Try someting new this gardening season

By Tom Seymour | Jan 19, 2017
Photo by: Tom Seymour When shopping in seed catalogs, look for new varieties and vegetable-of-the-year winners.

For some people, gardening consists of planting and tending the same species year after year. This especially holds true for those who grow vegetables. Thus, while gardening always holds a certain charm, growing the same old same old year in and year out eventually becomes a ho-hum proposition.

So what can we do to enliven our time spent outdoors in the garden? Well, I may have the answer, and it is a simple one. Try something new. Each year, a new vegetable, or perhaps a new way of raising an old vegetable, brings excitement to my gardening.

Old ways die hard and perhaps the most difficult part of trying new plants and new methods is not in the doing, but in the accepting that everything in gardening is not cast in stone. Here’s an example.

I love peas, especially shell peas. But the return on a row of shell peas is not as great as with other crops. Now that we have fresh (sometimes fresh in name only) vegetables available from the local supermarket, the incentive to raise peas is considerably lessened.

So last year I tried something new and different. I planted, not shell peas, but edible pod peas in one of my EarthBox containers. And guess what? I had more peas than I could use. Given those results, it seems reasonable to assume that the same would hold true for snap peas.

Also, while I usually reserve one EarthBox for Brussels sprouts, insect problems make it hardly worthwhile to raise this crop. So now I’ll have two EarthBoxes freed up for snap peas.

And since container gardening allows us to plant certain crops a bit earlier than when planting directly in the ground, it could be possible to have a respectable crop of peas in time for Fourth of July. And we Mainers like our fresh peas and salmon on the fourth.

New varieties

Sweet corn ranks high among my favorite veggies. And now that my electric fence has proven itself capable of deterring raccoons from destroying my crop, I can plant with confidence that these varmints won’t be able to ruin my corn.

In the past I planted a hybrid sweet corn variety called Quickie. But while Quickie is fast-maturing and quite sweet, the ears are too short, which cuts down on the yield. So this year I’m cruising the garden catalogs for a long-eared variety. One that appeals to me and will probably be my choice, Summer Sweet Bicolor, has ears up to 8 inches long, good husk coverage and, according to the Vermont Bean Seed catalog, outstanding holding ability. So if the corn ripens and I’m not able to pick it immediately, it should remain good for at least a few more days.

Getting back to shell peas, the old-time favorites, such as Wando and Tall Telephone, are as good as ever. But since I read the specifications for Jumbo, a brand-new variety, the old varieties will have to wait. Jumbo, the 2017 Pea of The Year, sports 5-inch pods that hold eight to 10 peas each. Jumbo is billed as being sweet and juicy, with an extended harvest period, as well as resistance to fusarium, an obnoxious disease.

Another crop that has more new varieties each year, cucumber, comes in a variety of configurations. And as with peas and corn, I enjoy growing different cuke varieties just for the sake of experimentation. We have pickling cukes, slicing cukes and some that do double duty as both pickling and slicing cukes.

For the last two years I have grown Summer Dance Hybrid cucumbers. These are thin, only 1 inch in diameter, even at the 12-inch maximum length. It’s tempting to consider another kind of cuke, but I may just stick with Summer Dance for at least another season.

By the way, while these and most any cucumber will do OK if left to sprawl on the ground, growing on a trellis gives the opportunity to see all the fruits at once. Chances of an old monster getting hidden from view until it is far too large are relatively slim.

But Summer Dance cucumbers are of the slicing variety. I often hear people bemoan the fact that they haven’t room to plant cukes. So then I mention bush cucumbers. A number of fine cucumber varieties are meant for container gardening.

Bush cucumbers grow on bushes that don’t need a trellis. These bushes are only 2 feet in diameter, so planting in-ground means that your cukes will take no more than two square feet of garden space per bush.

Some compact bush varieties include Salad Bush Hybrid, Bush Pickle, Fanfare Hybrid and Pick A Bushel Hybrid. All these and more will happily grow and produce fruit in a container on the deck or lawn.

Then we have non-hybrid, old-time varieties such as Straight Eight. These open-pollinated cucumbers were once immensely popular, and for those who enjoy seed-saving, the old varieties are still available.

Little Sputniks

Here’s a vegetable that few people grow, probably because the old-time varieties were a bit fibrous and pithy, which made them undesirable for fussy eaters. But through the miracle of hybridizing, a new variety of kohlrabi called Kossak Hybrid has no trace of fiber, yet retains that sweet, perhaps unique, kohlrabi flavor.

For those not familiar with this veggie, kohlrabies look much like the original Sputnik satellite. Leaves exit the bulb and the stems grow straight up, giving kohlrabies that “satellite” look. The stems are the antennae, of course.

It’s easy to say that kohlrabies are nothing but funny-looking turnips, but in fact the taste is totally different from turnips. That said, here’s something that no one would ever do with a turnip, and that is eat it raw. But kohlrabies are so sweet that when peeled and sliced, they make a wonderful medium for dipping and also, add a nice extra to any picnic lunch.

One reason people may shy away from trying something that to them is new and different is that it seems impractical to buy a whole packet of seeds and only plant a small amount. And when trying something new it doesn’t make sense to devote a whole lot of precious garden space to a plant that may or may not be worth it. But in the end, most seeds will remain viable through the next growing season, and if it turns out that the new veggie becomes a hit, you already have seed for next year.

Lettuce mixes

Most of us enjoy lettuce, but even here the same old varieties become rather dull with time. But now it seems most seed companies feature their own special lettuce mixes. These blends usually contain not only different lettuce types, but also lettuces of different colors.

Many of these mixes are suitable for container growing. So with just a little effort, a gardener can easily grow up to a dozen different kinds of lettuce.

So read up on the new mixtures and I’m sure you’ll find one to your liking.

Tom’s tips

I hope this article has inspired readers to try at least one new vegetable this season. To make sure you order the very best varieties, look for those that are current-year winners in their class, or else winners of previous years.

Such varieties are rigorously graded and tested, and only the best get selected as winners for any given year.

Most of all, have fun with your new veggies. Planting new and exciting varieties gives us something special to look forward to each year.

Green beans come in a great array of varieties and types. (Photo by: Tom Seymour)
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