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Talkin' vegetable varieties for spring planting

Tomatoes, of course, but also peppers, eggplant and more

Purple and white striped eggplants on plant
These are not my eggplants, that's for sure -- they were growing at the Fair Oaks
Horticulture Center in 2019. Pretty sure they are the Fairy Tale variety, which is
an All America Selection winner. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

The advice for beginning vegetable gardeners always is to grow what you like to eat. Makes sense -- you can test varieties of tomatoes or beans and eventually find your favorites.

Conversely, don't grow what you don't like to eat. That has always kept me from even thinking about growing eggplant. I. Just. Don't. Like. It. Though some are so pretty! The Fairy Tale variety always catches my eye, with its purple and white stripes.

And then I remind myself that the vegetables would go to waste, not to mention taking up valuable space in my plot. And food banks prefer mainstream vegetables (no green and purple tomatoes, for example).

About half of the gardeners at my community garden grow cucumbers in summer. And about half of those complain every year that the cukes came in too bitter. (I think that's a weather issue, but anyone with more experience please fill me in.) In any case, that's another problem I avoid. My household consumes maybe two cucumbers a year, and I can usually trade something for those, so I don't have to grow them.

But I do grow peppers, both sweet bells and somewhat hot ones. I've had excellent luck with shishitos, Emerald Fire jalapeños, Count Dracula peppers (so pretty!) and serrano peppers. My bell pepper plants all got mixed up last year, but generally Orange Blaze and any variety with Wonder in the name do well.

I gave up growing watermelons during the last drought; I also don't grow corn anymore because it's a water hog and you need a lot of plants to get a decent yield. (I did learn that Sloughhouse corn is the Bodacious variety -- or at least it was back when I was researching varieties.)

Ah, but melons and squash! For years I grew wonderfully fragrant little muskmelons with the uninspired name of French Orange. I haven't been able to find seeds lately, and I used up the last of the seeds I'd saved on my own. I has success with Papaya Dew, a hybrid variety that's shaped like a football. My garden buddy Dan touts Ambrosia and he gave me two of the plants last year. Delicious! More of a typical muskmelon size than the little French Orange, they are back on my list for this year.

Zucchini and other summer squash grow so well here it almost doesn't matter which variety you try. But I do like the Raven and Black Beauty dark green zucchinis, and the various straightneck yellow ones. Over the years I've also grown Sunny Delight yellow pattypans and light green 8-Ball and Ronde de Nice round zukes, too. I'm less of a fan of the bumpy yellow crookneck squash, but they certainly thrive.

I love to talk vegetables, so tell us what you grow, especially your can't-fail varieties.

We already heard from one reader about tomato plans for this year.

Patricia Carpenter is trying out Unicorn, Polish Giant, Champion II, Momotaro and Sunny Boy. (I've grown that last one and it's on my list to try again.) Her tried-and-true are Big Beef, Nova, Sungold, Celebrity, Roma II, Mortgage Lifter and Lemon Boy.

She has grown but is still testing Purple Boy, Damsel, Sakura, Chocolate Sprinkles, Goliath Sunny and Moonglow.

Moonglow is fascinating: It's a yellow-orange variety that was tested in New Zealand against a red variety,  Rosalita, for absorption of lycopene into the bloodstream. Both were consumed raw. The tests showed significantly higher levels of lycopene in people who ate the yellow-gold tomato.


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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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