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Advice & More November 2017

The Midnight Gardener

So Many Tasty New Varieties for 2018

By Lori Rose

What is extremely fun about the award-winning fennel Antares plant is its many uses: as an edible bulb; for its ornamental fronds; as a seed producer; and as a favorite food of pollinators, namely swallowtail caterpillars.

It's that time of year again, time to relax with garden catalogs and a cup of tea on a cold evening. There are so many new vegetable varieties to try in our gardens in the spring. Here are a few to consider:

  • Sweet Corn “American Dream.” With its excellent germination, very tender, super-sweet kernels, this newbie will make a great addition to the home garden. American Dream matures early and produces vigorous, healthy plants with 7-inch cobs that have lots of juicy bicolored kernels. Sow seeds 8 inches apart. They will grow 6 to 7 feet tall and mature 77 days after planting the seed. American Dream corn is the pinnacle of eating quality in sweet corn, with excellent bite, tenderness and sweetness. Perfect fresh, roasted, grilled, canned or frozen.

  • Pole Bean “Seychelles.” The Seychelles pole bean produces 5- to 6-inch long, straight stringless pods with an excellent flavor. This award winner gives high yields in multiple crops over the growing season. Seychelles grows 7 to 9 feet tall on vigorous dark green vines and does well in the ground or in a container on a 6-foot tall trellis. Sow seeds 6 inches apart and expect harvest in 55 days. Trim any growth above the top of the trellis or staking to promote bushiness and pod set on the lower part of the stem. Foodies, vegetarians, and vegetable-lovers will all enjoy this productive, crisp and delicious bean.

  • Fennel “Antares.” Have you ever tried a fennel bulb? They have a sweet licorice/anise flavor and a crunch like celery. What is extremely fun about the award-winning fennel Antares plant is its many uses: as an edible bulb; for its ornamental fronds; as a seed producer; and as a favorite food of pollinators, namely swallowtail caterpillars. Fennel Antares is a very uniform, pure white, beautiful plant with a sweeter flavor than other market varieties. Plant seeds 6 inches apart in the garden or a container for harvest in about 70 days. The bushy plant grows 2 feet tall and each one produces a 5-inch bulb. Eat fennel raw like celery, or cooked like onions. Many judges said they plan to plant this easy-to-grow fennel in their own gardens this spring.

  • Cocktail Tomato “Red Racer.” Small in size but big in taste, Red Racer is a cocktail-size tomato, a bit larger than cherry or grape tomatoes. It produces small, uniform fruits with a good sweet/acid balance. They mature as a cluster of fruits. The 3-foot tall, compact determinate plants produced a huge, early yield and are ideal for small spaces and container gardens.

  • Sweet Pepper “Sweetie Pie.” Sweetie Pie is a miniature bell pepper that is easy to grow. The attractive plants are well-adapted to container and small garden growing. Space plants 2 to 3 feet apart. Fruits can be harvested 60 to 70 days from transplanting either when they are green, or leave them on the plant a bit longer to turn red. These little cuties are thick-walled, sweet and flavorful. They can be eaten fresh, grilled, stir-fried or stuffed. The possibilities are endless. Sweetie Pie is a cute way to introduce bell peppers to kids.

  • Hot Pepper “Chili Pie.”  The Chili Pie plants and fruits look similar to Sweetie Pie, so if you grow both be sure to mark them well or plant them at opposite sides of the garden. Chili Pie is a unique miniature bell pepper that is mildly hot when fruits turn red. These peppers are compact, easy to grow and adapt well to a container or small garden planting. Place them 2 to 3 feet apart, and expect to harvest them 70 days from transplant. Like Sweetie Pie, each Chili Pie plant yields about 30 fruits and can be eaten fresh or cooked.

With tomatoes and peppers, start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date. Keep temperatures at above 65 degrees F for good germination and seedling growth. Transplant outside when night temperatures are over 50 degrees F. Space them 2 to 3feet apart in full sun.
This year’s crop looks very promising, and I am looking forward to a long gardening season including these lovely, prolific plants in the garden and containers, and delicious vegetables in the kitchen.


Lori Rose, the Midnight Gardener, is a Temple University Certified Master Home Gardener and member of the GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators. She has gardened since childhood, and has been writing about gardening for more than 15 years.

Meet Lori