A Trial of 100 Seeds in the Westar Fields
From our open fields to our greenhouses, we at Westar constantly reach for a higher standard to breed, develop, and refine high-quality products for our customers. Our process reflects 40 years of expertise delivering reliable performance and generating seed varieties that customers can trust.
We decided to set up a series of seed trials to display the results of a hundred varieties. As we prepared the tests, we thought that our customers would like a sneak peek into what we did, how we did it, and how it went.
For this purpose, we planted our seeds, both outdoors and in greenhouses, in a field that had lain fallow for three decades. In this article, you can learn about the varieties we tested and our preparation process. In later articles, we’ll share with you the results as they unfold.
This trial will introduce our customers to our new seed varieties. Anyone who visits will be able to see, feel, smell, and taste the finished products. The land we chose has not had anything planted for the last 30 years, so we’re excited – and hope you are too! – to see what will grow from it.
We began preparing the land by taking soil tests to check salt, potassium, and nitrogen levels. Then we added the proper fertilizers and nutrients for our selected plants as well as controlled drip irrigation. It took us about 10 days to complete this preparation.
When growing crops in greenhouses, the matter of coverings weighs heavily on the success of the yield. We use a mesh or net house, which sort of falls in between a greenhouse and an open field. The mesh blocks some sunlight, reducing the heat burden and controlling plant development and fruit maturation. It also helps in insect management.
We planted parthenocarpic (seedless) cucumbers in our mesh houses to protect them from bees. Yes, you read that right. While we love bees for some of our other crops, pollination for these cucumbers would ruin the fruit. Therefore, parthenocarpic cucumbers can only grow in mesh houses and greenhouses.
We also planted “outdoor” or “open field” cucumbers, Beit Alpha and American Slicer varieties. These need pollination, so we planted them where the bees could have full access. If you decide to purchase both parthenocarpic and outdoor cucumbers from us, you must remember to grow them separately to attain their full potential.
American Slicers are the biggest and thickest-skinned, making them an easy choice for field production and shipping. Harvested at seven to nine inches long, they have a decent amount of spines and dark green skin. This traditional type holds the throne as the most popular in certain markets, particularly the U.S.
Pickling cucumbers are smaller than the American Slicers at three to five inches long. Their flesh should remain crisp, and their skin should maintain its structure even after pickling. This variety has fewer, larger spines and bumps.
Beit Alphas average about five to eight inches long. Like European cucumbers, they have thin skin and need protection from cucumber beetles and dehydration. However, these endure outdoor conditions well otherwise.
For our watermelons, we planted diploids (with seeds) and triploids (without seeds). The seedless trait arose from a cross of a seeded diploid parent with a tetraploid parent. Seedless watermelons are challenging to grow, requiring extra temperature and water management.
As for the types, we planted Jubilees, Crimson Sweets, Sugar Babies, Fascinations, Icebox types, and even a Yellow Flesh variety.
Jubilee, a super-sweet cultivar, may weigh up to 45 pounds, so it ranks as a giant, a classification conferred on watermelons exceeding 32 pounds at full ripeness.
Crimson Sweet is famous for its sugary, bright red flesh. This cross of the Charleston Gray, Miles, and Peacock varieties has a honeyed taste that pleasantly offsets feta and mint.
The comparatively small (nine to 13 pounds) Sugar Baby has soft, sweet flesh and a dark green rind.
Fascination produces excellent quality 16-20 pound fruit with a glossy, dark green-striped rind. The firm flesh is deep red, contains very small pips, and has a great flavor. Fascination makes a good shipping melon and holds well after harvest.
Icebox watermelons were developed to fit in your fridge (once upon a time called an icebox). The small, round, very sweet fruits have deep red flesh and dark green rinds. Due to their smaller size, these fruits mature earlier than most varieties.
The Yellow Flesh watermelon, also known as the Yellow Crimson, has a flavor described by some as sweeter, almost honey-like when compared to regular watermelons.
We also planted other melons – Harpers, Western Shippers, Yellow Canaries, Honeydews, and a few Ananas. To plant these, you must make sure soil temperatures exceed 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Set transplants only after all danger of frost has passed or use appropriate protective structures or covers.
Harpers have salmon-orange flesh with a firm yet succulent texture. They may be slightly less aromatic than other varieties but deliver a flavor rich with bright honey tones.
Western Shippers (often called cantaloupes) are round to slightly oval, sutureless, and well netted, with firm, salmon-colored, sweet flesh.
Yellow Canaries mature late and have a yellow corrugated rind, pale greenish flesh, and pale orange seed cavity. They have a distinctive yet sweet flavor.
A Honeydew has a round to slightly oval shape, typically six to nine inches long. It generally ranges in weight from four to eight pounds. The flesh is usually pale green, while the smooth peel ranges from greenish to yellow.
Ananas melon types are oval, netted melons originally from the Mideast and renowned for their sweet, aromatic, and slightly spicy flavor. In warm conditions, Ananas are among the sweetest of the melons.
We planted radishes because their short growth cycle (about 30 days from seeding to harvest) would give us quick results in the beginning. Customer favorites include Red Bartender, Champion, and Crimson Giant varieties.
The tapered Red Bartender can reach up to nine inches long and more than an inch in diameter. With bright red skin and pinkish flesh, the Bartender is crisp, firm, and slightly pungent with a sweet component.
Champions put out bright red globes with mild flesh. Even when grown beyond their standard size of one and a half inches, they hold up well without becoming pithy.
Crimson Giants have crimson-skinned roots with tender, crisp, white, mild flesh. And given ample room, they can grow to about the size of baseballs and remain of solid, usable quality.
We also planted squash, mostly grey and round zucchini.
Grey zucchini is a smallish heat-resistant squash with a delicious flavor. These tend to produce a high yield of fruit in the six-inch range. For our experiment, we planted Westar Isabella Greys.
Round zucchini are tasty and productive home garden fruit that you can pick in just 45 days! The French call them “Ronde de Nice,” meaning “round from Nice.” They work well for stuffing or as individual soup bowls.
Everything in the trials will mature in about three to six weeks, and we’ll keep you posted on the experiment results. In later articles, we’ll update you on their growth, our maintenance (irrigation, pest control, fertilization), and any issues that we might run across. See you next time!