Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
March, 2006
Regional Report

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Trying different varieties, such as my last year's comparison of cherry tomatoes, is part of the fun of growing vegetables.

In Anticipation of Summer

Just as children have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads at Christmas, gardeners have dreams of delectable treats as well -- only they occur in springtime. And, it's more likely that the dreams are of actual plums, as well as raspberries, tomatoes, sweet corn, or whatever fruit or vegetable you look forward to each year. My list is long, but from last year's garden there were a few standouts that may pique your interest. Of course, die-hard food gardeners had their seeds bought months ago, but if you have a bit of room for just a few more vegetables to try, consider these.

1. 'Morgane' filet bean. Also known by their French name, haricots vert, filet beans are characterized by their slim size when picked -- about 1/4-inch in diameter. 'Morgane' stands out for its flavor and unbelievable yields -- up to five harvests from a single planting. The variety is also highly disease resistant. 'Morgane' is usually picked when 6 to 8 inches long.

2. 'Astro' arugula. A spicy-tasting spring green, arugula is great to eat fresh in salads or tossed with pasta. In comparing varieties last year, 'Astro' stood out, with its large, strap-shaped leaves that were ready to pick before other varieties. With a slightly milder taste, 'Astro' was also more heat tolerant. A word of caution: arugula is a favorite food of flea beetles. The best way to combat this is to use floating row covers, either laid directly on the arugula or covering wire hoops. A new variety on my list to try this year is 'Sprint', with highly lobed leaves and slow to bolt.

3. 'Bambino' eggplant. Eggplant comes in a wide variety of shapes and colors, but 'Bambino' is a favorite because the purple fruit are only 1 inch in diameter, making them perfect for grilled kabobs or pickled for hors d'oeuvres. The plants grow about a foot tall and are very productive. 'Bambino' would be a good eggplant to grow where space is limited or where you want a vegetable with ornamental qualities.

4. 'Silver Queen' okra. In comparing nine different varieties of okra last year, 'Silver Queen' slightly edged out the others, although each one had something that I liked. What set 'Silver Queen' apart was it's great flavor, ability to stay tender even when 6 inches or so long, and large yields. The pods are a pale lime green. The main downside to 'Silver Queen' is that, once picked, the pods quickly discolor, so it doesn't store well.

5. 'Golden Jenny' melon. Developed from the heirloom melon 'Jenny Lind', 'Golden Jenny' has fruit that taste the way melons should taste: sweet and rich. Plus the scent is out-of-this-world. The plants of 'Golden Jenny' are more compact, vigorous, and productive than 'Jenny Lind'. Although I was not extremely successful with melons last year, they turned out much better than expected, with the 'Golden Jenny' plants hanging on the longest. Keeping squash bugs at bay is the major challenge.

6. 'Sun Gold' tomatoes. Of the 100 tomato varieties that I grew last year, this was the one that people wanted to stand in the garden and eat. A cherry tomato that's about 1 inch across, 'Sun Gold' is a bright, apricot-orange color with a unique flavor that is both sweet and somehow spicy as well. The other cherry tomatoes that I particularly want to grow again include 'Snow White', 'Cherry Roma', and any of the currant-type tomatoes.

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