March 17, 2013

Maine Gardener: As you ease into seedling mode, consider new veggies and flowers

By TOM ATWELL

It is time to get out your seedling mix and grow lights in preparation to grow plants for the coming season. Many people grow vegetable seedlings, but if you want to save money, you can start flower seedlings as well.

Most people will plant their old favorites, and there is nothing wrong with that, because you know they'll work. 

This week, however, I'll discuss new flowers and vegetables that you can plant from seed. The advantage of new varieties is that they are interesting and different, they might be better than anything else, and there is the thrill of being ahead of the curve.

There is also a downside, however.

Speaking at this year's Portland Flower Show, Cheryl Rich, chairwoman of the Southern Maine Community College Horticulture Department, discussed Sweet Dreams coreopsis, which was promoted as a heavily blooming pink plant. When gardeners first tried Sweet Dreams, it would not survive the winter, and it's now being sold as an annual.

"That's the kind of the risk you take with new introductions," Rich said. "They just haven't been proven yet."

You have plenty of time to start growing vegetables and flowers inside.

Ramona Snell of Snell Family Farm in Buxton said she does not start growing any vegetable seedlings until April, and those will be sold to customers as seedlings.

"For the ones we are going to grow ourselves, we don't start those until early May," she said.

There are a lot more options for vegetable seedlings, so I will start with them.

I wrote about Jasper, the new cherry tomato from Johnny's Selected Seeds in Winslow, when I reported on the All America Selections winners. I already have these seeds, and am waiting for the proper time to plant. Jasper is reported to produce sweet-tasting, crack-resistant fruit with intermediate resistance to early and late blight, Septoria Leaf Spot and fusarium races 1 and 2. 

Johnny's also has some other new tomatoes this year. Mountain Merit, which is also being offered by Fedco Seeds in Waterville, is a determinate, medium-sized late slicer that is resistant to about all the tomato diseases, including late blight, but the catalog says it is not as flavorful as some others. Charger is larger, with great flavor and good disease resistance, but not as good as Mountain Merit. BHN-871 is an orange tomato, a replacement for Orange Blossom, and is larger, blooms later and has more disease resistance. 

I also wrote about Johnny's Lunchbox Peppers in January. They are sweet and snack-sized, and come in red, orange and yellow. Cupid is another new pepper, a miniature bell that is super-sweet when red, and will grow to red in 75 days.

Sweet Sunrise is an orange, medium to large bell pepper, and ripens early. Capperino produces moderately hot peppers 1.5 inches in diameter, and is described as perfect for pickling and stuffing. Red Flame is a high-yielding cayenne with 6-inch fruit, and is described as earlier and easier to dry than Andy, which it replaces. Hot Rod is a high-yielding serrano hot pepper.

For squash, a specialty of Johnny's, Gold Nugget sounds great. It's a 1- to 3-pound orange/pink hubbard, early and bush, so the plants can be put closer together. Winter Sweet is a gray kabocha squash that's resistant to black rot, so it stores well.

Fedco has a tomato introduction of its own in Weisnicht's Ukrainian, an indeterminate pink tomato with potato-leaf foliage and 8- to 12-inch fruit. Fedco received this seed first in 2004, and loved it in trials for its tart but tasty flavor and because it will produce for three to four weeks beginning in late August or early September.

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