Approaching frost free date

In the Garden
Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University Master Gardener

     As we approach the May 10 frost-free date, it is time to start planning your vegetable garden.  Of course, some cool-season crops may already be growing, but soon it will be time to plant those warm-season crops
     This year’s All-American Selections in the edibles category are dominated by peppers and tomatoes.  That is no surprise, since tomatoes and peppers are the vegetables most gardeners choose to grow, and therefore, the people who develop new varieties concentrate on the popular plants.  Dozens of varieties are submitted each year for All-America consideration.  They are then grown in trial gardens across the country.  Trial gardens may be at universities, botanical gardens and expert gardeners.  Each new variety is grown along with control plants of proven varieties to which they will be compared.  Only the very best are awarded the All-America Selection label, and once an AAS winner, always an AAS winner.  Some plants may test better in certain regions and may be awarded a regional selection.
     There are three peppers on this year’s winner list.  Buffy is a thick-walled hot pepper.  The peppers begin dark green and ripen to red.  It demonstrates heavy fruit-set and ripens quickly.  Buffy is available from Totally Tomatoes.  Dragonfly is a sweet pepper.  The fruits are large and thick-walled.  They turn from green to purple and finally to bright red.  You may buy Dragonfly peppers from Harris Seed.  The final pepper is a Thai-type hot pepper called Quickfire.  It is an early producer on compact, sturdy plants, making it an excellent choice for container gardens.  Quickfire is not yet available for the general public, but be sure to watch for it in next year’s seed catalogues.
     There are also three tomatoes on the list.  Pink Delicious is judged as worthy of the association with the popular Red Delicious tomato.  It shows earlier ripening, higher yield and less cracking.  The website says Pink Delicious will be available soon.  Purple Zebra is a deep red cherry tomato with green stripes.  It has a sweet, acidic taste and is highly disease resistant.  It is available from Territorial Seed and A.P. Whaley Seed.  Sunset Torch is another striped cherry tomato.  It is yellow with red stripes.  It is also an early variety and is available from A.P. Whaley and Osbourne Seed.
     Bauer lettuce is an oak-leaf lettuce that tries its best to be a head lettuce.  The leaves grow in a tight rosette, making the plant look like a lettuce bouquet.  It has shown great promise for container gardens and even excelled in one tester’s aeroponic system.  It grows quickly and may be used as microgreens just a couple of weeks after planting.  It really shines as a full-sized lettuce, retaining sweet lettuce flavor even when it turns hot.  Bauer is available from Johnny’s Seed and Territorial Seed.
     A white cylindrical eggplant also made the cut.  Icicle plants have fewer spines than other eggplants, making it easier to pick.  The fruits also have fewer seeds.  Unfortunately, Icicle is not yet available to the public.
      Century Star is a watermelon that looks much like the heirloom Moon and Stars melon.  It is seedless and the red flesh is very sweet.  It is available from Johnny’s Seed.
     For the first time ever, a shallot has been awarded All-American Selection status.  Echalion Crème Brulee is said to have a sweet, slightly citrusy flavor.  They are tender and combine well with other vegetables and with meats.  They have a coppery-pink outer shell and a rosy purple interior, so they will provide visual interest to dishes.  They are also judged to grow easily from seed.  You may buy seed from Harris Seed, Johnny’s Seed or Park Seed.
     It is fun to try some new varieties or even try a vegetable you have never grown before, but I always seem to go back to the tried-and-true varieties I have grown for many years.  I am looking forward to that first ripe tomato.


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