Saturday, December 31, 2011

Heirlooms: The Best New Introductions of 2012

It always strikes me as ironic when I open an heirloom seed catalog and find seeds marked "New." The very nature of heirlooms is defined by a plant's historical appearance in someone's garden. Yes, yes, I know. The term "new" indicates that the seed is an offering that had not previously been available from the company. But I still find it funny.

These are not your standard grocery store offerings. It's a cucumber, but it's not green. It's a pepper, but it looks like a gourd. It's a head of lettuce, but it's pink. The possibilities are endless.

Here are my top 5 picks for 2012 re-introductions:

1) Round Tomato Shaped Pimento Pepper, by Seed Savers Exchange

How can you not love a sweet red pepper in the shape of a pumpkin-gourd? Besides the intriguing and unusual shape, I'm all for trying any pepper labeled as having a fruity-tasting flesh. Plus, this heirloom is a native of Indiana -- my home state. Definitely my top pick.

2) Riddle Melon, by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Besides loving the name, I love the egg-shape, smaller size, and variety of exterior colors. Sweet white flesh sounds amazing. From the former Soviet Union.

3) Tat Soi Asian Green, by Seed Savers Exchange

I love the shape and color of this lettuce -- a dark emerald green with spoon-shaped leaves that gives the overall appearance of a rose. This would look lovely in a vegetable garden or flower bed. Mild flavor, good raw or cooked.

4) Purple Pear Tomato, by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Cherry tomatoes are one of my favorite summer snacks, and this pear-shaped bite size tomato would be a unique addition my current mix of red and sungold varieties. I love its purple-pink skin and cute shape. From Ukraine.

5) Mammoth Sandwich Island Salsify

Salsify has always ignited my curiosity, but I have never grown it because its usual spindly roots seem too delicate for my midwestern clay soil. However, this salsify looks stockier than most, almost the thickness of a carrot. Classic oyster flavor, from the Mediterranean.

Non-Heirloom New Varieties

I absolutely love Renee's Garden miniature-sized garden vegetables.  This year, I've found 2 new must-try's.

1) Little Jade Baby Baby Cabbage

Since I don't have a lot of room in my garden, I love to find varieties of vegetables that can work well in pots or smaller beds. This baby napa cabbage, with sweet crispy flesh, is a must-try.

2) Astia Container Zucchini

Most gardeners I know complain that they have so many zucchini to give away. I have never had this trouble in my zucchini patch and tend to hoard every fruit I get. But, I always feel guilty when I don't share with my brother's family, who also love to garden but don't have room for a squash plant. This compact variety would work well in a pot on his deck, and thus alleviate my need to share.

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