Despite the inch of snow we got last night, and the chilly single digits registering on the thermometer, vegetable gardening is on my mind because Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog just arrived. I’ve been buying seeds from Johnny’s since I started gardening, and I really love that place. It’s located in Maine, and they focus a lot of energy on finding and breeding crops for short season areas. Their thoughts are on the Northeast gardener, but most of their short season crops work equally well for those of us living in the inter-mountain West. While looking through their new catalog I’ve been thinking about what did the best here last year and what new varieties to try this year. Here’s my list:
The big surprise for us was getting cantaloupe and watermelon to ripen in pots! They were in a hoophouse, an unheated hoophouse, but we were still thrilled. We grew Minnesota Midget cantaloupe and Sugar Baby Watermelon. A raccoon took one of the three watermelon the plant produced, and that was sad, but the other two were delicious–small and sweet and crisp. The cantaloupes were also really tasty, and also really small! They were about the size of a softball, but the plant kept producing for quite a while.
This year we’re going to grow Minnesota Midget again (getting the seeds from Territorial Seeds because Johnny’s doesn’t have it) and we’re going to add Snow Leopard, a honeydew type that can produce ripe fruit 71 days from transplanting. As for watermelons, we will definitely grow Sugar Baby again, and try Little Baby Flower to compare. It’s a 70-day variety and a little smaller than Sugar Baby (earlier and smaller could work well here!)
We grew two different types of cucumbers in pots in the hoophouse. I planted some in the garden, too, and they did okay, but the deer ate the leaves! The deer eat more and more every year, so gardening in pots, where we can protect them, is becoming the best solution. One of the varieties we grew was the heirloom lemon cucumber. I feel sort of ridiculous admitting this, but I liked the lemon cucumbers. Why do I feel ridiculous? Because so many people I know have grown this cucumber for a long time, and tried to convince me to grow it, but I didn’t think I liked it. I tried one years ago that was overgrown with big seeds and I thought it was icky. If you pick these as soon as they get to the size of a lemon, they are delicious. The skin is bitter free and tender, no need to peal. I don’t know if they would make good pickles, but they are excellent in salads. We’re going to grow it every year from now on! I was wrong, friends, you were right, lemon cucumber is fantastic! You can even grow it in a hanging basket. We’ll also grow our favorite, Diva, a cucumber developed by Johnny’s and one of the best seedless cukes ever! Winner of the AAS award in 2002, nothing beats it.
Getting the timing and quantity right on peppers is tricky. They take longer from seed to transplant than tomatoes. And this year we had way too many seedlings, more than we could sell, so we just let them stay in little pots and produce whatever they could. We had them in all sizes, from 2.5″ pots to 5 gallon-sized tubs. Everyone of the plants produced peppers. The tiny pots might have only had one pepper per pot, but still, it was an amazing sight, a hoophouse full of bell peppers and jalapenos and cayenne peppers! We had enough we couldn’t eat them all and froze some of them. We tried a new one this year, a bell pepper called Flavorburst, and it was amazing. It starts out lime green, and you can eat it at that stage, or wait until it turns yellow and finally orange. Sweet! And very productive. Here’s a picture of bell peppers in various shades, getting ready to go in the freezer.
Another pepper that we have grown the last few years, and that we will grow again, is Carmen, a variety bred by Johnny’s. It’s a sweet Italian frying pepper and it’s good fresh, roasted, grilled and fried. It’s just good, anyway you look at it! Early to produce and it keeps on sending peppers out until frost. You can pick it green or red, both stages are delicious.
I’m not sure what to do about hot peppers. It doesn’t seem like they’re as popular for the home gardener, and maybe that’s because we can all get bushels of chili peppers in Pueblo. I’ll still grow jalapenos, because I like having them here to pick through the summer, but I probably won’t grow cayenne or Anaheim.
Tomatoes. It’s so easy to get carried away growing tomatoes. I have to hold myself back or I’d have way too many! And tomatoes are available from so many seed companies these days, you can get lost looking at them. We love getting the really short season tomato seeds from Penn at Miss Penn’s Mountain Seeds in Westcliffe. I’m going to grow Sasha’s Altai and Northern Light from her this year, along with several others. Check out the tomato list here, she’s updating it right now! Miss Penn’s Mountain Seeds
I will always grow Sungold cherry tomatoes, they’re so sweet and prolific and they ripen early. I also really like Flint Yellow, a small, tasty Colorado heirloom. Flint Red is good, too, but needs a longer growing season–it’s better for Pueblo than Rye. I’m still looking for the best, earliest, most delicious red tomato. I really like sweet tomatoes, and that’s why I lean toward the yellow ones. They’re sweeter and less acidic, generally. Will I find a red tomato I like as much as Sungold or Flint Yellow? I’ll let you know!
This year we’re going to try to have more variety at the nursery, so instead of growing 16 flats of Sungold, we’re going to have more choices. If you want to send in your vote for a favorite tomato for us to grow, it’s not too late!
I’ll be back next week with The Garden Year in Review: Shrubs 2017! I’m hoping to cover all the categories before New Year’s Day!