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Steve   Gardener's Journal title graphic

Well, it's that time of year here in North Florida (Zone 8B) - time to start our pepper and tomato seeds so we'll have 5-7 week old plants to set out in the garden in mid March, after the danger of frost has past. You can learn the average last frost date in your area by calling your county extension agent or the local weather service.

A portion of Steve's vegetable garden photographed last March.We'll wait and get some of the most common varieties of peppers and tomatoes at the local garden center in March, but for rare, heirloom or hard to find varieties, we have to start our own plants from seeds we get from the mail order seed catalogs. See Floridata's how-to article, Start Your Own Pepper and Tomato Plants for detailed instructions. This year we're starting seeds of our usual old standbys, but we always try a few new varieties too.

The hybrid, 'Viva Italia', is a very productive determinate 'Roma'-type paste tomato, and our favorite for canning and drying in the dehydrator; we're starting 10 plants so we'll have plenty to put up for sauces all year long. We'll also be trying out the Italian heirloom paste tomato, 'Martino's Roma'. 'Lemon Boy' and 'Black Prince' are two old heirloom favorites for fresh eating and we're starting a half dozen of each. Both are disease resistant, heat tolerant, indeterminate and very productive. They're both a little sweeter and less acidic than many of the typical bright red tomatoes. For sheer mouth watering taste, nothing beats the hybrid indeterminate cherry tomato 'Sweet Million' or its sister, 'Sweet 100'. These are so pretty that many gardeners grow them on trellises or fences as edible ornamentals. For regular old red slicing tomatoes, we'll wait until March and pick up sets of 'Celebrity', 'Park's Whopper', 'Beefsteak', 'Big Boy', 'Better Boy', or some such standards from a local garden center. This year, for the first time, we'll be starting seeds for 'Mortgage Lifter', and 'Pineapple', two old heirloom tomatoes that sounded interesting in the seed catalogs. We are also trying, for the first time, a new hybrid yellow tomato called 'Sungold'.

We can't get tomatillo sets around here, so we start our own - three different kinds this year. Burpee offers seeds of the green 'Toma Verde' tomatillo.

Life begins in a peat pot!Peppers are so easy to grow, and so much fun to experiment with, that we're starting more than 30 different varieties from seed! 'Long Thin Cayenne', 'Habanero', and 'Thai Dragon' are fire breathers that are pretty and fun to grow. 'Jalapeno', 'Marconi Gold', and 'Poblano' aren't nearly as hot, and have lots of uses around the kitchen. We always grow plenty of New Mexico 'Big Jim' peppers for roasting, and my all-time favorite pepper for flavor: 'Pasilla' (also known as 'Chilaca' and 'Chile Negro'). We grow paprika peppers and make our own tangy red spice (it's easy). We'll pick up a few sets of bell peppers, like 'California Wonder', from the local garden center in March.

Steve Christman 02/01/00



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