The plant and seed catalogs began to arrive in late November and are still dripping in. I will review them all at some point, but so far I’m focusing on the companies I most often order seeds from – Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Territorial Seed Company, Burpee, Pinetree Garden Seeds, Park Seeds, John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
I have inventoried my seed remnants so I know what to reorder. It turns out that most of my favorite varieties are exhausted, so it’s going to be a big order this season. I will add four or five new varieties that look promising and report the results of these trials. It still fascinates me that so many new vegetables are introduced every year. This year’s catalogs present new varieties of cauliflower, cucumbers, peppers, carrots, kale, corn, eggplant, lettuce, kale, kohlrabi, melons, onions, pumpkins, radishes, squash and tomatoes. We absolutely need a few more tomato varieties to choose from, do not we?
Catalog Reading 101 taught me years ago that NYT did not always mean that the product was a new introduction – just that it was a new offer from the company. When I weigh what new vegetables I need to grow, I try to remove all the marketing hype from the descriptions – words like beautiful, amazing, wonderful, striking, spectacular, out of this world – and focus on what really matters, like f. ex. the size of the plant and its fruit, taste profile, yield, disease resistance and days to maturity.
Of the new Burpee offerings, I want to try Clementine hybrid cauliflower. Despite the flowering prose in their description: “Electrifying orange heads set the garden glowing with vibrant colors …”, it says that it retains its color after cooking, has a nutty taste, and plants tolerate adverse conditions and is ready 67 days after transplantation. They also offer a black curd called Twister hybrid, whose leaves wrap around the flower heads to protect the white curd, making it self-blanching. I have not had any luck with cauliflower before, so I will only focus on one variety this year.
One of their new pepper offerings also looks promising. Sweet Stuff hybrid pepper is a scarlet pepper that is said to be best for filling and frying. The fruits of 3 x 3 inches provide sufficient space for my choice of filling, they are said to ripen early (80 days for green; 105 for red), give a huge yield and have excellent taste. I will also order their Big Daddy hybrid pepper seeds, which have become one of my favorites. An 8 to 10 inch long sweet yellow (at maturity) Marconi pepper that is thick-walled, crisp and sweet, I have grown it for several years and it always gives an excellent harvest that freezes well and is delicious no matter how it is boiled.
Johnny’s is perhaps my favorite seed source. Their descriptions provide far more information than most other catalogs. They provide basic facts and avoid marketing hype. They also provide more detailed information and provide comparisons between their other offerings. Based on their description of Twister hybrid cauliflower, I may need to rethink my selection of cauliflower. Their description says: “Superior wrapping and adaptability. The large, heavy, well-coupled heads have large wrapping blades that protect them from the sun, resulting in excellent color and head quality.
Twister does well in summer and autumn in the Northeast … ”These are important details that are missing in the Burpee description.
I will order their new Nigral hybrid enhanced black eggplant of Italian type. They say it reliably bears fruit under varying conditions, has great yields and is an earlier, improved version of Nadia that did not produce well for me last season. (In fairness, though, none of the other varieties did well either.) I also want to refill my Galine hybrid eggplant. It is a high-performance black bell type that provides consistently good firm fruit for me. I would also reorder their Krimzon Lee hybrid paprika-type deep-fried peppers. I have been growing this pepper for a number of years thanks to a recommendation from a master gardener. It has a mild heat that makes it an interesting addition to toasted, fried or grilled dishes, and it is great for homemade salsa. Each plant produces an abundance of 6 to 8-x-2-inch peppers.
I want to try their new Big Beef Plus hybrid beefsteak tomato. They say it has improved the taste, color and adaptability of the original Big Beef, even though the size, shape and yield are very similar to Big Beef. I also want to refill my Juliet hybrid seeds, but will add a package of Verona hybrids that they say is “similar to Juliet, but with even more tasty, somewhat fuller, deep red fruits.” Juliet is one of only three small fruit tomatoes I continue to grow and it has been my favorite to eat without hand, in salads and in gravy. I will try Verona and Juliet together to see if I agree with their assessment. Hopefully it will be a better tomato year than last season, where few tomato varieties did well!
Not new either, but a must-have for me is Johnny’s Deadon hybrid cabbage, a beautiful red savoy with light green inner leaves. This is a January King-type cabbage with medium-sized, firm heads with a delicious sweet taste. It is also as beautiful as any flower I have ever grown and I would grow it for that reason alone! And speaking of flowers, I noticed two new ones that I want to order: Raspberry Cream Gomphrena and Vintage White Strawflower, as well as my favorite morning mistress, Queen Sophia, and new favorite zinnias, Queen Red Lime and Queen Orange Lime.
Territorial Seed offers a new hybrid cucumber called Slice More. They claim that they produce “… perfectly formed, dark-skinned fruit from vigorous, vines, high-yielding plants with high disease resistance.” For the most part, I prefer to grow pickling cukes, so even if it’s not new, I will try their Double Yield open pollinated variety, as their catalog says that their “productivity is unsurpassed” and that “… they not only make excellent pickles, they are also excellent right at the vine. “
They also have Millionaire hybrid eggplant, which I have not been able to procure for several years. It is a fantastic early ripening variety that is very productive. It was always the earliest ripening in my garden. This Japanese variety produces upright plants with deep purple, slender 8-inch-long fruits. This one is especially good for grilling.
There are several new peppers that I’m looking at but have not quite decided what to order and I have not yet looked at the entire catalog range for the rest of the companies I mentioned earlier – my recommendations for them will be announced in next week’s column. For me, reading garden catalogs and planning the new spring garden is a satisfying winter activity. And while it may not replace the feeling of actually working in the garden, it must be enough until the ground thaws.
Donna Lane owns Lane Interiors & Gardens, is a master gardener, former president of the Norwood Evening Garden Club and an active member of many other horticultural organizations. You can contact Donna at AddictedGardener@verizon.net.