Seed catalogs – great rainy-day reading for gardeners – have been arriving every day.
Lots of purple vegetables this season. Purple lettuces, purple beans, purple peas, purple sweet corn, purple carrots, blue and purple potatoes, purple asparagus and blue/indigo tomatoes. The Territorial Seed Company, http://www.territorialseed.com/, is offering six types of Indigo (TM) Series tomato seeds in this year’s catalog. Burpee’s seed catalog, www.burpee.com, has seeds for a deep purple romaine lettuce, Ruby Glow, a truly purple sweet corn, Suntava Full Season Purple Hybrid, and a Purple Podded shelling pea. The focus on new purple hybrids isn’t just a fad. Many purple, reddish purple or blue fruits and vegetables contain the antioxidant anthocyanin, which provides important health benefits, and there’s been a push for hybridizers to develop more nutrition-packed natural foods.
There’s an increasing selection of “patio” plants available every year. These are smaller varieties suitable for growing in containers. One tomato, Red Robin, supposedly can be grown in an 8-inch container. I’ll be trying it this year. Patio Star and Bush Baby are two small-sized zucchini varieties. Containers set on castered saucers can be moved as the sun patterns change, assuring at least six hours of sun daily.
Hybridizers have also been working on “marriage” heirloom tomatoes, crossing Brandywine with Costoluto Genovese to produce Genuwine, for example. Grafted vegetables are usually a combination of an heirloom or nonhybridized variety that has been grafted onto a more vigorous, hardier, more disease-resistant rootstock. A couple of years ago I experimented with grafted transplants of several heirloom tomatoes that often don’t produce well or for a prolonged period in our hot climate. The results were mixed, but I’d rate the grafted varieties an overall success. The graft on the Brandywine transplant slipped apart during planting, but a little bandage tape kept it together for the season.
For those of us who prefer to start summer vegetables and herbs from seed, now is the time to start seeds for transplant into the garden in six to eight weeks. Our local nurseries and some supermarkets specialize in stocking seeds suitable for our growing zones (zone 7 in the foothills and zones 8 and 9 in the Valley). We have a long, hot summer growing season and not all varieties will do well in the heat (and drought). Vegetable varieties with Mediterranean names and Mediterranean herbs are a better bet than those with Northern names and cooler climate origins.
If you prefer to set out nursery transplants, check with our excellent local nurseries beginning in March for availability. Unlike many big-box garden centers that often stock the fruits and vegetables most popular throughout the United States, local nurseries stock varieties of seed and transplants that have proven to do well in our local climate. Farmers markets and local supermarkets are other good sources for transplants.
Here’s a quick list of several reputable seed companies. Most of them collect heirloom seeds and hybridize and develop new varieties. Their catalogs are fascinating (to a gardener) and very educational. Seeds are available online and locally as well.
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company: www.rareseed.com
- Territorial Seed Company: www.TerritorialSeed.com
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds: www.Johnnyseeds.com
- John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds: www.kitchengardenseeds.com
- Renee’s Garden Seeds: www.Reneesgarden.com
Send Elinor Teague plant questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (“plants” in the subject line).