January 13, 2013

Maine Gardener: Invest seed money in startups like these

By TOM ATWELL

What the world needs is a good-tasting cherry tomato that does not split and is resistant to most diseases.

According to All America Selections’ 2013 awards, that tomato is here – and it was bred by Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow.

The Jasper F1 cherry tomato, according to the AAS website, “is a high-yielding variety with … vigorous vines (that) require little or no fertilization. An added bonus is high disease resistance to Late Blight, Fusarium races 1, 2 and Early Blight plus the ability to overcome weather-related stresses.”

Johnny’s description adds that the “round, 7- (to) 10-gram fruits are crack resistant, borne on small trusses, and store on the plant well, resisting cracking and rot.”

A packet of 15 seeds costs $4.95, and you probably should start your own, because I doubt many farmers markets and garden centers will be offering seedlings of such a new variety.

Jasper is the seventh Johnny’s-bred plant selected as an AAS winner. The others are Baby Bear Pumpkin, Bright Lights Swiss Chard, Diva Cucumber, Sunshine Kabocha Squash, Bonbon Buttercup Squash and Carmen Pepper. You would have a pretty complete vegetable garden if you grew just those seven, although I’d miss onions and a summer squash.

AAS also selected five other winners for 2013: Two more in the vegetable category, although they are fruits; two in the flower category and one bedding plant.

“Harvest Moon” watermelon is a hybrid, triploid seedless watermelon. It ripens earlier, has a higher yield, tastes better and comes on shorter vines than most watermelons. It has a dark-green rind with yellow dots, and has crisp, sweet, pinkish-red flesh. It was bred by Seeds by Design.

Melemon melon, bred by Known-You Seed Company, is early and high yielding, with a sweet tanginess in a honeydew-style melon.

The flower winners are “South Pacific Scarlet” canna and “Cheyenne Spirit” echinacea. The canna is a tropical, so in Maine, you would have to bring it indoors for the winter. It will grow 4 to 5 feet tall and produce 4-inch scarlet flowers that will bloom all summer long, according to the description.

The echinacea, the AAS says, “captures the spirit of the North American plains by producing a delightful mix of flower colors from rich purple, pink, red and orange tones to lighter yellows, creams and white.” Like most echinaceas, it is a hardy, drought-tolerant plant.

The bedding plant is “Premium White to Rose Pinto” geranium. Pinto is a series of geraniums – botanical name Pelargonium – from Syngenta, and one has 5-inch blossoms that come out white and change to rose-colored as they age.

While the All-America Selections are plants new to the market, the Cary Award is for established plants that thrive in New England.

There are two winners this year: Abies vetchii or Veitch fir, and Chamaecyparus pisifera “Filifera,” also known as threadleaf chamaecyparus or false cypress.

Cary Awards are selected by a committee formed by the Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston, Mass.

Jeff O’Donal of O’Donal’s Nursery in Gorham, who is on the selection committee, described the Veirtch fir as a “Fraser fir on steroids, with a dark glossy green on top and a silver underneath.” He has some large, old vetch firs on his property but is looking for smaller ones to sell, and they are not widely available.

Michael Arnum of Tower Hill Botanical Garden said the Veirtch fir is hardy to Zone 3, which includes even the coldest parts of Maine. It has a pyramidal form and will grow to 35 feet here but 75 feet in its native range in Japan.

On the threadleaf false cypress, the committee considered recommending specific gold-thread chamaecyparus or all of the gold-colored varieties, but some members argued that the green ones work well too.

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