Written by Larry Cipolla, Hennepin County Master Gardener
Okay, so maybe you are still in the process of putting your yard and gardens to bed for the winter. How did your plantings do this year? Are you thinking about what you want to plant for next year? Not so much? Planning ahead can help you realize better success, with fewer disappointments. What varieties did well for you? Which did not? Plan now to select better varieties and you will realize less stress for you and your plants.
First, decide what you want to grow. Second, are you thinking of seeds or plants or both? If you like to start your own seeds consider buying locally or through one of the many seed catalog companies. Third, how much space do you have for what you want to grow? Fourth, how much sun and shade will your plants have to contend with? Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants need at least 6 hours of full sun to be productive. Leaf crops, such as lettuces, chards, raab, dandelions can tolerate less sun and more shade. Beans, for example, prefer some shade (plant them on the north side of your tomatoes or corn crop).
There are many (I mean a lot!) of places to purchase your seeds and plants, including our local garden centers. Here is a short list of some catalog companies to consider.
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Missouri, extensive heirloom selection)
- Comstock, Ferre & Company (Connecticut, oldest operating company in New England, heirloom selections)
- Dixondale Farms (Texas, Onion plants, good prices)
- Johnny’s Select Seeds (Maine, good selection – seeds, plants, supplies)
- Jordan Seeds (Minnesota, good selection, good prices)
- Kitazawa Seed Company (California, specializing in Asian vegetables)
- Richter’s (Ontario, Canada, herb specialists)
- Sand Hill Preservation Center (Iowa, extensive sweet potato selection)
- Seed Savers (Iowa, heirloom and open-pollinated seed varieties)
- Seeds from Italy (Kansas, Italian and Southern European seeds)
- Stokes (New York, great selection – seeds, plants, supplies)
- Territorial Seed Company (Maine, great selection-seeds, plants, supplies)
- Tomato Growers (Florida, extensive tomato, pepper, eggplant selection)
- Totally Tomatoes (Wisconsin, good tomato, pepper selection)
- Vermont Bean Seed (Vermont, bean specialists)
Catalogs can be a great source of information for you about growing conditions in our area, disease tolerance, days to maturity, how many seeds their packet will allow you to plant, planting distances within and between rows, when to harvest, and comparisons between varieties so you can harvest a better, more productive crop. Some even include recipes.
Let’s take a few examples of some typical vegetables that you may want to grow next year. Do you like raising tomatoes? Look for those varieties that are disease resistant. My advice is do not purchase seeds or plants that are labeled simply as “red tomato.” Look at the label. What is the name of the variety? What type of tomato are you buying? Are they disease resistant? Most hybrids are disease resistant, in varying degrees. Heirloom varieties? Not so much.
The more letters you see listed after a tomato variety, for example, the more resistant it is overall to different types of diseases. The key word here is resistant. It does not mean never. Varieties will not be as susceptible to that disease. For now, don’t worry about how to control the disease, just be aware that some varieties are more resistant than others. Here are the letters to look for when purchasing tomato seeds or plants:
- V= Verticillium wilt
- F = Fusarium wilt (FF = Races 1&2, FFF = Races 1, 2, &3)
- N = Nematodes
- T = Tobacco mosaic virus
- A = Alternaria Stem Canker
- St = Stemphylium Gray Leaf Spot
- TSWV = Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus
Other characters to look for in tomatoes are whether they are determinate or indeterminate. Determinant means that the vines make little or no growth once the fruit sets on the plant. Harvest time is short, with all the fruit maturing at about the same time. These are great varieties if you like to can or freeze your crop at the same time (more or less). Indeterminate means that the vines continue to grow. New shoots and blossoms will appear even after the fruit sets. You will be able to harvest tomatoes over a longer period of time.
Some tomato varieties to consider include Jetsetter VFFNTA, Big Beef VFFNTA, Celebrity VFFNTA, First Prize VFFNT, Health Kick VFFA, Super Marzano VFNT, and Viva Italia VFFNA.
Peppers are in the same botanical family as tomatoes (as are eggplants and potatoes). Some disease resistant peppers varieties include Big Bertha PS Hybrid, Blushing Beauty Hybrid, Key West X3R, King Arthur Hybrid, and Red Knight X3R Hybrid. Some eggplant varieties to consider are Hansel, Gretel, Tango, Megal, Black Bell II, Nadia, and Epic.
Do you like cucumbers? Seed catalogs often identify two classes of cucumbers—parthenocarpic and gynoecious. Parthenocarpic plants can set fruit without pollination and gynoecious plants have all female flowers which means higher yields for you.
Cucumbers, like many other plants, are susceptible to different diseases, such as Angular Leaf Spot, Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew, Anthracnose, and Cucumber Mosaic Virus. Some cucumber varieties to consider include Corninto, General Lee, Olympian, Diva, Intimidator, Cobra, Diomede, Marketmore, and Sultan.
Other curbits (e.g., squash, melons, gourds) are susceptible to many of these same diseases. Some pumpkin (actually a squash) varieties to consider are Mystic Plus, Apollo, Alladdin, and Warlock. Summer squash varieties to consider are Golden Glory, Spineless Perfection, and Reward. For winter squash, consider Taybelle PM, Celebration, Metro PMR, Sunshine, and Sweet Mama.
Whether you purchase seeds locally or through a catalog you need to know how much you are buying for the price they are asking. For example, some catalog companies sell their seeds in sample packs or packets. Some sell by the number of seeds (count), or by grams or ounces (weight), others identify how many feet their sample pack or packet will plant, and still others have a set price per packet regardless of the number of seeds in that packet for that variety. For example, you will get a lot more lettuce seeds than bean seeds, yet pay the same price.
The seeds that you purchase from a catalog almost always have more seeds per packet than what you purchase from a garden center. The better catalog companies provide you with this information above or next to the variety, usually under a heading labeled “growing information” or “culture.”
Consider ordering your seeds by the middle of January. The availability of your selections will be the best. The catalog companies are not as busy then, which means you will receive your seeds within a week or two. If you wait too long, you may be disappointed by not getting what you want.
So plan now for a more successful and enjoyable harvest in 2013.