A taste of unique, new edibles
By Rodger Tschanz
Breeders entice home gardeners with varieties not found on grocery store shelves.
By Rodger Tschanz
There are few topics that interest the buying public as much as food. At plant trials, open house attendees are always keen to test out the latest hot pepper. Even the hippest young male is bound to feel compelled to show his worthiness by throwing caution to the wind and chomping down on a pepper heedless of warnings.
To appeal to the 21st century urban horticulturalist with limited growing room, breeders have been introducing more compact plants with faster maturation, great flavour and, in many cases, the added bonus of ornamental value. The edible plants described in the following paragraphs are ones that caught my interest while on my trip to the 2019 California Spring Trials.
More to harvest with Proven Winners
A company known for its ornamental offerings, Proven Winners first introduced selections of tomatoes, strawberries and basil to its lineup in 2019. These edibles are marketed under the “Proven Harvest” banner. While the strawberry and basil cultivars from 2019 were easily grown in containers, the high-yielding, flavourful tomatoes were more suited to ground beds. For the 2020 season, two new vegetable introductions were selected for container applications as well as flavour.
The flavourful, Goodhearted cherry tomato  matures in 10 to 12 weeks from a rooted liner into a variety of fruit shapes ranging from that of a pear to a heart. It has a compact growing habit that is best grown in containers where the fruit doesn’t touch the ground.
The other container-friendly addition is Capsicum Fire Away Hot and Heavy . It is the first pepper to be added to the Proven Harvest lineup. The fruit is described as being an attractive bright red when ripe and has more fleshiness than is typically seen in hot peppers. It is a flavourful pepper with a lower spiciness ranking than the usual jalapeño. Its growth habit is compact and mounding.
Sakata adds healthy, hot new reds
New tomato and pepper releases from Sakata were highlights at their stop in California
Roadster  is a determinate, early maturing, salad-type tomato suitable for container growing. In addition to its great taste, this tomato has a “Crimson Gene” which gives the interior flesh an attractive deep red colour with higher-than-average concentrations of the anti-oxidant lycopene. It’s both good for you and tastes good, what’s not to like?
Sakata’s new Early Flame jalapeño pepper  is used in the processing world to make Sriracha hot sauce. The 10 x 4 cm-sized fruit has thick, fleshy walls which quickly turn from a dark green to a deep red colour as it ripens. This plant’s compact habit makes it very container- friendly and suitable for the domestic market as well as the production of homemade hot sauce.
Burpee’s edible collections
Burpee is a horticultural brand associated with all things edible. To help separate itself from the competition, Burpee presents its edibles organized into “collections”. Collection names such as “Space Savers”, “Amazing Veggies”, “Organic” and “Boost – the antioxidant collection” can all be used to target specific consumer audiences. Their Fresh Flavours Program provides branded sleeves (available with French translations on the packaging) for nine types of herbs including “Pesto Party”, Sassy Sage” and “Playful Parsley”. The program is suited to the small- to medium-sized greenhouse grower and is aimed at providing herbs all year round.
Mardi Gras  is a new series of sweet pepper available in four different colours that all ripen at the same time. Burpee is also currently test marketing a potato in Canada for the container market. They have three unusual potato cultivars, each with a unique potato skin colour and one with blue flesh that would be attractive to the consumer who likes to grow their own food on a patio. It is expected that these will be widely available to Canadian growers by 2021. (Note: there will be some restrictions on availability in Newfoundland). For production of the potted greenhouse potato, Burpee is recommending an extra deep container such as with the 4” T size.
Darwin Perennials wraps up herbs
Darwin Perennials has come up with a creative way to package herbs with its ‘herb-A-licious’  herb combo program. The themes for this combo program range from flavouring cocktails and various types of cooking to repelling mosquitos from the patio. Although these combinations are not yet available in a production format, the individual components and recipes for the combinations are available online (https://www.darwinperennials.com/PDF/HerbCombinations_DarwinPerennials.pdf).
New vegetable breeding from PanAmerican Seed has produced some new vegetable varieties for container and ground bed gardening.
The Orange Marmalade  sweet bell pepper displays a high degree of resistance to bacterial leaf spot. The large, bulky (10 cm long by 9 cm wide) fruit ripens from green to orange. The plant itself has a bushy habit and requires some staking to help support the large fruit.
Lemon Sun  is a new patty pan squash that, in addition to producing small yellow squashes (without green blossom ends!) also produces large quantities of male flowers that are suitable for stuffing with cheese or frying. The squash forms at the base of the female flower and can be harvested and eaten at any stage of its development.
Helix  is a new, small-fruited elongated tomato with an indeterminate growth habit and high degree of resistance to late blight. Fruit maturation is expected to start approximately 55 days after transplanting. The fruit’s flavour exhibits a nice balance of sweetness and acidity.
Artemis  is another new indeterminate tomato with resistance to a broad range of diseases. The red fruit of this cultivar is round and sweet. Note that both Helix and Artemis are very vigorous growers and are not really suited to container production. In various Guelph garden trials, it was noticed that the Artemis fruit started ripening one to two weeks earlier than Helix.
Everleaf Emerald Towers  is a Genovese-styled and flavoured basil which blooms 10 to 12 weeks later than standard basil. It has short internodes and can develop into a tall attractive leafy plant with a high yield potential. It can reach heights of 90 cm with a spread of only 30 cm.
Newton  is a newly released Genovese-flavoured basil that is resistant to fusarium blight. The licorice flavour often associated with fusarium resistance in basil is missing from this cultivar, which may be desirable for certain culinary applications. In contrast to Everleaf Emerald Towers, this cultivar shows a normal bloom habit and growth habit, reaching a garden height of 50 cm and a spread of 40 cm.
Breeding to consumer needs
It is evident from this list of new varieties that the trend towards homegrown edibles is alive and thriving. Plant breeders are diligently working to provide the consumer with a great selection of vegetables that are easy and convenient to grow – whether in containers or in the garden – and enjoyable to consume with new, interesting flavours that may not be readily available on supermarket shelves.
I want to end this article with a look at something quite unique and unusual for the edible plant market. Ball Ingenuity will be selling small tea plants (Camellia sinensis)  in the coming year. It will be available as a 40-cell liner or in 10 cm pots. When this was presented as a new idea at CAST, it seemed to receive universal approval from the group I was travelling with. Instructions for processing your own tea leaves were also provided, which not only appeals to foodies, but further enhances the consumer experience even after the product has been successfully grown and harvested.
Rodger Tschanz is manager of the Guelph Garden Trials at the University of Guelph. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you to PanAmerican Seed for supplementing some of the photos.