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As a gardener, I have always believed that it is of utmost importance to find and plant the most productive variety of every vegetable I plant.
Some varieties are more productive and offer more disease resistance than other varieties. Therefore it becomes incumbent on those who plant gardens to select those high producing varieties if they expect gardening success.
Not everyone who plants a garden actually believes that a certain variety of green beans, or of cucumbers, or of cabbage, is better than another. If it says green beans, or cucumber, or cabbage on the packet, then that’s all they need to know. That just isn’t true! End of sermon.
The importance of knowing something about the different names, or cultivars of plant life became of interest to me as a kid when my Dad made his selections of wheat, corn, and maize seed at planting time. But after harvesting those crops, he would spend a lot of time making comparisons of the growing habit, the quality, and the total production of the varieties he planted on his own farm. He would also compare notes with friends and neighbors about their varietal thoughts and concerns. And he would also study the Extension reports about available varieties and their history of success.
Most older farmers will remember that the earliest variety of available seed wheat was one named Turkey. Turkey was a hard, red, winter wheat, and the story of Turkey’s introduction in the wheat growing areas is memorable.
In the early years of the 20th century, Mennonite immigrants, fleeing Tsarist persecution in the Crimea area of Russia, fled to Kansas with trunk fulls of hand selected Turkey seed wheat, and planted it on their new farms. They settled primarily in areas around Reno, Harvey, and Marion counties.
Turkey quickly became the dominant variety of hard red winter wheat in the Great Plains area. It was a short sturdy type of wheat that stood well, threshed easily, and millers loved it. Some farmers in the day would insist that they could taste the difference of bread made from Turkey wheat flour. But Turkey fell out of favor in the late 1940’s when higher yielding varieties were introduced.
And now in the 21st century, only hobbyists plant small plots of it, and they have begun an effort to bring the variety back to the marketplace. A “quality preserved” program has been put in place, modeled after the existing certified protocol in Kansas. I remember riding the combine when my family and several neighbors harvested Turkey wheat.
I also remember that Turkey basically disappeared from the scene when such varieties as Early Blackhull, Heberle, and Wichita were introduced. And then came the “beardless” craze as Chieftan and Red Chief cultivars came along, and then quickly were abandoned after only a few years of popularity because the millers and bread bakers despised it!
Tenmarq and Comanche varieties made their entry, and exit, on the farm scene as well. Both were big improvements over those that preceded them, but proved to be later maturing at a time when much earlier varieties came on the scene. Today, the list of viable cultivars is longer than your arm and test plots everywhere struggle to find enough space to grow them. Plant geneticists have worked overtime, not only developing new wheat varieties, but also shiny new cultivars of corn, milo, soybean, cotton, alfalfa, and almost every other crop grown today.
Those who eat, are the true beneficiaries of their work!
Kay Melia is a longtime broadcaster, author and garden in northwest Kansas.