Ordering Live Plants, part 2–Flowers

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time watching gardening videos on YouTube this past year. Between quarantine and my knee surgery, I have’t been able to do much; and with this long winter, I’ve needed to be reminded that the green will come again.

I’ve found a lot of vloggers I like, but the downside (?) is that they’ve inspired me to expand my garden from just veggies to include flowers–most of which I’ve never even heard of, much less grown. And many of them are not grown from seed.

Dahlias

Lavender Perfection

Dahlias seem to be the big flower this year. Floret Flowers, a small family flower farm in the Pacific Northwest, is very influential in the cut-flower industry (the flower version of market farmers). They just put out a new book on dahlias, Discovering Dahlias, which has really amped up the buzz. Dahlias are one of those weird plants that have a huge amount of variability in their DNA, so the only way to guarantee what type and color of flower you’ll get is to divide up a tuber (or take a cutting from a growing tuber). You can grow them from seed–I’ll be doing both this year–but with the seeds, it’s a total toss up what type of dahlia you’ll get. The seed mixes I’m planting are Unwins Mix (Baker Creek); Redskin Mix (Pinetree Seeds); and Dwarf Cactus Mix (RH Shumway’s). They will not be as big nor as luxuriant as the flowers from the tubers, however.

Dahlis are a bit finicky; the are not frost hardy, and so in my zone (5a/b) we have to dig them out each fall and store them overwinter. The bonus of this is that, like most tubers, they multiply when they are planted; you’ll usually end up with more than you started. (Which is awesome, because dahlia tubers are expensive.) Swan Island is the oldest dahlia farm in the US; and Floret Flowers usually grows dahlias ,but took this year off so they could build up their stock again. Both of these farms are pretty expensive, however. The best prices I’ve found on dahlias (non-wholesale) is from Longfield Gardens in New Jersey. However, no matter which company you try, most dahlia tuber varieties are already sold out. The ones I’ve ordered are scheduled to be delivered mid-April.

Here are some of the dahlias I’ll be growing from tubers:

“Dinner plate” dahlias (7″-10″ blooms) Left to right: Fleurel; Lavender Perfection; Noordwijks Glorie; Thomas Edison; Vancouver; and Cafe au Lait. Cafe au Lait is considered one of the most desirable dahlias, and is often used in bridal bouquets.

Other dahlias–“Pom Pon” Dahlias (4″ blooms) Left to right: Black Satin; Cheers; Great Silence.

Ranunculus

Those darn YouTube gardeners have also turned me on to another type of flower I’d never heard of: ranunculus. Ranunculus are grown from corms (kind of like really small tubers) and from what I understand, they are almost as pretty as dahlias but are not nearly as finicky. They like cold weather and can be planted as soon as soil can be worked. Of courser, my orders won’t be delivered until mid-April, as that’s when the flower companies have decided that they should be planted in my zone, but next year I should be able to get them in the ground much sooner. I’ve decided to go much less dramatic with the ranunculus colors as well. Left to right: Picotree Red/Yellow (Longfield Gardens); Tecolote® Pastel Mix; and Tecolote® Rose (Easy to Grow Bulbs).

Finally, I’ve also ordered my absolute favorite flower, Night-Blooming Jasmine. Night-blooming jasmine is actually not a real jasmine; it’s a jessamine, which is a member of the nightshade family. Technically night-blooming jasmine is not perennial in my area, as they can’t handle frost; but I’ve been told that if I keep them potted and bring them inside to overwinter, they should survive. So that’s my plan. 🙂 I absolutely *love* the smell of their flowers; regular jasmine just does not compare, and I’ve desperately missed their smell since I moved back to IL.

Ordering Live Plants, part 1–Fruits and Veg

Or, some plants are better not grown from seed.

In planning for this year’s garden, I ended up taking a few shortcuts. While growing veggies and flowers from seed is easily the cheapest way, some veggies and flowers take a very long time to mature and produce food. And I’m not the most patient person.

Veggies:

Asparagus

I had high hopes for having fresh asparagus this year until I found that it takes a good 3-5 years before you can harvest any asparagus that you’ve grown from seed. In lieu of this, many seed companies sell 2-3 year old asparagus “crowns” which is the root of an asparagus plant. I’ve ordered a set of 10 crowns of Jersey Knight Giant asparagus from Gurney’s (many other seed companies were already sold out). Jersey Knight seems to be the favored variety.

Jersey Knight Giant asparagus

Leeks and Onions

Leeks are another crop I had high hopes for. It can be grown from seed–I actually have three packets of different varieties in my seed collection already. However, my experience with growing both leeks and onions seeds last year was really frustrating–all I got was a series of chives, or, at best, green onions. So when I heard that you could order leek and onion “starts”, I jumped on it. (Onion starts are different from onions sets, which are essentially bags of mini onion bulbs which more often than not will bolt early–onions are biennials and the process of being stalled at the small bulb stage makes them think they are on year two and should start putting out flowers instead of growing a bigger bulb.) Several companies, such as Johnny’s Seeds, sell onion and leek starts, but one company specializes specifically in onion and leek sets: Dixondale Farms. I ordered a bunch of leeks (30 or so in each bunch) and a bunch of mixed onions–yellow, red, and white from Dixondale. These will be the first of my live plants to arrive as they are supposed to be shipped out mid-March. I think I’ll put them in the beds next to the garlic, though at this point I’m not sure if I’ll even be able to get into the garden to prep the beds and plant them. Erik may end up doing more gardening that he had planned on this spring.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are another crop that could theoretically be grown from seed but no one does. Instead, companies sell “slips” (sweet potato starts), or you could make your own from old sweet potatoes. Last year I received three different types of sweet potato slips from Baker Creek–Pumpkin Yam, Jersey Yellow, and Molokai purple. Of the three, the Pumpkin Yam grew best and tasted amazing roasted. The Jersey yellow did not grow that big, and also didn’t cure well. The Molokai purple were also very skinny–they cured well, but as they are so thin I haven’t bothered to use them in cooking yet.

As I’m not sure if Baker Creek will even offer sweet potatoes slips this year, I went ahead and ordered a set of Murasaki Purple sweet potatoes from Gurney and a set of 25 slips of Mahon Yams from Johnny’s Seeds. I think I’ll plant them in a large container again this year. One set of slips is set to arrive in late April, and the other set is scheduled to arrive late May. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’ll do with the April set, yet as sweet potatoes are finicky and only like hot weather and April is not hot in Northern IL.

Mahon Yams

Apple Trees

My first purchase when we moved into the new house were some apple trees. Unfortunately, they were sold out last summer, and even when I went to pre-order trees this winter, many were already sold out! My preference is Fuji apple, but all the companies I could find were out of stock. Instead, I ended up with a HoneyCrisp and a Haralson, both of which cross-pollinate well with Fujis (and each other), from Gilby’s Orchard, a tree company based in MN. These apples are all dwarf varieties, as I live in the middle of the city and full-sized trees would be too large (plus, a pain to manage). I’m not entirely sure where I’ll put them yet, but there is plenty of room as all of the house’s previous trees have been removed due to illness and old age.

Seed Companies and Catalogues

So I’ve bought seeds and live plants this year from a variety of sources. Last year, all of my seeds were from Baker Creek and Botanical Interests (and still I recommend both companies), but this year I’ve found several more companies worth buying from. Let me tell you about them!

Note that, due to Covid, every seed company that I’ve ordered from this year is behind on processing their orders. Some, like Baker Creek and Johnny’s Seeds, actually continue to shut down their website occasionally so no orders can be taken. (Johnny’s stops taking home gardener orders temporarily, and Baker Creek literally takes their entire website offline for a few days at a time.) Others are just taking up to 6 weeks to send out your order. All youtube garden channels I watch are explicitly telling gardeners to buy their seeds now due to the shortages. (Honestly, I didn’t need much convincing.) Currently, I have all of my seeds except for an order I put in at Swallowtail seeds mid-Feb and one I just put in at Barker Creek. I also have reserved a number of flower bulbs, asparagus crowns, sweet potato slips, and apple trees which I purchased a while ago but won’t ship until later this spring.

Favorite Seed Companies

(Note: Most of these seed companies specialize in heirloom, organic seeds. And all of the seeds–indeed, any seed that the home gardener is going to have the opportunity to buy–are all non-GMO. Only commercial farmers have access to GMO seeds.)

I rank seed companies using several factors. Large variety is key, closely followed by the quality of the seed packet, seed prices, and the efficiency of the customer service. I’m still too new to gardening to have much experience with the germination rates of seeds from one company to another, but hopefully by the end of this season I’ll have some good data on that as well.

Baker Creek

Baker Creek is one of the larges heirloom, organic seed companies. They pride themselves on recovering forgotten flower and vegetable varieties from all parts of the world. They also focus on the stories behind the seeds. These stories tend to make up half of their Whole Seed Catalogue, which is, as far as I can tell, the largest seed catalogue in the business. The catalogue gives a lot of good information on each variety–though, in general, both their website, seed packets, and catalogue are missing some of the basic essentials of growing the specific seeds (date to maturation, height/length, some sowing info). Their seed packets are extremely colorful, though, most of them having full-color phots of the variety. Also, every seed order has free shipping, no matter the size, so the price you see is what you pay. They also include a free seed packet with each order. As I tend to buy my seeds in groups of 4-6 at a time, I have a ton of free seeds from them. Currently I have several free packets of Japanese Giant Mustard, Cosmos, and various lettuces which are unlikely to be used, honestly. Though Baker Creek is one of the companies that completely shut down several times this winter, I still recommend them due to sheer variety of plants and the lack of shipping costs. Also, tI’ve found their customer service to be responsive and helpful.

Botanical Interests

Botanical Interests is one of my favorite seed companies primarily due to their prices and their seed packets. Their prices usually range from $1.99-$2.49/pack (though shipping is not free). Their seed packets are absolutely beautiful and the back of the packets contain a ton of growing information for each variety:

I’d estimate that about ⅓ of my seed collection comes from Botanical Interests. Germination rates seem to be fine, as far as I can tell.The amount of seeds per packet does vary widely, so it’s always good to double check how many seeds you’re getting for the price. They have a pretty good selection of seeds, though not all of them are organic or heirloom. Their website is also very useful and has detailed information on sowing, growing, and harvesting each variety.

Two new favorites this year are Pinetree Seeds and Johnny’s Seeds. Pinetree Seeds has great prices on garden supplies–I bought my seed starting mix and some fleece covering for plants from them at very reasonable prices. They have a good variety of heirloom and hybrid seeds and good prices. Their seed packets have a decent amount of information, though not as much as BI’s do. They also sell spices, teas, and candle and lotion-making supplies. They are a small, family-owned business operating out of Maine.

Johnny’s Seeds, on the other hand, is a huge company that researches and produces many of their own seed hybrids. Some of the varieties are just upgraded version of old favorites, and some are completely new varieties. They also sell heirlooms. From what I can tell, this company is one of the main suppliers for Farmer’s Market growers in the US: they sell many of their seeds in bulk and their website focuses on providing the type of larger-scale growing information that farmers need. (They do sell to home gardeners, but their focus appears to be market gardeners.) I didn’t pay much attention to this company until recently, as I’m not a market gardener and their seeds are really pricey if you’re only buying them in small quantities. (For example, 25 seeds of any of their patented Salanova lettuces average $6/pack.) Still, people swear by the germination rate and quality of produce that their seeds deliver, so I decided to splurge and buy a couple of seed packs. I’ve struggled with growing peas last year, so I brought their Sugar Snap pea, which is supposed to be resistant to many pests/diseases. I also picked up a sampler pack of their Salanova Butter lettuces, as market growers on many of the youtube garden channels I follow swear by them, and they appear to be the highly valuable, really expensive types that are sold at Farmer’s markets and high-end produce markets. (I figure why buy it if I can grow it myself?) I’ve started both the peas and lettuces, so I should know in a month or so whether they are worth the money. Finally, their seed packs, though very utilitarian in style, include a good amount of growing information.

Other Seed Companies

The Farmer’s Almanac website has a good list of seed companies here. I’m glad to see that they’ve kept up with the times and are still providing useful gardening information in 2021. Other companies I’ve bought from this year:

R H Shumway An old-timey seed company that was originally started in my hometown. Small seed selection and the seed packs are just OK. (I only brought from them due to the hometown connection.)

Seed Savers Exchange A non-profit dedicated to preserving heirloom seeds. They have a pretty good selection and their seed packets are also pretty good. I bought my garlic heads from them this year (Chesnok Red).

Hirt’s Garden Their website shows a huge variety of seeds at relatively good prices. When I received my order, however, I fund that the amount of seeds per pack was less than most other seed companies (for example, 20 seeds instead of 50 or 100 seeds). They also–and this is a big red flag for me–package their seeds in really tiny clear plastic bags which contain very little in the way of information. It was a big let down, especially given the way they present themselves on their website. (RH Shumway’s is clearly a much smaller company, but at least their seed packets are decent.) Currently, I would not recommend this company to new gardeners.

MI Gardener I followed this guy’s YouTube channel for at least 6 months before I realized he also owned a seed store. His prices used to be the best in the business–$.99/pack, regardless of variety–but as of this winter he has updated his prices to $1.99/pack. Still pretty inexpensive for many varieties, but I’m a bit sad I missed the $.99 prices. I’ve purchased a few packets of flowers and veggies from him, as well as some garlic cloves (Duganski). He’s based in Michigan, so we have similar growing conditions. I enjoy his videos for the most part, though he can come off a bit pompous and condescending in some of them (from what I can tell, completely unintentionally).

Tradewinds Fruit This company focuses on rare heirloom seeds, and is one of the few seed companies I’ve found where you can buy seeds for, for example, Jojoba nut and Baobab trees. I bought Japanese Maple and am stratifying the seeds right now, on the off change that I can actually grow one from seed.

Swallowtail Seeds I don’t know much about this company other than that they have many varieties of Echinacea. They seem to have a wide selection of other flower varieties as well.

Sustainable Seed Company This is another one I don’t know much about. However, their “Bugout Seed Bag”–aimed at preppers and survivalists–though is absolutely amazing. It contains 34 varieties of heirloom seeds for about $36/bag. and includes a good-sized, illustrated booklet showing how to grow each variety. I bought one after I watched a youtube’s review of “prepper” seed bags, and I was really impressed. Also, unlike many “prepper” seed bags, this kit includes full-sized seed packs for each variety in a resealable mylar bag.

High Mowing Organic Seeds This company purports to only sell organic seeds. This is another company that I’ve only bought a few seeds from. The cucumber variety I bought from them last year didn’t work out so well, but this is one of the only purveyors of the “Silver Slicer” cucumber than many youtube gardeners have raved about, so I bought a few more seed packs from them this year. We’ll see how they do.

I’ve also bought from larger seed companies like Ferry-Morse and Burpee, but my goal is to buy primarily heirloom organic seeds from smaller, independent seed companies.

My Seedling Set-up (upstairs)

This years seedlings are sprouting! Here’s my greenhouse set up in our living room. (I also have a greenhouse area in the basement, but, due to recent knee surgery, I can’t get down there enough to baby new plants.)

Currently, my Dahlia seeds are up and going, as are a several others:

Seed Starting 2021–First Batch

So I did my first real batch of seedling planting this past weekend! (Technically, I had started a batch of leeks and decorative peppers in the basement before we realized my knee surgery would keep me upstairs for six weeks; they did not far well.) But my first really big batch of seeds went into the dirt this weekend.

I based my seed starting chart on a variety of other calendars. I tried to use to Moon Dates from the Farmer’s Almanac chart for my zone (5b) along with the sow dates on the various seed packages. It was a huge headache to put the calendar together, especially as this is the first time I’m starting the vast majority of these plants from seed. I’m hoping next year it will be easier; at that point I’ll hopefully have some experience to draw from.

The planting medium I’m using for this first set of seeds is Black Gold’s seed starting mix. You can get a great price on an 8qt bag at Pinetree Seeds. Don’t buy it from Amazon–I haven’t seen any seller selling these exact same bags for less than twice as much on Amazon.

My first round of planting included mostly flowers, with a few herbs that I intend to keep indoors.

Flowers: Autumn Colors Rudbeckia; Dwarf Cactus Dahlia and Redskin Mix Dahlia; Lobelia (Crystal Palace); Sugar Stars Phlox; Rainbow Loveliness (dianthus); Pink Carnations (also a dianthus); Arena Red Lisianthus; Peach Melba Nasturtium and Single Blend Trailing Nasturtium.

Autumn Colors Rudbeckia

Herbs/Veggies: Listada de Gandia Eggplant; Lettuce Leaf Basil; Holy Basil; Pennyroyal; Mild Microgreens Mix; and Bull’s Blood Microgreens.

Listada de Gandia Eggplant

The Rudbeckia (black-eyed susans) I know for a fact grows very well in my climate–the garden I inherited already has several bunches of the Indian Summer rudbeckias that have survived many a cold, frozen IL winter. I’m not a fan of that color, however, so I’m trying to grow the “Autumn Colors” instead. They should turn out to be a lovely mix of oranges and russet colors. And I have grown Nasturtiums from seed, and in my experience they take forever to get big. But once they are full-sized, they put out and endless supply of tasty, peppery flowers. I’ve never grown these varieties of Nasturtium, though; last year, I grew the Alaska Dwarf Mix–they have lovely variegated leaves, but true to its name, the plant stays very small).

Every other type of flower I’ll be growing this year is new to me. I’ve seen carnations, obviously, but I’ve never grown one from seed. And I’d never heard of any of the other varieties until I started browsing seed catalogues and Gardening channels on YouTube. I’ve seen enough videos to know that growing Lisianthus is a massive pain in the ass–they take forever to germinate/grow, and they are very sensitive to temperature and humidity fluctuations—but people also say that despite this, they are worth it, so I figured I’d give at least one a try this year.

This is my first year using any kind of heat mat/humidity dome/LED light set up. I had to jerry rig a temporary greenhouse in my living room as I can’t get into the basement, but it appears to be working well! My dahlia seeds popped up in two days (!) and my beet/mixed microgreens mix was not far behind. Currently my rubeckia (black-eyed susans) are also showing their little green heads, as is my lettuce leaf basil (which will be kept indoors). Even one of my carnation seeds has popped up! Apparently this heating pad/humidity dome thing really works.

I’m actually a tad worried about the dahlias as they were not supposed to pop up for at least a week or two. They may need to be potted up before I’m able to put them out, as they’re huge and also frost-tender, iirc (the bulbs are, at least, so the flowers from seed are likely frost-tender as well.) So it may get a bit crowded in the house by mid-April. But still! Seeds are growing! There may still be a foot of snow on the ground in some places, but my garden is finally started.

Seeds and Varieties I Recommend

So, this past year’s garden was full of successes and failures. As my first year gardening in this space, I pretty much threw everything I had at the wall and watched to see what stuck. I was surprised at which varieties I liked and which ones I didn’t. Without further ado, here are my favorites and failures of the Garden 2020:

Successes:

Trionfo Violetta (pole bean) This one was the only bean I grew (the only one I’ve ever grow, I believe). I was trying for something unique to add to my garden, and a purple bean fit the bill. First off, the foliage on these beans is amazing–dark purple heart-shaped leaves that turn to sage green as they age. Second, they are very tasty! I picked most of my crop while the beans were young and crisp, and it was pretty much like eating a snap pea. The plants germinated well, were very prolific, and were very easy to grow–I barely had to do anything to them. Highly recommended, especially for new gardeners.

Trionfo Violetta

Musquee de Provence Pumpkin This lovely curcurbita has gorgeous, lush foliage and looks like the perfect fairytale pumpkin. The pumpkin flesh is thick, with notes of cantaloupe. Better for sweet preparations than savory ones, imho. It can even be sliced thin and eaten raw. And they were really easy to grow! Highly recommended, if you have the room. The vines from the two plants I grew grow 20′, growing through and wrapping around my back fence. Also, I found that, even if the roots aren’t watered (we had a very hot, dry summer this past year, and some days I forgot to water), the vine puts out enough roots on its own that it gets all the water it needs anyway. Really low-maintenance.

My final favorite of 2020 were my lettuces. I grew a variety of types: Marvel of Four Seasons; mesclun mix; New Red Fire; and Winter Density. I liked all but the mesclun mix; I found I really detest bitter greens. The other three grew well, even in the heat of summer, and as long as I ate them in a reasonable time, they were fresh and sweet. (Note: the older lettuce gets, the more bitter it gets.)

2020 Garden Recap: Squash

By far my most successful crop this year were my winter squashes. This group surprised me considerably, because I realized i didn’t know a thing about which type would vine and which wouldn’t. I hadn’t grown any squash since I was a kid, which was part of the problem, and I was working off of hazy 30-year-old memories of the garden we had when I was young. So I planted a bunch of different types, and learned a lot as I went.

Things I learned:

Zucchini and Yellow Crookneck are not vining squashes. It’s a huge, sprawling, bush plant that, next year, will be planted by its lonesome in a container. Also, the zucchini plants I bought at the local big box store did not produce at all, so I ended up buy seeds and planting them again right before fall for a quick harvest. Again, I did n’t get much zucchini (or yellow crookneck squash). I’m highly tempted not to plant any next year, but I did just pick up some seeds for a cute Patty Pan-type of zucchini, so I may have to give that one a go.

Butternut Squash is a vining squash. And how. This was by far my most productive squash, which is surprising as I had to toss my original batch of seedlings from the local nursery due to powdery mildew, and started from scratch with Waltham Butternut Squash seeds (Baker Creek) in mid-June. These seeds took off and never looked back. I ended up with eight mature squash, six of which were full-sized (two of them didn’t have time to finish growing before fall kicked in). Unfortunately, though they grew wonderfully, their taste turned out to be very mild. I wasn’t overwhelmed by it at all. So, despite my luck with them, I don’t think I’ll be growing this variety next year.

i also picked up a few acorn squash plants from the local nursery. These, apparently, are not vining plants despite being winter squash. (A friend who received seedlings from the same pack had hers sprawl rather dramatically over her garden, but I’m not sure if it was actually vining or just a really big bush.) Either way, I only harvested one squash per plant, and they were not that tasty either, though it may just have been that I picked them too early.

A new squash I experimented with was the Red Kuri Winter Squash (seeds, Botanical Interests). I’d seen it on several websites where it was touted as being one of the most tasty of all winter squashes. I had good germination, but my plants all kept having what looked like sawdust build up around the base of the stem. It wasn’t until after I had pulled up one and was able to pull up another that I realized that they were suffering from the dreaded Squash Vine Borer. I did save my third (and final) plant by dissecting the stem and removing the grub, but alas, the lone Red Kuri squash did not fully ripen. I’m up in the air about planting this again next year, as it seemed especially susceptible to the vine borers–none of my other varieties of squash plants were affected. And yes, this is a vining variety, though it doesn’t get past 8′ as far as I can tell.

Last, but not least, is my all-time favorite squash from this year’s garden: the Musque de Provence pumpkin, and heirloom variety from southern France. I can’t say enough about this pumpkin. It’s absolutely gorgeous–it looks exactly the way Disney’s Cinderella’s pumpkin looked, deeply lobed with lovely curly tendrils. And the foliage is strikingly varigated–massive heart-shaped sage green leaves with white inkspots dotted throughout. The pumpkin can also be used for soups–the flesh is a deep orange and is slightly sweet, the flavor slightly reminiscent of cantaloupe. As the flesh is sweet and mildly stringy, I recommend it for soups and pies rather than roasting. Baker Creek states that you could even slice it thin and eat it fresh. (I tried this–it’s okay, but leaves a bit of a dry, powdery aftertaste.) If you have the room, I highly recommend planting this one. Be warned, though, it will grow at least 20′, if not longer, and will spread widely if you don’t keep it in check. I harvested four pumpkins off of one plant, though only one was large enough to decorate with (15.6 lbs.)

2020 Garden Recap: The Nightshades

The holidays have passed, time to start planning for next year’s garden! But before we do that, time to analyze how last year’s garden went.

Last year was my first year to have a full, real garden and not a tiny container garden on an apartment patio. We bought our house in May 2020 and moved in at the end of May, smack dab in the middle of prime planting season. Luckily we knew the previous owners (my parents) and I was able to get in mid-May to get some of my seedings planted (tomatoes, mostly). But in general, with the move, most everything got started at least a month later than I would have liked. Still, I was gung ho to plant pretty much anything i could get my hands on. And so I did.

I have a lot of food restrictions due to various food intolerances and sensitivities. Tomatoes, peppers (both sweet and hot), citrus, mints, kiwis, and pineapples are all not great for me, sadly. But each year I’ll be trying try a few different types of tomatoes until I find a good sauce tomato, and I’ll grow a few peppers mainly because they grow well in my climate and look pretty.

Garden 2020: Tomatoes and Peppers

Tomatoes: This past year, I was determined that if I was going to grow food I really shouldn’t be eating, it would be the best type of that species that I could grow. So I did a bit of research and landed on San Marzano tomatoes (seeds, misc Amazon sellers). This is an heirloom Roma-type tomato that is supposedly highly prized by chefs. I started the seeds for these in April 2020 and planted them early June 2020. Out of the 20-30 seeds I planted, I got about 10 strong seedlings, and kept 8 of them. They were moderately productive through the season, and then decided to put out a ton of green fruit in mid Sept. I harvested all of the green ones that I could and finished ripening them in paper bags, and end up with about half of my San Marzanos being vine-ripened and half being paper-bag ripened.

I also lost least half of my total crop to blossom end-rot–apparently this is the bane of Roma-type tomatoes. I did end up making a small amount of sauce from them, which I haven’t tasted yet. However, given their small size (a lot of work for a small amount of tomato pulp per tomato) and their propensity for end-rot, I don’t plan on growing them next year.

I also grow a Yellow Brandywine tomato plant (seeds, Baker Creek), as I was hoping that a mild yellow tomato wouldn’t trigger my acid-reflux reaction as badly. The plant grew very slowly, had bad germination (hence only 1 plant), and only produced 1 tomato. It was a big, beautiful Brandywine-style tomato, and tasted juicy and amazing, but I’ve come to find it’s not the type of tomato but whether it is fresh or not that triggers the acid reflux. I can somewhat get away with small amounts of cooked tomatoes, but not fresh ones 😦 So, another no-go for next year’s garden.

A Yellow Brandywine tomato, shown here with a Musquee de Provence pumpkin

Peppers: I eat peppers even less than I eat tomatoes, but I wanted to try something new, so this year I grew Sugar Rush Peach Peppers (seeds, Baker Creek). I started them at the same time as the tomato seeds but then took considerably longer to germinate. I even had some seedings sprout two months after planting them, after I had already given up on them and reused the potting mix. All in all, I got three plants out of the 10 or so seeds I planted, and one of them was able to reach to full maturity before the end of summer and produce a ton of peppers. These are extremely hot peppers, and I made the mistake of harvesting and chopping a bunch of them without gloves on. I see now why Mace is a legitimate weapon–pepper juice is painful! I haven’t decided if I’ll grow this one again next year. The flavor is a very nice spicy-sweet, but I would only use two or three peppers in my cooking, total.

A friend gave me a Lilac Bell Pepper seedling to grow. It grew well and produced much fruit despite never growing very large (possibly the pot it was in was too small.) As I’m not an eater of bell peppers, I ended up giving most of them away 🙂

Lilac bell peppers, shown here with Trionfo Violetta pole beans

I also gave in and grabbed a bunch of pepper plants mid-summer from various big box stores. I ended up with poblanos, jalapeños, and banana peppers. They grew well, but after tasting each of them, I found that the poblano and banana peppers were mild but tasted just like green bell peppers (which I despise), and the jalapeño was too spicy and also tasted like raw green bell pepper. Ugh. So, not planning on growing any of those unless a friend or family member wants me to. (My fiancé Erik likes spicy food, but doesn’t regularly cook with peppers.)

Next year’s tomatoes and peppers: I’m going to stay away from Romas, despite them theoretically being the best sauce tomato. Instead I’m thinking of trying a Paul Robeson (Baker Creek) or Carbon (Baker Creek) or Bonnie’s Best (MIGardener), or an Italian Heirloom, if I can get ahold of the seeds from somebody. As for peppers, I’m still up in the air and haven’t bought any new pepper seeds yet. It’ll likely be something more ornamental than edible.