It may seem early for me to say this, but now is the time for gardeners to think about what they are going to grow in their garden this season.
Canadian gardening catalogues offer an extraordinary selection of vegetable, herb and flower seeds, and virtually all of them are available to the early bird. Wait much longer to order yours and you just might be out of luck.
Here is my garden primer of ‘what to look for’ when ordering seeds or buying off the seed racks at your favourite garden retailer:
One of the easiest plants to start indoors from seed. You won’t actually sow the seeds until six weeks before the planting date but you will want to have the seeds on hand before then, to ensure that you have your first choice in varieties.
When I ‘shop’ for tomato seeds the first thing I look for is ‘blight resistance.’ This is ‘public enemy #1’ to tomatoes. Don’t underestimate the value of blight resistance in a tomato plant. This can make the difference between a great crop and a disaster.
I grow over 200 tomato plants and average about 20 different varieties. I try new ones and repeat many of my favourites each season, which increasingly include these blight resistant ones: 'Defiant' [ripen mid-season], 'Mountain Magic' [cherry type] and 'Plum Regal' [paste tomato].
For great taste and fresh eating I always plant some 'Big Beef' [All American Award Winner], 'Sweet Heart' [grape type], 'Sweet One Million' [super sweet cherry type] and 'Early Girl' [earliest ripening].
Hot? Sweet? To eat fresh or preserve? Whatever you are looking for in a pepper remember to plant them in the hottest spot in your garden. They love the sun and heat. Personally I grow the sweet types: ‘California Green’ is a great old stand-by bell pepper, ‘Early Sensation’ is one of the earliest bearing, and ‘Fat ‘n Sassy’ produces enormous fruit later in the season. Hot varieties range from the large yielding 'Hungarian Hot Wax', 'Cayanetta' [All American Selections Winner], hot cherry ‘Cheyenne’ [a hot cherry type], and ‘Chichen Itza’ [a hot one].
Lettuce and greens:
An urban garden lends itself to growing lots of leafy greens: they take up very little space and they ‘crop’ very quickly, usually in less than 60 days. Look for Mesclun Mix, 'Tango Green' leaf lettuce, and 'Lollo Rossa Red' leaf lettuce. I grow lots of these in succession all season long. My first sowing is in cold frames late in February, followed by biweekly sowings through to late August. I sow over 10 packets of Mesclun Mix to keep up to the demand from the chef in our kitchen.
I have a lot of fun growing leeks as they germinate so easily: you can do this on a sunny windowsill. As soon as I can get out in the garden, I plant them out about 6 cm [2 ½ inches] apart in rows about 30 cm [one foot] apart. They love the sun, are low maintenance, generally insect and disease free, and they are a joy to harvest late in the season when most everything else is done. Mound soil up the stems of the leeks as they mature through the summer. I do this as I hoe out the weeds every couple of weeks. This gives the main stem their signature white/cream colour and sweet flavour. I prefer ‘Lancelot’.
Other vegetables that I recommend for the space constrained urban gardener include:
Bush beans. Small but productive plants with green beans are 'Provider' and my own 'Dusky Green'. Yellow beans include 'Gold Rush' and 'Gold Mine'.
Radishes. Haul the kids outdoors for radish sowing. They mature in an amazing 45 days or so, depending on the variety. 'Rover' performs in the heat of summer [less ‘bolting’ to flower] and 'Cherry Belle' is an old time favourite.
Carrots. Have fun with carrots and plant them in a deep [40 cm], sandy soil. When they are ready for harvest pull them from dampened soil, wipe them with a clean rag [your pant leg works too], and rinse them under your rain barrel. Eat. There. Nothing like it on earth. I like Nantes varieties best as they are easiest to pull and are the most productive per square foot. Look for 'Scarlet Nantes', 'Bilbo', and 'Goldfinger'.
Order early, shop the seed racks in March, and have fun!
Mark Cullen appears on Canada AM every Wednesday morning at 8:40. He is spokesperson for Home Hardware Lawn and Garden. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com.”