Tag Archives: Burpee

Mid-Summer Review of Edibles in my Virginia Garden

August has a way of revealing what is truly successful in my Virginia garden. If the plant can make it through this hot, humid summer, it is a winner in my book. Here are my winners for edibles this summer (click here for my previous article on successful flowers).

Prettiest Vegetable in the Garden

Burpee’s Confetti pepper has green and white foliage

This year, the Burpee Confetti pepper wins the award for prettiest vegetable in my garden. The white and green foliage make this sweet pepper stand out as an ornamental. My plants are about 2 feet high and do not need staking. Although my plants are in the ground, I would recommend Confetti as a container plant because the foliage is so ornamental and the peppers are small enough but colorful. The 2-inch peppers change from green to cream to red. Combined with other edibles and annuals, Confetti could serve as the “thriller” in a container on the deck. Confetti is a snacking pepper, I can eat the entire pepper or slice it for the skillet. Try Confetti next year, you will be surprised at how well it grows and how good it looks and taste.

Most Prolific Vegetable in the Garden

Burpee’s Shimmer tomato plant keeps on producing

I always grow a variety of tomatoes and this year Burpee’s Shimmer wins the award for most prolific tomato plant. Shimmer is an almond-shaped tomato with streaks of green, only about 1 1/2 inches long and 1-inch wide. Shimmer is a plum tomato, a type of paste tomato that is “meaty.” This particular cultivar is sweet too. In my family, we eat them as snacks–you can pop the entire tomato in your mouth–or cut up in green salads. My plants are about 4 feet tall and staked. They produce so much fruit I have to give them away to friends and colleagues. According to the Burpee website, one plant produces 300 to 350 fruit in a season and I believe it! The fruit are in clusters like grapes so it is easier to cut the cluster off, eat the ripe ones and let the unripe ones mature indoors.

Best New Introduction in the Garden

Another prolific plant this year has been the new Proven Winners Amazel basil. Amazel has two features: it is resistant to downy mildew and it is seed sterile. Downy mildew is a fungal disease that destroys the sweet basil plants, making them inedible. There is no cure and once infected the plant has to be removed and destroyed. My plant is quite large, about 2 feet tall and a foot wide. My other sweet basils are small but I have already cut them back for pesto. I have used some leaves in the kitchen but I have not cut the Amazel back yet because I wanted to see how it would perform during these hot, humid days. This is mid-August and I have not detected any disease.

Proven Winners’ Amazel basil is resistant to downy mildew

Unlike other basils which have the sole purpose of flowering and setting seed to ensure survival of the species, Amazel is seed sterile so it does not put its energy into flowering and setting seed. This results in more leaves for a longer time. It actually can flower but will still keep on producing tasty leaves. I highly recommend this basil for both flavor and appearance. The plant is actually quite lush and could be effective as a “thriller” in a large container, surrounded by other herbs or edible flowers.

Most Unusual Edible in the Garden

A few years ago I tried growing roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa). The plant grew well in large containers but did not flower until very late in the season. Because it bloomed late, only a few of the red fat calyxes could be harvested and then, as a tender perennial, it died in the winter. The plant is about 3 to 4 feet tall and the yellow flowers are about 3-inches wide and look like okra flowers. After the flowers mature, they become enveloped by a large, red, fleshy calyxes. This is ornamental in itself but they are harvested for making tea (the prime ingredient in Red Zinger), jams, jellies, and candy.

Large red calyxes of Thai Red roselle are brewed to make herbal tea

This summer, I planted a variety called Thai Red from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. What a difference! These plants bloom much earlier, in the beginning of the summer, resulting in many calyxes.  Now, mid-August, I have so many I have to start harvesting and drying them. I use them to make an herbal tea. I have read that they serve as a cranberry substitute so this year I will try using them in scones. Using the Thai Red variety really makes a difference. The plant is not common but it is easy to grow from seed. Next spring, purchase a pack of seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and grow it like a hibiscus plant, full sun, rich soil, plenty of water. Roselle is a great ornamental herb that stands out in a large container or can be grown in the ground.

Growing Burpee’s Tomatoes and Heirloom Tomatoes this Summer

Labor Day Weekend Haul of Tomatoes

I have always grown tomatoes from seed, simply because I like to grow plants from seed. Tomatoes are particularly easy, they germinate fast and are easy to grow. Each year I start different tomato seeds indoors under lights and end up with many to give away. My family of four loves fresh tomatoes in the summer so I grow at least half a dozen tomato plants in our Virginia backyard.

This spring, a representative from Burpee Home Gardens asked if I would like to grow several tomato plants that Burpee was going to introduce in 2018. I was intrigued. Since I have not bought tomato plants in years, I thought it would be interesting to see the difference between these hybrids and my plants. Burpee has been selling seed for over 140 years but they also sell plants and they offer both heirlooms and hybrids for some of their vegetables.

I had already started the heirloom Marglobe (determinate slicer) from a source other than Burpee (Burpee also sells this) and Chianti Rose (indeterminate beefsteak) from seed when Burpee had contacted me. In May, I planted my seedlings and Burpee’s plants, each with a 6-foot tall post. Deer came through once or twice in early summer so I was left with the following from Burpee: two Gladiators (indeterminate paste), two Oh Happy Day (indeterminate junior beefsteak), and one Tomato Combo Take 2 Blockbuster (a determinate slicer and a cherry together). I also had two Marglobe and four Chianti Rose plants.

Heirloom Chianti Rose tomato

My two heirloom tomatoes are plants that have been grown from seed for generations. Heirlooms are usually passed down and have a story connected with them or are a family favorite. I could save the Marglobe or Chianti Rose seed, plant them next year, and get exactly the same type of plant. The Burpee plants are cultivars that have been bred to have particular characteristics. I could save the seed, plant them next year, and get tomatoes but they would not retain the same desired characteristics that Burpee had selected (usually disease resistance). Except for the annual deer visit, I don’t have a serious disease/pest problem in my garden with my plants.

Heirloom Marglobe, a determinate tomato plant

I do grow a combination of determinate and indeterminate tomato plants to space out my harvest. Indeterminate plants grow, bloom, and fruit over and over again until frost so you can harvest tomatoes throughout the summer. Determinate plants will stop growing when fruit sets on the top buds so the tomatoes ripen at the same time in a window of a few weeks.

As the summer progressed, I watered all the plants often with a hose, fertilized a few times, and strung the branches to the post with yarn (leftover from kids’ projects). This year, however, I felt that I had to keep stringing the tomatoes, more often than in the past. Every weekend I was stringing up the Gladiator and the Oh Happy Day plants to the stake and then having to string the branches up so they would not fall down. These two in particular were growing fast, with many branches and more weight. My yarn was becoming an aerial infrastructure just to keep branches up. My heirlooms were growing well but not as robust or as branched as these Burpee plants.

Burpee’s Gladiator paste tomato plant

In mid-August, I had harvested about 2 red tomatoes from the two Gladiator plants, which had about 10 green tomatoes on each plant. Gladiator is the first paste tomato plant that I have grown and it is firm enough for sandwiches and salads, not as wet and messy as the slicers or beefsteaks. Traditionally, paste tomatoes are used for pasta sauce and for dehydration so I plan to use these in our pasta sauce, chili, and bean stew. I would definitely use a cage next time; one stake is not enough. This particular type was bred to resist blossom end rot, which rarely occurs in my garden, but I did not see it on these plants.

Burpee’s Oh Happy Day with red tomato

The Oh Happy Day gave me a couple of red junior beefsteak tomatoes early in the season, which we used in salads and sandwiches. Anything that colors up early in the season is a plus in my book. In mid-August there were about 20 green tomatoes on each of the plants. This plant was very vigorous and again, I would use cages next time. The fruit clustered together, making it easy to simply twist a ripe one off the vine.

The Tomato Combo Take 2 Blockbuster is a combination of a small cherry tomato, a yellow indigo, and a determinate red slicer. Although I planted these in the ground, I would recommend planting in a large container on the deck. The plants are only a few feet tall and would make a great conversation piece on the deck or patio. It would also make it easier for people to see the pretty yellow indigo tomatoes. By mid-August, I harvested about 10 yellow indigos and a red slicer but there were about 5 green slicers and a few more yellow indigos on the plant.

Yellow Indigo cherry from Burpee’s Tomato Combo Take 2 Blockbuster plant

In mid-August, the Marglobe had a dozen green tomatoes on each plant. The plant seemed to be okay with the stake, it was not as heavily branched or as “viney” but then it is a determinate. Marglobe has very pretty fruit, red and round like a ball.

The Chianti Rose plants had about five green tomatoes on each plant. The Chianti Rose is not a pretty tomato, it is large and flattened, sort of an oblong beefsteak. It ripens to pink instead of red. Because the fruit is large, the plant bends under the weight. A cage would have been better, plus each plant took up a lot of space.

I have to confess I rarely have pests or diseases with my tomatoes so I did not notice any difference between Burpee’s plants and the heirlooms in this regard. I did notice that the Burpee plants had more vigor and growth so it would have been best to use cages for the Gladiator and the Oh Happy Day plants. They were large plants with many branches and more tomatoes than the Marglobe and Chianti Rose.  If I had to do it over again, I would have put the Tomato Combo Take 2 Blockbuster in a container. All of the tomatoes tasted good and it was great to learn that the paste tomatoes could be used for sandwiches and salads as well as pasta sauces. I am sure Burpee will have these plants for sale at the local garden centers next year.

Next year, grow tomatoes in the garden or in a container. Nothing beats their fresh taste — summer in a bite!

Oh Happy Day grows in clusters, easy to pick

Epic Tomatoes, Epic Stories: Learning How to Grow Tomatoes in Virginia

Epic_TomatoesLast Sunday I had the good fortune to hear Craig LeHoullier speak about tomatoes at Green Spring Gardens, Alexandria, VA; part of the annual Harry Allen Winter Lecture Series. Armed with a PhD in chemistry, Craig used to work for a pharmaceutical company and always grew vegetables as a hobby. In 1986, bored with nursery-bought tomato plants, he tried starting heirloom tomatoes from seed and developed a passion for growing them.

That same year he joined the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving heirloom plants. SSE members receive the annual SSE Yearbook, akin to the toy-filled Sears Wish Book that used to come out every Christmas. The Yearbook has over 13,000 types of seeds, 4,000 of which are tomatoes. Craig started growing these obscure types and corresponding with other gardeners who also shared “hand me down” tomato seeds.

Currently, Craig resides in Raleigh, NC, with his wife Susan who also was at Green Spring Gardens. In addition to growing heirlooms, Craig researches old types, collects old nursery catalogs, and exchanges seeds with other gardeners. For 10 years, he organized the Tomatopalooza, an annual tomato tasting event.

In his talk, Craig explained the history of tomatoes and how there were very few varieties up until the mid-1800s when the process for selecting desirable traits changed. Since then more types have become available so that now there are so many types, it’s hard to choose. He suggested considering two criteria:  first, hybrid, heirloom, or open pollinated; and second, indeterminate, determinate, or dwarf.Craig

Hybrids, he explained, are “a cross between two parents” and are bred for a particular characteristic. “Hybrids are good if you want maximum yield or you want to avoid a disease or if there is one that is so good, you can’t live without like ‘Sun Gold.’” Saving seed from a hybrid may not give you the same desired characteristics. With open pollinated types, the saved seed will produce successive generations with the same characteristics. Heirlooms are a type of open pollinated where the plants “have stood the test of time or have a story associated with them.” For him, an heirloom pre dates 1950 which is when Burpee produced the hybrid Big Boy. Thereafter, seed companies focused on selling hybrids. Open pollinated may or may not be heirlooms depending on how long people have grown them.

The second criterion depends on space. Indeterminate tomatoes can grow so tall they need staking but they produce wonderful fruit all season long.  The vast majority of heirlooms are indeterminate because the gene for short growth occurred around 1920. Determinate plants are “tomato machines,” they produce crop quickly, can be grown in pots, and may need short stakes or cages. Harvesting time is condensed but yields are great enough for canning or sauces. Dwarfs, his new project, provide the best of both, since they grow at half the rate of an indeterminate but bear fruits gradually with great flavor. Dwarfs are open pollinated but not heirlooms yet, they have not been grown for generations yet. He has been growing his dwarf plants in 5-gallon containers in a soil-less mix and they get as tall as 3 to 4 feet.

Craig described his dwarf tomato breeding project where he wanted to grow a container size plant that produced good tasting fruit. He started to work with Patrina Nuske Small in Australia and between the two hemispheres were able to combine two growing seasons in one calendar year. In 2006, they created a collaboration of more than 100 amateur gardeners across the world to produce new but stable dwarf varieties. To date, about 60 varieties have been produced and are sold through a few, small seed companies.

Craig illustrated how he grows many different types of tomatoes from seed at his home, using only fluorescent lights – he does not have a greenhouse. When the seedlings are ready to be transplanted into the ground, he recommends planting deep into the soil, “any part of the plant that is underground will root,” and mulching to prevent disease. Plant about 3 feet apart: “Spacing is important to increase sun and air circulation to prevent disease.” Watering from the bottom also is important to prevent diseases. He has many containers on his driveway full of fresh, soil-less mix every year – he does not re-use the mix in the containers in order to prevent diseases. He concluded his talk by briefly describing straw bale gardening, common tomato diseases, and saving seeds from fresh tomatoes.

I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation. Craig genuinely wants to help people learn how to grow great tasting tomatoes. Afterwards, he spent time answering questions and signing his two books, Epic Tomatoes and Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales (both published by Storey Publishing). Check his website, http://www.nctomatoman.com or http://www.epictomatoes.com, for his lecture schedule and information on growing tomatoes.

 

In My Virginian Garden: A July Update

I have not posted in a while partly because the garden is in full swing, I am so busy harvesting, and partly because we have been making changes here at the homestead that necessitate me being outside instead of inside at the computer. We had a few trees thinned and one chopped down entirely which has increased the sunlight, putting a few plants in shock, but great for some other plants that needed extra sun. I am now able to extend my front garden where the old crab apple tree was, which will be a fall project. We also had the deck power washed which traumatized the container plants that had to be put out on the lawn for now, including the tomatoes in the earthboxes, and greatly moved the soil around many plants. So I have spent much time moving, tending, nursing, and healing the garden but in the end I will have more light (always needed for edibles) and more garden beds.

Black Beauty Eggplant Flower

Black Beauty Eggplant Flower

So far, I have had great success with melons, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, peppers, and the herbs of course. The puzzler of the year are the eggplants, which I grew successfully last year in a different place but this year, no fruit. Lots of flowers, and everything else nearby is flowering and fruiting, but no eggplant. I read that they are self fertile and I should brush the flowers with a paintbrush, which I just started to do, but still nothing. These are Black Beauty eggplants so maybe next year I will try a different type. I have about six plants among basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and squash, with plenty of bees,  and they are the only plants that do not bear fruit.

On the bright side, I am enjoying the Burpee celery plant,’Peppermint Stick’. I would have never grown a celery plant unless Burpee sent it to me but it has turned out to be really easy to grow and very tasty, much more so than what you get in a store. The stalks are more pungent and the leaves are so big they could be used to garnish as well. I am sold, will grow celery from now on!

Burpee Peppermint Stick celery in ground

Burpee Peppermint Stick celery in ground

Burpee Peppermint Stick celery in bowl

Burpee Peppermint Stick celery in bowl

Another success is Renee’s Garden’s Gourmet Tuscan Melon plant. These I started from seed and grew in the large Smart Pots so they could get pampered with the richest soil and plenty of water. I have several melons so far. I have not eaten them yet but just having them is a success for me. We have been fortunate to have had quite a lot of rain in the early summer which I think is responsible for so many melons — it certainly has given me a bumper crop of cucumbers.

Renee's Garden's Gourmet Tuscan Melon

Renee’s Garden’s Gourmet Tuscan Melon

Another surprise was the Jericho lettuce, also from Renee’s Garden. It was partly shaded by a tree limb, which we cut down and since the sunlight has increased, these lettuce plants have been growing and doing well. Lettuce in July is a rare treat, will harvest these soon!

For fun, I planted Proven Winners’ Superbells calibrachoa ‘Holy Moly’, which is a flowering annual, in a large container with Burpee’s ‘Sweet Savour’ pepper. I really like the combination: Holy Moly lends itself to yellows, red and oranges but also plays off blue because it can been seen as an orange color (at first I could not decide if the container should be red, green, or blue). In early summer, the Sweet Savour peppers were yellow, but now at the end of July, the peppers have turned red and orange. They are small, perfect for a container, and although look like hot peppers are actually sweet.

Close Up of Proven Winners' Holy Moly

Close Up of Proven Winners’ Holy Moly

Burpee's Sweet Savour peppers in late July

Burpee’s Sweet Savour peppers in late July

Radish time, in salad or as a dip!

radish 'Splendor'

radish ‘Splendor’

Last night I harvested a few Burpee ‘Splendor’ radishes for a salad and realized it was May already, time to sow more seeds before it gets too hot. ‘Splendor’ is a typical small, red radish suitable for containers. In late March, I simply sprinkled seeds in a large, 12-inch wide/deep plastic container on the deck and lightly covered them so they were ½ inch deep. Later I thinned to allow 2 inches wide for the root to grow. I did not worry about cool evenings or frost, I knew they could take it. Spring radishes germinate fast, you can harvest in 3 to 4 weeks. Although this packet was old, it was dated 2012, the seeds germinated well. I pulled the ones with large red shoulders, cut the roots and leaves off, wash, and chop for a salad. I have heard that the green leaves can be cooked but I have not tried that yet. I can sow radish seeds again in May but when the temperatures stay in the mid sixties, it is time to stop as radishes do not appreciate the heat. In my family, we eat raw radishes in salads, but I also serve a great radish dip for company that tastes better than it sounds. Years ago, a friend served a dip with crackers that I assumed was a shrimp dip—it was so good!  At the end of the evening, I asked for the recipe and learned it was made with radishes, no shrimp at all! This is how she made it:  Mix together 8 ounces softened cream cheese; 8-12 radishes, minced by hand; and one or two minced garlic cloves. Add a bit of lemon juice–just enough to create the consistency you like for dip–and then add chopped dill or parsley to taste. Pair with crackers.