Brian Minter: Our long gardening season has just begun

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As someone who doesn’t plant his garden until the end of June, Brian Minter wants to assure you that we have a long season ahead of us and that there is time for everything to flourish and mature.

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Brian Minter Although tomatoes are technically a fruit, they are the number one most popular garden vegetable. Although tomatoes are technically a fruit, they are the number one most popular garden vegetable. Photo by Minter Country Garden /PNG

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Well, that’s it – the long May weekend – when traditionally most Canadian gardeners grow most of their food crops. It’s eerie how similar the high and low temperatures are in our country, even if we look north.

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Thanks to the April warm wave, many people in southern British Columbia have their gardens already up and running. Whether due to the early mild temperatures or the COVID-19 pandemic or both, the demand for heat-loving tomatoes and peppers is skyrocketing. It makes me smile a little because the intensity corresponds to the rush of toilet paper from a year ago.

Let me assure you that as someone who never plants their garden until the end of June, we have a long season ahead of us and there is time for anything to flourish and mature. Both seeds and grafts will grow much faster with longer hours of daylight and warmer day and night temperatures.

As for the availability of seeds and plants, there is an adequate supply in garden shops across the province. Due to high demand, seed companies are currently replenishing their seed racks and vegetable growers are producing second and third crops of starter plants. If you can’t find your preferred strain, there are plenty of great alternatives.

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Let’s start with the big three heat-loving vegetables.

Tomatoes are certainly the number 1 favorites and fall into four categories. Among the precocious groups, Early Girl and Ultra Girl (Stokes Seeds) are among the best. As grafts, they mature in about 60 days and are the first to ripen in July. Super Fantastic, Celebrity, and Champion are great alternatives. For the best flavor, make sure they are fully ripe before harvest.

Cherry tomatoes rank next in popularity. The tall-growing Sweet 100 and Sweet Million produce large quantities of bite-sized fruits that ripen in around 60 to 65 days, closely followed by Sun Sugar, Sun Gold and Sweet Gold, three very tasty yellow varieties. Grape tomatoes are also very popular. Red Grape and Julia’s grape-shaped fruits ripen in 65 days.

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The demand for larger tomato slices is still enormous. While everyone knows the beef steak name, the improved spinoff varieties like Big Beef, Beefmaster, Better Boy, and Big Boy are wonderful great slicing varieties.

In recent years, interest in growing tomatoes in containers has grown exponentially. The spillover varieties such as Tumbler, Tumbling Tom Red and Tumbling Tom Yellow are by far the front runners for hanging baskets and pots.

Today there are literally over 100 varieties of tomatoes, including the La Roma and San Marzano pastes and the many flavorful long season tomatoes. So you clearly have a lot to choose from.

Bell peppers come in a variety of shapes and colors, and they love hot weather. Bell peppers come in a variety of shapes and colors, and they love hot weather. Photo by Minter Country Garden /PNG

Peppers are hot on the heels of tomatoes in terms of popularity. Although hot peppers are all the rage, sweet bell types (green, red, orange, yellow, and chocolate) are still # 1. Hungarian sweet peppers are not only sweet, but also incredibly versatile in preserving.

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Among the spicy, jalapenos are the best known, but the slightly milder Anaheim, Ancho, and Poblano are becoming increasingly popular. The slightly hotter Serrano varieties also fall into the pleasantly hot range. They all ripen in 70 to 80 days.

Interest in super hot peppers like Habanero, Scotch Bonnet, Ghost Chili, Caribbean Red and Carolina Reaper is growing. They all take much longer – around 120 days – to mature. You need to be very careful when handling these incredibly hot strains, especially if you have children.

As with tomatoes, there are over 100 varieties of peppers. Many are unique and all have different heat levels. To find out which ones are best for your tastes, google the Scoville scale, a system that measures the spiciness of different peppers.

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Like all cucumbers, Salad More Bush likes it spicy. Like all cucumbers, Salad More Bush likes it spicy. PNG

Cucumbers round out the top 3 heat lovers, and I break them down into four of the most popular categories. For simple slicing varieties, the old Marketmore grades are fine, but there have been some big improvements. Bitter-free varieties like Sweet Success and Slice More are burpless varieties.

English Telegraph and other so-called long English varieties of burpless cucumber are very popular, but honestly, the Japanese burpless varieties have really taken on this niche because of their easy-to-grow and super-tasty fruits, especially varieties like Tasty Green, Burpless Supreme, and Burpless 26.

There are so many great types of stain available today. Cross Country, Pioneer and Homemade Pickles are some of the old stalwarts, but the new pickles are bitter free. With pickling grades, this is less of a problem.

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Cucumbers for container cultivation are in great demand and Spacemaster, Patio Snacker and Bush Pickle are ideal candidates. Growing quickly and ripening early, they will do well in containers, especially if they are on trellis.

And then there are the cucumber specialties like Perseus and Picolino, two short, burping gourmet types, and the older sweet varieties from the Middle East like Ishtar and Babylon, which have quite a following.

If you have a lot of space, you might want to try the bite-sized cucamelons, which look like miniature watermelons. They are good to eat on their own or in a salad, but be careful – the plants tend to build muscle and take up more than their fair share of territory.

With temperatures continuing to rise, soon it will be time to plant out serious heat lovers like eggplant, pumpkin, and melons. Eggplants are growing in popularity as we begin to increase our appreciation for dishes from around the world. When it comes to pumpkins, there are both summer varieties such as zucchini and winter varieties such as buttercups, acorns and butternuts.

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Since they require a long growing season (over 80 days), start melons in containers to make them quite large before setting out. In a very hot place we can grow great melons, honeydew and baby watermelons.

All of these warmth-loving, summer plants must first be acclimatised outdoors. Put them in a place not exposed to sun or wind for a few days. This then helps to tolerate all variable weather conditions.

There is still plenty of time to plant these garden favorites over the next two to three weeks, and availability remains good at most gardening stores. So folks, it’s time to plant.

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