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Planter's Favorite Seed Cultivars

Note:  Our failures with some varities could be due to gardener-error, not the quality of the seed!  Fedco, Johnny's,  Vermont Bean & Seed, and Cook's Garden offer the best selection of  heirloom  seed varities. 

Pepper Bytes

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  (click to enlarge for names of peppers)

We don't grow many bell or sweet pepper varieties any more, to save space for hot peppers varieties for our salsa and for drying.    'Robustini Hybrid' pepperoncini   only produced a modest amount of fruit, as did  'Corno di Toro', or 'Bull's Horn, so we gave up on them at least for the time being. 

Jalapeno, hot cherry, and Hungarian wax are best for canning relishes and for pickling. Piquin, ancho, cayenne, habanero, and Thai are best for drying.

In 2002, we purchased some 'Garden Salsa' peppers from a local produce grower to blend with Cherry and Hungarian peppers to use in making salsa, relishes, and pickled peppers.  I was so impressed I looked for seeds and found only three sources:  Park Seeds, Vermont Bean and Seed, and Totally Tomatoes.  They performed so well in our garden in 2003 and in each of the above recipes-- that we plan to double the number of plantings for Garden 2004. 

'Numex' anaheim, another mildly hot variety is used for Rellenos and for grilling.  This cook prefers Poblano peppers (Ancho, when it's dried) for Rellenos dishes and for making a mild chile paste.  

'Thai' and 'Pretty Purple' peppers,  small, ornamentals that are also edible, have been popular landscaping plants at the Warner Farmer's Market and are invaluable as annual fillers in our perennial flower beds and in pots.  Johnny's carries an heirloom variety of Pretty Purple.

 

Pepperpot   Herb Pot   Pretty Purple  Pretty Purple

The only companies that have not bred size into the Thai pepper are Cooks Garden and Parks, who both offer the original small one.  Very ornamental and very hot! 

We have had little success with a little-known but extremely hot Piquin- type called chiltepin, or bird pepper.  In 2003, we finally get one plant to successfully transplant.  As of August there are no flowers, but we keep our fingers crossed.   Burpee, Vermont Bean & Seed, and New Mexico Chile Institute offer the seeds.

Tabasco peppers are now offered in seed catalogues.  They grow exceptionally well in our Zone 4-5 garden, so they are now a staple in our pepper rows.  In 2003, we planted only 3 plants.  Next year, we'll have twice as many!

'Bulgarian Carrot',  an heirloom variety smuggled out through the Iron Curtain 20 years ago, is offered by VB&S and TotallyTomatoesThe Cook's Garden's heirloom collection includes a Cayenne that is smaller than the average Anaheim-type, but good for drying and for making ristras

The Agricultural Research Center of New Mexico State University were reported to be breeding these short-season, hot peppers that will ripen with a pungent flavor in cool temperatures:  Espanola, Casados, Chimayo, and El Guique Native.   Virginia Tech extension January newsletter, 1996.  So far, they are not appearing in any of our catalogues. 

Last year, we tried two new peppers.  'Mirasol',  can grow erect -- chile trompa, or naughty chile -- or pendent, has a heat scale similar to jalapenos and makes a good drying pepper.   'Pasilla', called "little raisin" or chile negro , is not very hot but very flavorful and used in mole sauces.   Both can be purchased at the New Mexico Chile Institute (see Garden Links).   In Garden 2003, two of each are planted to continue our trial of these gourmet peppers.

Tomato Bytes

This cook/gardener is sold on dried tomatoes.   They are a good source of fiber and protein and are great when you are looking for a less tomatoey or pasty taste and texture (try Red Chile Sauce or Paste).   'Principe Borghese', sold by Johnny's, Shepherd's, and The Cook's Garden,  was exceptionally productive and resistant to bugs and drought.  They are not resistant to all the rainfall in the 2003 garden, though.  Only one, in a pot, has fared well.  We make a note to plant more of them for patio pots in 2004.   In the 2001 Garden, we tried an heirloom drying tomato, 'Amish Paste' and the popular table variety, 'Brandywine.'  Because our garden is relatively small, we've decided not to grow heirlooms, because their yield per plant is lower and they require a lot of growing space to avoid cross-pollination.

We opt for two old reliable slicing tomatoes:

'Big Boy' (not as resistant as 'Big Girl' and almost a tossup with 'Better Boy'), all indeterminate or vines.   'Celebrity' is a determinate, or bush, and resistant to everything!  (Determinates are good for canning, because they ripen at the same time.)   'First Lady' , an early slicing tomato from Johnnys Seeds, and 'Celebrity' tomato were the top yielders in Garden 2002 -- both with about 15 tomatoes per plant.  'Big Boy' was behind by 5 tomatoes. 

The early tomato is slightly smaller in size, but equally good in taste.  Its fruit was less adversely impacted by blight in Gardens 2002 and 2003, a fungus caused by an excessive rain and moisture.   We have been growing   'Celebrity'  since it came on the market, and regret not growing in 2003, when we ran out of seed.

We tried 'Super Marzano' romas, but they were more prone to blossom-end rot and blight even though they were supported with string or wire.  Space and labor were at a premium, so we stopped growing our own Roma tomatoes for salsa and for drying, but if you want to grow your own, we recommend  'La Rossa' or 'Roma.'   They are both self-pollinating, so it's possible they could cross-pollinate.  

We're sold on using sun-dried tomatoes in the winter for soups, stews, and chili.   This year (2000), we will try 'Principe Borghese,' an heirloom especially bred for drying.  It makes an outstanding drying tomato, because they are so small and contain almost no moisture.   Shepherd's sells an indeterminate variety; Cook's Garden and Johnny's sell a determinate one.   According to Cook's Garden, the whole plant can be sun-dried in arid climates.  The only one in 2003 to escape damage from excessive rainfall and humidity, with the exception of one growing in a pot.  I make a mental note to grow more for patio pots in 2004.

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Greens and Brassicas (broccoli)

When selecting green leafy vegetables, it's helpful to remember that the darker green the leaf, the higher the vitamin content.  Romaine and looseleaf lettuce contain more of vitamins A and C and calcium than either crisphead or butterhead. Fresh spinach contains large amounts of everything, so it's no wonder it was Popeye's favorite food.   

Kale is a good source of Vitamins A and C, but collards are higher in folates.  We plant 'Red Russian' kale with artemisia, so it serves as an ornamental and a vegetable.

Fine tuning a garden so that lettuce is maturing at the same time as tomatoes requires some knowledge of cultivar types.  Our favorite heat-resistance lettuce varieties are 'Black-Seeded Simpson' and 'Red Sails.' Romaine lettuces do better in cool weather; 'Winter Density' is a proven favorite for Planter.

Buy a quick-maturing variety of broccoli, e.g., Packman (hybrid, Johnny's says 50 days) or De Cicco (nonhybrid, 48 days) instead of our old standby, Premium Crop (hybrid, 80 days).  Or, seed a fall crop next July!

Herbs

'Mammouth' Basil, sounded tempting, and it was!  The huge leaves were feasted on by a different type of beetle that resides under the surface of the soil.  That, and the fact that it did not reach full maturity before producing flowers, is enough to convince this gardener to go back to 'Large Leaf Italian.' 

Cilantro that is slow to bolt is best if you enjoy Mexican dishes, where the leaves are used.  You still get the seeds (coriander) later in the season.   It is also a key ingredient for good salsas.  It produces seeds that will winter over and produce an early crop. 

Rosemary seeds  are now available to home gardeners fromVermont Bean and Seed, Johnny's, and Harris

Cook's Garden has the best selection of greens, including hard-to-find cultivated forms of wild greens, e.g., dandelion and purslane.

Ornamentals

Hollyhock, delphinium, columbine, and Shasta daisies are the most popular perennials for landscaping at the Warner Farmer's Market.

One of our favorite annuals is the sunflower.

Valentine       

'Valentine'

Autumn Beauty

 'Autumn Beauty'

Moonflower

'Moonflower' with Lamb's Ears (Stachys)

Dwarf varieties of sunflowers, e.g., 'Solar Babies' look great with marigolds and zinnias.

Since sunflowers are space hogs, we plant them in the same two rows every year.  Other annuals are popped in among existing perennials.   Some favorites  are blue bedder ageratum,  purple 'Imagination' verbena (offered by Stokes and Park Seeds;   'Erfurter Orangefarbige' calendula (offered by Johnny's Selected Seeds; single, old-fashioned  hollyhocks if we have the space; marigolds; 'cut and come again' zinnias; and, climbing nasturtium.  

Johnny's is the only seed company that offers Echinacea angustifolia, or the white enchinacea that is reported to be more potent than the purple variety. (Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody).  This gardener finally got 3 of them mature enough to be transplanted, but only one plant survived.  They must be stratified (refrigerated) for 21 days before sowing.