kids love them even ones that don’t like tomatoes.

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Tomato, Caro Rich

I like to keep good records of my favourite varieties; the ones that I grow and save seeds for. It is full-on tomato season here so I thought I should catch up with the tomatoes and write up some of the best varieties.

Tomato, Caro Rich

Tomato, Caro Rich

Indeterminate. Mid-early season: Said to be 80 days from transplant, though I do think it can be brought on sooner and is usually one of the first to produce fruit in my garden.
Description A round, slightly scalloped, deep orange tomato usually around 7-8cm accross and 120-150g in weight. The orange skin is near perfect; blemish free, smooth, of uniform colour and not too thick. The flesh inside is nice and dense, juicy and orange throughout. One of my favourite salad tomatoes.
Flavour Delicious – a nice balance of tart and sweet. Use raw and in salads
Yield Medium – productive.
Seed Source Kokopelli   Origin unknown
Seed Saved 2008, 2009, 2010
Resistance Has shown itself to be fairly drought resistant and has not so far suffered from blossom end rot or cracking in my garden.
USP Apart from its beauty these perfect fruit have extremely high provitamin content something like 10 times that of ordinary tomatoes.

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Kale, Black Tuscan

Kale, Borecole or Colwort,  Brassica oleracea var. acephala
Cruciferae [Brassicaceae] commonly known as the mustard family

A Lacinated kale also referred to as Nero di Toscano, Cavolo Nero, palm or dinosaur kale. This is one of my all time favourite winter greens and to my mind one of the best winter greens you can grow. A hardy plant that, like most Kales, produces lush leaves during the cooler months, growing sweeter after frosts. The leaves of this variety are long and blistered, with the crinkled edges turning inward. The leaves are a dark green that get darker, almost black, the colder it gets.

Nero di Toscana Precoce in December sun 2009

Origin Kales are non heading cabbages and one of the oldest forms of cultivated brassica. It is often described as primitive possibly because it is little changed and most closely related to the wild brassica ancestor whose origins appear to be the eastern Mediterranean regions. It is thought to have been used as a food crop as early as 2000 B.C and known to have been cultivated in Europe, by the early Greeks and later Romans, and then spread to other parts of the World. Today Kales represent a species of leafy greens with a great deal of diversity. This variety is from Italy where it was developed in Tuscany, probably during the 18th century. Vilmorin in 1885 describes the Italian Cavolo Nero as being similar if not the same as a variety known as Chou Palmier (palm cabbage) grown in France at that time, but described as tall and not going to flower until its third year.
Propagation Sow in a seed bed in mid to late spring and plant out in summer 6-8 weeks later. Choose a cloudy or rainy day or provide temporary shade for the first week, if the weather is hot, to give the young plants a chance to settle. Plant deeply right up to the first leaves to provide good support. Plant in rows or blocks at a spacing of 30-45cm apart for large plants or 20cm for smaller ones. Care hoe between plants and provide ground cover with an organic mulch to retain moisture and liquid feed in spring to encourage fresh growth. Note I’ve grown this Kale here for the last 5 years and some years it performs much better than others probably to do with the dry heat but it is most badly affected by delaying planting out (I’ve sometimes delayed  more than a whole month waiting for a dull day to transplant but I think it is better to plant out even when conditions are not good and provide shade and moisture than delay and leave it in the seedbed too long, this years Kale did not get planted until mid September and it is pretty stunted). I would generally aim to get winter brassicas planted in July and certainly before mid August. For those in cooler climates this kale should do very well.

Crop These kales are hardy up to at least minus 10c (15F) and stand a long time ready to crop, over 5 months in my garden, from late Autumn right through heavy winters to early spring. Harvestingdiscard any older yellowing leaves (these won’t taste good) and pick leaves as needed by pulling downwards against the  stem. Flower spikes are sent up in spring and, if caught at the right moment, make delicious spring sprouting-broccoli-like greens.

In the Kitchen
Absolutely delicious simply steamed, pan fried with garlic, or boiled then seasoned with butter. It is a versatile green and can be added to soups such as Ribollita or cooked in sauces such as Indonesian pepper sauce. People often advocate eating this kale raw, but personally I don’t like it. I think its flavour is enhanced by brief cooking, as little as 3 minutes in a wok or pan of hot water makes all the difference, just until the green intensifies.

Further Reading
Kale: The Phytonutrient Master

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Chilli, Lemon Drop

Lemon Drop pods freshly harvested

Chilli, Capsicum baccatum, Lemon Drop

An Aji variety from Brazil or, according to the Chilliman, its origin is Peru where it is known as ‘Kellu Uchu’. Citrus-flavoured hot lemon yellow chilli pepper. Some sources list this variety as C.chinense but Kokopelli list it as C.baccatum which matches its botanical characteristics.

Chilli Pepper, Lemon Drop Growing

Plants Beautiful arching plants grow to 2-3ft in height. A very productive variety the spreading branches are quickly laden with fruit. The flowers are white star with green markings on the inner petals.

Pods The bright yellow, crinkled, cone-shaped fruits are about 4cm long and 1cm wide and mature from green to yellow. Some sources say in 100 days from transplant but the strain I grow have pods to harvest 3 months from sowing.

Flavour This is a truly unique flavoured chilli with a real sharp and distinct citrus flavour.

Heat A hot chilli Lemon Drop. According to Kokopelli this chilli has a Scoville rating in the 5,000 to 15,000 range making it Heat Level 6 but I think it is hotter and more likely Heat level 7/8. As with most chillis the actual heat of each pod will be affected by the growing conditions.

Use A fantastic chilli adds both heat and citrus tones to all kinds of cooked dishes. Dries well and the Lemon Drop pods make a wonderful and very hot powder.

Lemon Drop Chilli Seed Processing

Seed Saving

Pods have very few seeds sometimes as few as 15. Saving seeds from hot chilli peppers can be painfull, the heat from these chillis burns through gloves and irritates the hands. I find if the chilis are first dried then the stalk end can be broken off and the seeds can be shaken out of the capsules without touching them.

Growing Log

2007 I grew these as a seed Guardian for Association Kokopelli  Sown March 17 (20 seeds) in a 13cm pot of sterlised seed compost covered with vermiculite then placed in an electric heated propagator. Pricked Out April 9  (6 plants) to 7cm pots of sterlised seed compost. Hardened off in unheated polytunnel (12c-30c). Planted Out May 20 6 plants in a single row. Productive from June 20 to November 6 outdoors. Planted 45cm apart. Note these plants have a wide spread and should be spaced 60-75cm apart

2009 Sown Jan 11 (10 seeds)

Note this variety log is part of a series on my favourite varieties; the pick of the crop and the ones that I will continue to grow and save seeds of. I like to keep good records for the varieties I maintain seeds for. See my other variety files



Chile de Arbol

Capsicum Annuum, Chilli de Arbol

Chilli, Capsicum Annuum, de Arbol also known as Tree Chilli

Origin Oaxaca and Jalisco states in Mexico. According to the chilli database these chillis are sometimes called pico de pajaro (bird beak) or cola de rata (rat tail).
are extremely vigorous, growing into 5ft tall plants in a single season, hence the name, which in Spanish means tree like.
are slender pointed chillis, 1cm wide and 7-10cm long they mature from light green to dark red and are mild to reasonably hot. Thin fleshed they dry well and make lovely wreaths or ‘Ristras’. 
The de arbol has a sharp, distinctive flavour that develops further when the dried pods are roasted in a frying pan for a few minutes.

Heat Hot 7/10
This chilli is predominantly used to make hot sauces, in Mexico they are fried whole with black beans or roasted until very crisp. These peppers make a good chilli powder after being dried or roasted. The  ground powder is delicious sprinkled on fruit or fresh raw veg salads

Seed Source I got the seeds in a swap.

MDD Growing Log

2009 grew extremely well in an unheated polytunnel producing loads of chillis right through the season. Plants need serious staking, they reached over 6ft in my polytunnel. Outdoors the plants also produced a good crop, quick to ripen. A useful easy to grow chilli.

Note this variety log is part of a series on my favourite varieties; the pick of the crop and the ones that I will continue to grow and save seeds of. I like to keep good records for the varieties I maintain seeds for. See my other variety files



Best Preserving Tomatoes

In 2008 I grew a selection of tomatoes for preserving because I wanted to see if there was anything better than my usual favourite, San Marzano.  Now that I am thinking about what varieties to grow this year it’s a good time to review my little trial.

A selection of cooking and preserving tomatoes

Tomatoes make some of the most useful and delicious preserves for winter, things like: passata, coulis de tomate, tomato concentrate, pastes and sauces and of course dried tomatoes so I like to grow plenty of tomatoes to conserve. With any comparison it is worth bearing in mind the criteria; I am looking for tomatoes that produce in abundance, with dense, dryish flesh, few seeds, easy to peel/process, with good colour and of course flavour; I want intense deep flavours when cooked or dried.  Here’s what I found.

The standard bearer – San Marzano II, 2008

San Marzano

Large, 10cm long, blocky plum shaped, red tomatoes, with dry flesh and few seeds. The fruit is almost hollow with only two seed cavities and dry flesh, which makes it excellent for drying and great for bottling whole.
The tomatoes are easy to peel once scalded, when cooked the tomato flavour intensifies and so does the colour so they are great for sauces and passata. I find the plants are best grown as double cordons (that is with two stems trained up a hefty metal pole). Plants are robust and will stand up well to high temperatures and strong winds but  San Marzano tomatoes really don’t like to get too dry at the roots and are prone to blossom end rot if there is too much moisture fluctuation, so they do need an extra bit of care to grow well. San Marzano are prolific producing huge vines of long red plum tomatoes over a long period, typically in my garden from July right up until the first frosts so even if dry spells affect them early on in the season they will still carry on and produce good fruit later on. Verdict Still top of the pile in my opinion as an all round conserving tomato, particularly for passata, drying and bottling. If I could only grow one variety for conserving it would be this one. If you raise them carefully they are a great, if not the best, conserving tomato.

Roma VF

The other classic conserving tomato is Roma, popular with the canning industry and I can understand why, it is so easy to process and tastes great. It is a wonderful deep red, plump plum tomato with a little point on the blossom end. The tomatoes are thin skinned, with thick juicy flesh and a deep rich tomatoey taste. Plants are very productive, I grew six plants, which produced buckets of fruit. This variety of Roma is a determinate one and the bulk of the crop was ready to harvest at the same time, which can be useful if you want to do your conserving in one big batch. It was also pretty resilient and had no problem with blossom end rot when San Marzano was affected.Verdict Roma really came out as contender because the tomatoes were actually better than San Marzano for flavour and texture when cooked but the messy sprawling growth habit and short cropping season meant that San Marzano would win out in my garden. However I think growing both is ideal for my purposes, a big crop of tomatoes for preserving in quantity as well as a steady supply over 4 months. Perhaps a double row; with San Marzano at the back and these shorter plants on the front of a south facing row.

Cornu Des Andes

Now this tomato was a real surpsrise, producing great big pointy pepper shaped tomatoes with solid meaty flesh, good taste and easy to peel once scalded. I found it was able to withstand dry / wet fluctuations (a real problem with the summer we had in 2008) and seems to be less prone to blossom-end-rot than San Marzano. However the big downside was that it was not an abundant producer and produced only a small number of fruits. Plants were frail in comparison to San Marzano with thin straggly stems that needed lots of support.  Individual fruits are larger and meatier than San Marzano, so 1 or 2 fruits were enough for most dishes, but the plants sadly did not produce very many fruits.  NB I only grew 2 plants in this trial so it is a limited sample from which to draw any firm conclusions. Verdict All in all I loved Cornu Des Andes despite its low productivity, it had great flavour and a wonderful dense, smooth texture. It really is a superb cooking and conserving tomato. I’ll definitely grow it again and maintain the seeds. Hopefully I will be able to select the seeds over the years to develop a more robust and productive strain in the future because I’ll want more of these little beauties.


Very disappointed with this variety. I chose it from the Kokopelli seed catalogue because it said the variety is easy to peel which would be an advantage for a conserving or cooking tomato, however I found it impossible to peel untreated and no easier than Cornu des Andes or Roma VF and in fact I found it more difficult to peel than San Marzano, once scalded. The tomatoes are a slender plum, pale red with poor mealy flesh. The plants are determinate and in my garden they sprawled about the place and were a mess in no time. It provided a fairly meagre crop compared to the others in this trial. All can be forgiven for a tasty tomato but this one failed even that and had no particularly distinguishing taste.  All in all a pretty poor show. With so many other great tomatoes I won’t even give this one a second go.

Principe Borghese

This was the biggest disappointment of my trial of 2008. I had such high hopes for this tomato because every reference I’ve found for it claims it as the best variety for drying. Sadly, in my experience, nothing could be have been further from the truth and any one of the other tomatoes I tried drying made a better sun-dried tomato than these did. The skins are so thick, the flesh was thin and watery and there are so many seeds in these small tomatoes that by the time they are fully dried they are actually difficult to eat; a tough almost inedible morsel that tastes of very little because all that is left is skin and seeds. Nasty!
On the plus side the plants are prolific and produce big bunches of small, deep red fruit, plum shaped with a point on the blossom end and lots of them, however the determinate habit also means that if left alone the plants get a bit wild for my liking and end up spilling over neighbouring crops. I ended up taking out some of the side shoots to calm the things down. 
I don’t want to reject this tomato on the basis of only one season’s growth but I did give it a fair chance with six plants, and frankly I don’t want to grow lots of useless tomatoes. I got the seeds in a swap so it may be there are better strains out there and I could give this variety another go with another batch of seeds if anyone has seeds they can recommend trying. As it stands I think they are really too small, seedy and tough skinned to be a good conserving tomato, they make terrible sun-dried tomatoes and are not well flavoured enough as a salad tomato. They do have one advantage however and that is that the tough skins mean they store well and seem to last a really long time, particularly if left on the vine. I also tried freezing this variety, which worked quite well, you still have the skins and seeds to deal with, but they provide a useful winter soup or stew ingredient.


I grew an old variety from Texas called Porter in 2007 because I was looking for tomatoes that could stand dessert conditions. I ended up with a few ‘volunteers’ turn up in the potager 2008, which made for a useful comparison when looking for the best conserving tomatoes in my trial. The fruits are of a similar shape and size to Principe Borghese but are a dark pink colour with dense flesh and fewer seeds.
Verdict These tomatoes can work as a sauce tomato as they have thin skins and less seeds and can easily be put through a passata machine or sieve to make a fairly decent, though less red passata, particularly if roasted first. In comparison however, they really are not as good as San Marzano, Roma or Cornu Des Andes for cooking nor as good as some of the cherry or olive types for eating fresh. However, the big plus for Porter in my garden is that they are robust, prolific and will stand high temperatures, dry conditions and even neglect and still crop well. So I think it is worth carrying the seeds forward and growing them every few years to keep the supply going.

A few others worth a mention
Not strictly conserving tomatoes but I found that the juicier beefsteak tomatoes: Double Rich and Cuostrallee also make particularly good chutneys and sauces.

Read more about making tomato paste and  preserving tomatoes on my recipes site, Kitchen Garden Recipes.


Aubergine, Szechuan

Solanum Melongena. Aubergine var. Szechuan

A Chinese aubergine, collected by Joy Larkom in Chengdu, Szechuan province, in 1994. This variety is now kept by the Heritage Seed Library, which is where I got my original seeds from.

I first grew this variety of aubergine in 2008 and I was immediately impressed with it. After only one season this little beauty was already a favourite and one of the best tasting aubergines I’ve grown. Despite the cold wet season of 2008, the plants grew well and cropped over a long period from late July right through until the first frost in November. The aubergine fruits are smallish, about 15-18cm long, and slender to a tapering round point. The fruits are pale as they come out of the stalk and mature to a lovely dark purple while retaining a pale almost white to lime green flashing at the stalk end. The flesh is white, smooth, is slow to turn seedy and has a perfect texture. The prize is really in the taste, a gastronomic delight of almost sweet flesh with a lovely aubergine flavour that does not get bitter.

My Growing Log
2008 S Feb 13 in heat good germination from 9 seeds. Raised & planted 6 plants out May 2nd. Harvest from July 26 to Mid November. Isolated and harvested seed.
2009 S Feb 18 in heat from seed saved the previous year. Good germination. Pricked out 4 plants April 20. Planted 1 plant as a bench mark against which to measure the other 5 varieties I grew that year. Cropped really well right up until December and produced the best aubergines of the season see Aubergine Harvest 2009.

Note this variety log is part of a series on my favourite varieties; the pick of the crop and the ones that I will continue to grow and save seeds of. I like to keep good records for the varieties I maintain seeds for. See my other variety files

original post 6/2/2009 updated

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Tomato, Noir de Crimée

Mid season tomato Indeterminate. (70-80 days)

Tomato, Noir de Crimée Sliced

Large fleshy tomatoes maturing to a dark red-brown, with green shoulders. Flavour is wonderful; rich, salty and slightly smoky one of my favourite tomatoes. Fruit are 6-10cm round, thin-skinned and juicy.
Medium yields on compact bushy plants. Good all rounder for cooking, salads or eating straight from the vine.
Origin This heirloom tomato comes from the Crimea by the black Sea. The variety is not mentioned in The Vegetable Garden, nor any other black tomatoes so we can assume it did not arrive in europe before 1880s. Very similar to, if not the same as Black Russian (Thomas Etty), Black Krim (Kokopelli).
Seed Source Vilmorin
Resistance Drought resistant but can be prone to cracking when too much water is applied.

2004   1 plant
Bought plant Planted Out May

2006 6 plants
Sowed Feb 3 Pricked out March 9 Planted Out May 9
Harvested great crop August – Oct and good seed harvest

2007 6 plants
Sowed March 18 Pricked out April 16 Planted Out May 17
Harvested Did not perform as well as previous years due to the weather conditions but still produced a decent crop of around 5kg

2008 2 plants
Sowed March 16 Pricked out April 7 Planted Out May 8
Harvest Outperformed-as bench mark- other black tomatoes: Carbon, Purple Calabash and Black Trieffle for taste, quality and productivity.

2009 2 plants
uprooted by wild pigs so no harvest this year

Variety Files help keep a record of the varieties I grow and continue to grow for seed saving.

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