Saturday, March 8, 2014
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.
Other tomato introductions from Fedco are Heather hybrid, a replacement for Monsanto's Celebrity, and the cherry tomato Sweet Treats. The latter is tolerant to cracking, with a taste that is as close to a full-size tomato as one of its testers had ever eaten, and which I'd like to compare side-by-side with Jasper.
Peppers new to Fedco include Odessa Market, an heirloom variety from the Ukraine, which grows rapidly. It is "crisp, juicy, thick-walled and tasty," and quickly turns red with seven to 12 peppers per plant. Hidalgo Serrano was tested by a Topsham grower and said to have "a bright, fruity, hot flavor which lingers in the front of your mouth and makes your taste buds tingle all over." The fruits are 2.5 to 3.5 inches long, are finger fat, and turn red when they ripen.
Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester has a couple of unusual cucumbers. You can direct-seed cucumbers, but if you are going to grow seedlings, don't plant them until about May 1, and delay putting them in the garden until the first week in June.
Brown Russian, an heirloom introduced from the Ukraine in 1879, can be picked at 3 to 4 inches with yellowish-white skin, but it has a good and unique flavor when it is mature with crackled, rusty brown skin. Crystal Apple is green and apple-shaped, and should be picked young as a novelty cuke.
Pinetree has a new tomato, Wapsipinicon Peach, which comes from Iowa and produces 2-inch yellow fruit with a tinge of pink, a bit of fuzz on the skin, and a nectar-like juicy flavor.
New flowers are harder to find because most introductions are branded, Rich told me, which means you need a license to grow them.
Pinetree is introducing the Magnum series of pansies, which are designed for season-long performance in heat and cold, and compact at 10 inches while maintaining a branching habit. You can get three mixes -- Dream Formula with 11 colors, Pink Shades with two-toned flowers in various combinations, and Primrose, a butter cream to lemon chiffon mix -- as well as Fire Dream, a vibrant scarlet.
Fedco is offering Startrek Celosia, 40- to 48-inch plants with bright-colored rosy plumes at the top. The central plume is surrounded by secondary blossoms to create the effect of a star-shaped cone. Sunburst heliopsis is unusual in that it has variegated foliage, but still produces masses of bright yellow daisy-like flowers.
Johnny's is offering seeds for "Cheyenne Spirit" echinacea, which is a first-year flowering perennial in a mix of colors. This was another All America Selection for this year, an exception to the idea that it is tough to get new flowers as seed. Blossoms are 3 to 4 inches wide.
Baby's breath is a standard filler in flower arrangements, and "Covent Market Garden" is a new variety that works as a "cut and come again" plant. It is being offered by Johnny's.
Other new selections include three varieties of scabiosa; the Fama series, which produces flowers in the first year in white and deep blue; and a mix called the Pincushion Formula Mix.
Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: