Best New Edibles for 2017
By: Rob Sproule
” Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes. ”
– Author Unknown
The New Gardening:
The universals of gardening, namely the deep urge that makes us get our hands dirty year after year, never change. But the methods we use, and the plants we choose, change constantly. 20 years ago, the vegetable garden was something you kept in the backyard, out of sight so the neighbours didn’t see. Now, edibles are highlighting feature containers at the front door as a badge of honour. The rise of container-garden edibles has led to an explosion of varieties that are compact, high-yielding, and are all around well-behaved. Here are a few of the most notable edibles, both new and just plain awesome, that I’ve seen this year.
Tomato ‘Chocolate Sprinkles’:
This new cherry tomato variety is a hybrid with the taste of an heirloom. It has bite-sized fruit, heavy yield and excellent disease resistance. The fruit is red and striped with dark green, giving it a gorgeous heirloom look in salads or on its own. It’s an indeterminate, so it will keep growing as a vine as long as it can. The plus side of this is that you’ll get far more fruit than from a determinate type, but you’ll also need to stake it and keep it watered. It’s resistant to fusarium wilt, which is a common affliction that leads to sickly, wilting foliage on otherwise healthy plants. Don’t be cheap on the fertilizer; apply weekly for the best yield.
Thyme “˜Spicy Orange’:
A classic Mediterranean herb, thyme is famous for poultry and soups, its flavour diffusing slowly as it’s cooked. A zone 4, it’s hardy and you can plant it as a ground cover (although it doesn’t take much foot traffic). This variety has a distinct spicy-orange fragrance that’s most pronounced when you rub the bluish-green leaves. Use it like regular thyme; the subtle citrus flavour will infuse during cooking and blends well with traditional thyme dishes. It’s drought tolerant once established, and feel free to plant it in containers in the full sun. If you plant it in the ground as a perennial, you can divide it in early fall once it gets big enough.
Pepper “˜Bhut Jolokia’:
I’m a self-confessed wuss when it comes to hot peppers, and have never tasted a Bhut Jolokia, also called the “˜Ghost’ pepper. As the hottest naturally occurring pepper in the world, it packs a million scoville units (4X hotter than a habanero). You’ll either want to start the seed early or buy mature starter plants. The hotter the better, so put them in containers (where their roots will be warmer than in the ground) in the full sun. Hot peppers have a longer maturation time than sweet peppers (the seeds take 35 days just to germinate), so be generous with fertilizer and heat to speed things up. Once the fruit appears, wear gloves while handling. It’s juice is pretty much pepper spray. Don’t give to kids or elderly who aren’t totally comfortable with it, and start with a tiny taste on the tongue for yourself. Very seriously, it’s heat that isn’t to be taken lightly.
Cucumber “˜Salad Bush’:
There’s nothing new about “˜Salad Bush.’ It’s one of the older varieties of cucumbers made to grow in containers. It’s also still one of the best. Compact and busy, you can grow this one on a trellis or just hanging out the side of the pot. The 8″ slicers are great in salads, sandwiches, or on their own as a snack (which is how I often eat them at the greenhouse). Fertilize often and don’t let it dry out; that’s how cucumbers get bitter. You’ll want to give it lots of sun and heat for it to yield fast and often.
Kale has been headline news lately as a superfood. This new variety has a quick, 40 day maturity (even less than that if you like young kale). The leaves are elegantly dense and curled, making it gorgeous enough to grow in any window box or planter alongside your annuals. The leaves are tender, even when mature, and so it’s good eaten fresh and holds up well in cooking. A nutty flavour makes it ideal for salads, smoothies or, if you ask me, chips!