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It is that time of year when seed catalogs start filling my mailbox. When the weather drops to freezing outside and the rain is coming down, I sit inside with a hot cup of tea and comb through page after page of beautiful photos planning what to add to my garden come spring. What? No catalogs? You can find everything online now and I’ll tell you where to look.
Of course I have tried-and-true favorite seeds, many of which I save every year from open pollinated plants, but I always have to try a few new things each year. Here is what is arriving in my mail now:
Benary’s Giant Zinnia seeds, and a new Celosia called “Forest Fire” from The Gardener’s Workshop http://www.thegardenersworkshop.com/. Benary’s are the biggest Zinnias of all, like giant Dahlias but more prolific and heat loving. I buy the packets of individual hot colors vs. the mixed color packets which seem to be mostly pink. Celosia is a no-fail plant easy to grow by just tossing the seed on your garden soil in April. Pick whatever variety turns you on.
Multi-stemmed, pollenless sunflowers; Multistemmed because you can get 3 bouquets of flowers from one plant, and pollenless because the others make my sinuses run like the Natahala River! Johnny’s Seeds has many varieties to choose from: www.johnnyseeds.com/
“Gurney’s Gumbo” hybrid okra is an early variety “50 days to harvest” (after the seeds sprout in May) and the pods stay tender much longer on the plant, so you don’t have to run out and pick okra every day or resort to using them for Christmans ornaments.
Also from Johnny’s, Helios Pepper seed for my peach & habanero jelly. This a hybrid variety of Habanero is larger, much earlier to ripen and higher yielding than the original. The packet of 25 seeds should last me 10 years. (How many hot peppers can you really eat?)
Johnny’s “Five Star Grape” tomato, and it is open pollinated ( otherwise it would say “hybrid”.) So I can save my own seeds year after year & never have to buy this seed again. Nice, huh?
Ok, so why not buy ONLY “open pollinated” flower & vegetable seeds? It is definitely nice not paying for seeds every year, and many open pollinated varieties can’t be beat. “Fortex” is a truly delicious French filet bean, a green pole bean that never gets stringy. (Check http://www.superseeds.com/) I save the seeds and grow it every year. Butternut squash seed saving is fool proof. Ditto for my “Mega Marconi” mega-big red bell pepper, and way-cool “Black Pearl” ornamental pepper.
The advantage of hybrids is that they are usually improvements over the original open pollinated varieties. They often have more disease resistance, crack resistance, earlier production and higher yeilds, so they are more satifying to grow.
Some people prefer open pollinated or “heirloom” vegetables like Brandywine, German Johnson, and Cherokee Purple tomatoes because that they believe to have better flavor. I was one of these.
Then two years ago my friend Lisa Sherman, an avid tomato grower, invited several of us to a tomato taste-off at her home. I proudly came in with my best “heirloom” tomatoes, only to lose in every taste test to hybrids like “Better Boy” and “Big Beef”! By the way, the tomato that consistently wins the taste-off against 50 other varieties at the NC A&T farm is the Sun Gold HYBRID cherry tomato!
Seed from a hybrid will NOT produce the same offspring, but compare an heirloom tomato like “Mr. Stripy” which may give you only 5 tomatoes on a single plant and you will be kissing your hybrid tomatoes!
Now for the 2016 plant that caused my greatest excitement! How may of you love Muscadine grapes (I do!) but find that their thick skin & seeds make them too much trouble to eat? The new “RazzMatazz” grape with muscadine heritage seems to have it all – the hardiness (Zone 7), disease resistance (no spraying), thin skins, no seeds, and self pollinating so you only need to plant ONE. It is also the first “continuous fruiting” grape, i.e., it sets fruit all summer long. It sounds too good to be true. The one downside that is clear is that one little plant costs $50! (But I could not resist!)
As for last year’s new trials, neither the Yacon root nor the Mexican sour Gerkin become a favorite. However, Johnny’s Granadero “plum tomato” (like a Roma) was hands down the most prolific I have ever grown. Ever. I will definitely grow it again.
By the way, I found more of my very favorite “Purple Passion” Asparagus at www.etsy.com. The grower is Plantworld in Fuquay Varina, NC, and their bareroot plants were way better than average. Get your order in now for March planting! (They did not pay me to say this.)
Can’t wait to see you in the garden!