Winter is the traditional time to relax in a comfortable armchair, flip through mail order garden catalogs, and dream of your spring garden. Whether you still love printed catalogs or prefer to browse online, this is a great time to start planning your garden.
From tantalizing tomatoes and potatoes to tempting cucumbers and peppers, there is literally something for every gardener in 2018 to get excited about.
Two terrific tomatoes
Beefsteak tomatoes are always a popular choice for backyard gardens. These large, meaty tomatoes deliver excellent taste and lots of deep-red fruits. Now there’s a new beefsteak variety called the Atlas Tomato that is designed to grow in smaller spaces, such as on porches and decks—gardeners can grow these tomatoes in a container right outside the kitchen door! Compact Atlas plants produce a bountiful harvest of one-pound tomatoes in any sunny spot. The ripe tomatoes deliver old-time flavor with a nice balance of sweetness and acidity. A packet of seeds sells for $6.99, or three starter plants sell for $16.99 from www.burpee.com.
Another great new tomato variety for 2018 is called Park’s Legacy Hybrid Tomato, named to honor Park Seed’s legacy of 150 years as a seed company. Bursting with true vine-ripened flavor, this well-adapted variety offers round, firm 10-12 ounce tomatoes. The plants boast superb disease resistance to Fusarium wilt race 3, nematodes and tobacco spotted wilt virus. That means higher yields from the easy-to-grow determinate plants.
Like most tomatoes, Park’s Legacy Hybrid seeds can be started indoors five to six weeks before the last frost date. Plant the seedlings outdoors when danger of frost is past and night temperatures consistently remain above 55° F. If a late frost is forecasted, protect young plants with plastic sheeting or other cover. A packet of 20 seeds sells for $4.95 from www.parkseed.com.
New varieties of garden favorites
Midnight Queen Hybrid is new eggplant exclusively from Gurney’s. Unlike other eggplant, Midnight Queen’s meaty, succulent, bright white flesh does not turn brown when cut, so it retains an attractive appearance. Never bitter, Midnight Queen’s fruits are sweet and delicious inside and out—even its rich, glossy, purple-black skin is beautiful.
Each 6- to 8-inch fruit can weigh in at over half a pound, and they hold up to freezing better than other varieties. Even after other eggplant varieties slow and stop production, Midnight Queen continues to produce full-size fruit through the entire summer. The plants are vigorous and easy to grow, and they withstand drought, pests and disease. A seed packet is $6.99, or three transplants are $19.99 from www.gurneys.com.
Cucumbers are a favorite garden crop because they’re very productive and easy to grow.
Gateway Hybrid is a long, dark green cucumber that stands up to downy mildew, powdery mildew, target leaf spot, angular leaf spot, anthracnose, and other diseases that often slicing cucumbers. These 8½- to 9-inch fruits are delicious, holding well on very adaptable plants. Direct-sow the seeds in a sunny garden spot after all danger of frost is past, or start indoors and transplant when the first true leaf appears. Cucumbers can be allowed to grow on the ground, but for longer, straighter fruit and to save garden space, grow them in a cage or on a trellis, allowing one foot between plants. A packet of 20 seeds sells for $3.50 from www.parkseed.com.
Peppers and potatoes
For an unusual variety of potato to grow in your garden, look no further than Blue Belle Potato. This new variety is a mid-season potato with yellow skin and purple splashes around the “eyes.” The tubers are oval-shaped and have medium yellow flesh. Blue Belle is a wonderful culinary potato that tastes great when roasted, boiled, baked, or mashed. The plants are resistant to powdery scab and silver scurf. A two-pound bag of seed potatoes sells for $9.25 exclusively from www.irisheyesgardenseeds.com.
There’s a new big, beautiful Italian pepper from Burpee called Stuff Enuff. You guessed it—the 7-inch-long and 5-inch-wide peppers are perfect for stuffing. A Stuff Enuff plant produces lots of large peppers in little space. With improved tolerance to heat and various soils as well as resistance to diseases, Stuff Enuff can make a beginner feel like a Master Gardener. The huge, tasty, 14-ounce peppers turn from green to red as the fruits mature. A packet of seeds sells for $5.99 or three starter plants sell for $16.99 from www.burpee.com.
If you want to grow an unusual pepper that’s both tasty and beautiful, you can’t go wrong with Sweet Purple Beauty Pepper. These uniquely attractive peppers change from a creamy lime-green color to deep purple and eventually to red. The compact plants fruit early in the season, and they are quite productive. The fruits have a mild flavor with a contrasting lime-green interior. Purple Beauty delivers in any climate, and this variety can be grown in containers and as an ornamental plant. A packet of seeds sells for $1.89 from www.botanicalinterests.com.
Written by Randall D. Schultz