Nothing’s better than a happy, fruitful tomato, but keeping pests and diseases at bay can be a challenge.
All winter long, tomato lovers suffer, eating supermarket fruit with the taste and texture of foam packing peanuts. Finally, summer arrives, bringing a harvest of tart, sweet, sunshiny tomatoes. You can buy these edible jewels at the local farmers’ market, but there is something incredibly satisfying about growing your own. A just-picked tomato, still warm from the sun is nirvana in a red wrapper. (more…)
The new slicing tomato ‘Black Beauty’ is darker than any other black tomato and has incredible flavor. (photo care of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)
Each year I boost my passion for vegetable gardening by adding some of the latest new varieties to the garden repertoire. Those that pass the flavor and productivity tests may have a permanent place in my yearly garden while those that don’t shine will make space for new plants to trial next year. Last year’s winner was the flavorful, uniform, and high producing, AAS-winning ‘Chef’s Choice Orange’ slicing tomato. (Its deepest orange fruits were so sweet!) Just glancing at my growing pile of vegetable garden catalogs makes me excited about the fresh suite of new vegetables for 2016.
The new AAS Winner ‘Candyland Red’ is a sweet new currant tomato for the garden. (Photo care of All America Selections)
Let’s start with tomatoes and close relatives, like tomatillos, eggplants, and peppers. By far, the most exciting tomato being offered is the succulent, pure black slicing tomato ‘Black Beauty’. The Wild Boar Farms introduction has meaty flavorful flesh that is dark red to black. A classic red tomato on the table is the hybrid ‘Madame Marmande’ from Burpee that boasts beautifully lobed fruits packed with rich tomato flavor. Cherry tomato lovers should consider ‘Candyland Red’—a high-producing red currant tomato that’s super sweet. Pair it with the golden currant tomato ‘Gold Rush‘ for fun, colorful snacking.
There’s a great pick of peppers for 2016, hot and sweet. Promising hots include the Brazilian ‘Biquinho’ hot pepper, which looks like a bright red teardrop when ripe and is said to have a fruity, smoky flavor, and the fire-red ‘Flaming Flare’ pepper with its sweet, slightly hot flavor. Sweet pepper lovers should check out the golden sweet ‘Escamillo’ pepper. This prolific early bearer is an AAS winner for 2016. All of these peppers will pair well with the new, heavy-bearing ‘Gulliver’ tomatillo for salsa making.
The golden yellow pepper ‘Escamillo’ is another AAS winner with great taste and performance. (Photo care of All America Selections)
Though eggplant can have challenges due to susceptibility to flea beetles and Colorado potato beetles, I am excited about the new ‘Meatball’ hybrid eggplant from Burpee. The large, meaty fruits are supposed to be extra tasty.
Gardeners seeking something unusual may consider the Mexican sour gherkin, also offered by Burpee. The tiny fruits are crisp and sweet but also slightly sour. Add these to a salad along with slices of the remarkable ‘Sakurajima’, the world’s largest radish. Offered by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, these massive daikon radishes can reach 15 pounds and just beg to be grown by adventurous vegetable gardeners with lots of mouths to feed.
Spring greens are some of the first veggies to go into the ground and new varieties, such as the super spinach ‘Gangbusters’ and/or beautiful heirloom lettuce ‘Yugoslavian Red’, are sure to make easy work of the salad garden. Throw in some vigorous Fidelio flatlead parsley or unusual saltwort Japanese greens for added interest and flavor.
The bright, uniform ‘Yellowbunch’ Carrot is a sweet new offering for 2016. (Photo care of Johnny’s Selected Seeds)
Unusually colored carrots are becoming more and more popular and Johnny’s ‘Yellowbunch’ Carrot looks like a real winner with its straight, crisp, sweet roots of bright yellow. Other new root crops of interest include the pure white ‘Avalanche’ beet, an AAS Winner with mild, sweet flavor and uniform roots.
This list would not be complete without something sweet. Said to have the highest Brix score (15!) of any other canteloupe, Park’s Select ‘Infinite Gold’ hybrid is bursting with flavor and highly disease resistant. Vines are high-yielding and fruits have very deep orange flesh.
Whether growing greens, tomatoes, or melons—your vegetable garden will only be as good as the soil and nutrients you provide. Give this year’s new offerings and old favorites the best chance possible for success. Feed your soil with quality garden compost, such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost, or quality manure, such as Fafard Garden Mature Blend. Both will enrich garden soil to the maximum for large fruits and big roots. Feed with a fertilizer formulated for vegetables—we like Black Gold Tomato and Vegetable Fertilizer—and your new garden vegetables will perform to their fullest.
Adventurous gardeners should consider growing the giant ‘Sakurajima’ radish. (Photo care of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)
The compact grape tomato ‘Fantastico’ is a super sweet, high producer that received an AAS award in 2014. (Photo care of AAS Winners)
One of the highlights of the gardening season comes in the depths of winter, with the arrival of new catalogs brimming with enticing new varieties. The following are among the best of the new vegetables for 2015.
A hybrid of two long-time favorites, ‘Jersey Boy’ produces bright red, half-pound tomatoes that “brilliantly join ‘Brandywine’s sublime sweet-sour tang with ‘Rutgers’ classic rich color, shapeliness, yield and performance.” It debuts in the 2015 Burpee catalog, as does ‘Cloudy Day’, which reputedly bears good crops of 4-ounce fruits even in areas too cool for most tomatoes. 2014 All-America Selection Winner ‘Chef‘s Choice Orange’ wins plaudits for its “deep orange, beefsteak shaped fruits” with “firm, sweet, mild flesh.” They ripen relatively early on tall, 5-foot vines. Smaller in all its parts is another 2014 AAS winner, ‘Fantastico’, which yields 10 or more pounds of rich red, grape-sized tomatoes on compact plants suitable for large containers. For lovers of old-time tomatoes, Johnny’s Selected Seed now offers the Heirloom Collection, a seed mix comprising ‘Brandywine’, ‘Striped German’, ‘Cherokee Purple’, ‘Amish Paste’, and other classics.
The new ‘Royal Snow’ snap pea has pretty purple pods and pinkish flowers. (Photo care of Johnny’s Seeds)
New introductions for 2015 also include many veggies from outside the tomato aisle. Among the most notable are two pea varieties from the hand of Dr. Calvin Lamborn, father of the snap pea. The fleshy, 3-inch, deep purple pods of ‘Royal Snow’ make a tasty and ornamental addition to salads and other dishes (and the pink flowers are pretty too). They are also good lightly cooked. Vines of ‘Petite Snap-Greens’ are harvested when young for tossing into salads or using in stir-fries. Both varieties are available from Johnny’s.
The bush bean ‘Mascotte’ holds its long, slender, tasty pods on stems that rise above the plants’ low, mounded leafage. With its compact habit and long harvest season, it’s perfect for containers (in a fertile, humus-rich growing mix such as Fafard Professional Potting Mix) or narrow garden beds. Its many virtues earned it an AAS award, the first for a bean variety since 1991.
Pumpkins & Squash
The new ‘Cinderella’s Carriage’ pumpkin is a beautiful deep orange red and very high performing. (Photo care of AAS Winners)
AAS winner ‘Cinderella’s Carriage’ derives its name from the flattened, carriage-ready shape of its large, reddish-orange pumpkins, arrayed on vigorous, powdery-mildew-resistant vines. As many as seven mini-carriages are produced per plant. Similar in shape (but much smaller in size) are the fruits of a new summer squash variety from Burpee, ‘Cupcake’. Their tasty, savory-and-sweet flesh and tender dark green skin suits them for many uses including roasting, grilling, and slicing into stir-fries.
A panoply of peppers debut this year. Two AAS winners head the list: zingy-fleshed ‘Giant Ristra’, whose fire-red, 7-inch-long fruits are perfect for stringing into swags or wreaths; and gold-fruited, sweet-flavored ‘Mama Mia Giallo’, which also offers the virtue of a compact plant habit. Its long, conical, often curved peppers are delicious fresh or roasted. Burpee introduces an 8-inch, pale-green Italian frying pepper (‘Long Tall Sally’); an early-fruiting banana type (‘Blazing Banana’); a large, moderately hot, Ancho-Poblano variety with dark glossy skin (‘Big Boss Man’), and a jumbo, foot-long, sweet red Marconi-style selection (‘Thunderbolt’).
And of course there are cucumbers. Compact-growing, early-bearing ‘Pick a Bushel’ is a great fit for cooler regions (as well as container gardens), producing basketfuls of cukes early in the season. Firm, flavorful, and sweet, they can be harvested young for pickles or allowed to mature to slicing size. Matures in 55 days from sowing. Fellow AAS winner ‘Saladmore Bush’ offers many of the same virtues, but bears over a longer season on somewhat longer vines.
The pretty ‘Mama Mia Giallo’ is a new, AAS winning sweet pepper worth growing in 2014. (image care of All-America Selections)
Vegetable gardeners love seed selection time. The seed catalogs are simply brimming with good new things to eat. New tomatoes and peppers are always at top on my list, with great new melons and squash coming in second, followed by root veggies, brassicas and so on. With seed starting time just around the corner, there’s no better time to get your list together and design those new vegetable beds for 2014.
The beautiful ‘Blue Gold’ tomato is an exciting new slicer from Wild Boar Farms. (Image care of Wild Boar Farms)
Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes! There’s never a shortage of great new cultivars to choose from. So where do you start? I always go for flavor and utility (a paste, a cherry and a slicing tomato or two). Good looks are also welcome but only if the fruit has flavor to match. One great new selection with all the bells and whistles is ‘Blue Gold’, bred by Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms. The golden-fleshed, medium-sized fruits are flushed with blue-black, and the dense, juicy flesh is said to be sweet with a full tomato flavor. Two other Wild Boar tomatoes I’ll be trying include the super sweet, small fruited ‘Yellow Furry Boar’, which has lovely yellow stripes and fuzzy skin that I know my daughters will love, and the delectable looking ‘Amethyst Cream Cherry’, which bears lots of purple-kissed creamy cherry tomatoes.
Of the new sauce or paste tomatoes, Burpee’s giant ‘SuperSauce’ hybrid is one I cannot resist. Its huge sauce tomatoes are supposed to be bountiful and delicious—just what I need for midsummer sauce canning.
‘Numex Suave Orange’ is a milder habanero with fruity flavor and great color. (Image care of The Chile Pepper Institute)
Many new hot and sweet peppers are available this year. Two sweets are on my list: the 2014 AAS winning golden sweet pepper ‘Mama Mia Giallo’, which bears lots of long, golden sweet peppers on compact plants, and the big, blocky, red bell pepper ‘Currier’, which is highly disease resistant. Hot peppers are increasingly popular, and the famed ‘hottest of the hot’ ghost pepper (bhut jolokia) is popping up as a new introduction in practically every seed catalog, but at 20,000 Scoville units it won’t have a place in my child-friendly garden. Instead I plan to grow the relatively mild, orange habanero ‘NUMEX Suave Orange’. This New Mexico State University Chili Pepper Institute introduction is sure to be a winner for hot sauce making.
Romaine lettuce is satisfying to grow, and super crisp dwarf varieties tend to have extra dense, sweet hearts, so I was excited to discover the compact, crispy ‘Dragoon’, offered by Johnny’s Selected Seeds. In addition to good texture and flavor, it boasts resistance to downy mildew and lettuce mosaic virus. Another nice new salad green is arugula ‘Dragon’s Tongue’, offered by Park Seed, which has spicy, red-veined green leaves.
‘Tronchuda Biera’ kale is a Portuguese heirloom that stands up to heat. (image care of Renee’s Garden Seeds)
Heart-healthy kale has become more and more popular, and the newer, heat tolerant kale ‘Tronchuda Biera’ is a Portuguese heirloom that gardeners can continue to grow through summer. Offered by Renee’s Garden Seeds, it produces many large, blue-green, paddle-shaped leaves that are said to remain tasty and mild during the summer months when most other kales flag and start to taste bitter.
No garden is complete without root vegetables, and the purple daikon radish ‘KN-Bravo’, also offered by Johnny’s, is a crisp, sweet, eating radish that I can’t wait to harvest. Johnny’s also offers a red, baby beet, aptly named ‘Babybeat’, which looks and sounds delectable for the spring garden.
The pinkish ‘Porcelain Doll’ pumpkin is perfect for kids and delicious to eat. (image care of Renee’s Garden Seeds)
We always make space for pumpkins. This year, my girls are very excited about the new pinkish ‘Porcelain Doll’ offered by Renee’s Seeds, among other vendors. Not only are the blocky pumpkins pretty, but their deep orange flesh is said to be great for cooking and pie making. Many of the proceeds also support the Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation to cure breast cancer.
Sweet, seedless watermelons are always expensive to buy, so I’ll be growing my own this year. The new, small, seedless, red melon ‘Sorbet’ is a Johnny’s exclusive that looks perfect for my family’s needs. Each vine yields two to three ice-box melons with sweet, crisp fruit.
No garden is complete without zucchini or summer squash; the golden, round ‘Summer Ball’ looks cute and tasty. The space-saving, compact bush squash is offered by Harris Seeds and looks ideal for stuffing.
These are but a few of the great new vegetable offerings for 2014. And before planting any of them, I will be sure to amend the garden soil with Fafard Premium Organic Compost. It’s the best way to give vegetables a great start each year.
‘Yellow Furry Boar’ is a fuzzy yellow striped tomato with exceptional sweetness. (image care of Wild Boar Farms)
The unique ‘Amethyst Cream Cherry’ is a lovely new cherry tomato. (image care of Wild Boar Farms)
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