Monday | February 27, 2017
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Winners welcome: Trial-and-error gardening for finding the best

How many of you have the desire to be recognized as the grower of the best flowers, fruits or vegetables — or appreciated because you always share your wonderful bounty of outstanding produce and ornamentals — or might be the envy of friends and neighbors.

Many of us have limited space in our gardens to grow all the fruits, vegetables and flowers we desire to grow. Therefore, we try to get the best use out of our garden space and use it as efficiently as possible by growing the best varieties and cultivars.

But how does one come into possession of these “best” varieties or cultivars to grow in your garden? As some of you know, going to the source is a great solution. There are a great many sources from which to evaluate; however, keep in mind someone else’s “best” is not a fool-proof answer to your quest.

One of the easiest methods, or sources, is to plant varieties that were identified by others as being superior. Ask your neighbors and local relatives what they grow if they excel at growing a certain crop and ask for seeds or planting material or locate a source yourself. If it grows well in your neighbor’s garden, it should grow well in yours if you follow similar gardening practices.

Cultivars and varieties developed in your general location will also be a good bet for your particular location.

Locally developed heirloom varieties fit the bill and are worth planting, such as local green soybean or many of the named varieties of avocados that originated in the coffee fields of Kona and bear the name of the farmer.

Another source of information is your local Land Grant University Cooperative Extension Service (UH-Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources), which has a wide variety of information about varieties and cultivars of fruits, vegetables and ornamentals that were tested in various locations around Hawaii. Usually, these trials were planted through a number of seasons in replicated experiments and include information about a number of pertinent characteristics such as yield, disease and insect resistance and quality factors.

A part of the Cooperative Extension Service is the Master Gardener information service, which is manned by volunteers trained by university faculty and is a great source for information, where they can interact one-on-one to assist you with your gardening questions.

Numbers to call on Hawaii Island are 981-5199 in Hilo, 9 a.m.-noon Monday, Tuesday and Friday; and Kona at 322-4892 from 9 a.m.-noon Thursday morning.

When shopping for seeds of vegetables and flowers from catalogs and online, you might come across the designation All-American Selection, or AAS. Cultivars designated as AAS are selected from variety trials conducted around the United States and found to perform well in all tested locations. All entries are evaluated in the same manner to insure consistency. These selections can be national winners that perform well everywhere in the country, and regional winners that perform well in specific areas.

While this is not an assurance it will do well in your garden, if it did well in many different growing environments, the odds it will do OK will be in your favor.

The most difficult method to find and select the best varieties and cultivars is to grow the many different varieties and collect information yourself through a replicated variety trial.

This can be very resource-intensive in time and effort, but it will also produce the best fit for your garden. The “best” is subject to many factors — from personal likes to what we are able to grow. Start by making a list of what traits are important to you. Do you have a preference for certain color fruits, such as orange tomatoes, or is it disease resistance you require?

The more comprehensive your list, the better you will be able to identify that best fit for you. Here is a list of characteristics that might be important: yield, fruit size, fruit shape, disease resistance, insect resistance, days to harvest, height, flavor, color, seasonal difference, fertility or nutrition requirements, appeal, locational difference, soil type adaption, elevation/temperature response, photoperiod response, taste, shelf life, handling durability, bragging rights (ie., largest pumpkin), days to emergence, days to flower, year-to-year performance, tolerance to abiotic stresses, green gel in tomato, ability to set parthenocarpic fruit (greenhouse cucumbers), and the list goes on.

Many of us talk about conducting variety trials in our home gardens to identify the best plants for our gardens. These are what are generally considered observational trials. Grow a number of varieties and select the best to grow again based on a few observations. But what does a replicated variety trial entail, and could anyone conduct one in a limited garden space?

To properly conduct a variety or cultivar trial to identify the “best,” it needs to be done multiple times, for every planting (known as replications) and through seasons to develop a statistically valid selection. You would have a control variety, which is usually the variety you normally grow, and will be used as a baseline to compare all other varieties. Plant number is important since you will need a representative yield to know how well it is performing. To reduce the possibility that what you observed was not because of just a chance occurrence, you will want to replicate the planting three or more times in a single planting. Repeating through a number of seasons, or years, helps you determine those varieties that will do well for you.

For more information about this and other gardening topics, visit the CTAHR electronic publication website at or visit any of the local Cooperative Extension Service offices around the island. I can be reached at

This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.


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