The 2018 trial was the first time that Proven Winners submitted edibles for trialing purposes. Amongst the submissions were basil and tomatoes. The two tomato entries from PW originated from a tomato breeding program at the University of Florida, with the goal of replicating the flavour of an heirloom tomato. Garden Gem produced large quantities of small, snack-sized fleshy tomatoes; many of the fruit had a pointed end. One plant growing in a 16-inch container produced 557 fruit before the trial season ended in early September. The growth habit is semi-determinate, and while it is possible to grow this plant in a container, it will develop into a large plant needing support of some kind. The second tomato in the series is Garden Treasure. The fruit is considered to be mid-sized and the growth habit of the plant is indeterminate. Like Garden Gem, it will need support in both ground beds and containers. The 16-inch container trial in Vineland produced 130 fruit per plant by the first week of September. Both Garden Gem and Garden Treasure were selected for tolerance for growing in hot, humid conditions, disease tolerance and having an heirloom taste. Informal tasting sessions by visitors to the trial garden elicited very favourable comments.
The Italian sweet basil, Amazel, proved to be both prolific and disease tolerant as well, growing well into September without disease issues such as downy mildew. We didn’t do a yield trial on this plant which would have required us to continually cut the plant back before it produced flowers. As with most basil selections, once the plant blooms, the fragrant foliage becomes somewhat bitter to the taste; the best flavoured leaves came from the fresh tender shoots. That said, the unpruned plants in our 2018 ground bed trials reached heights of 79 cm and a spread of 110 cm, producing a welcome fragrance in the garden.
Consumers are hungry for edibles
Overall, characteristics such as high yields, ornamental/edible dual purposes, container friendliness, unique and desirable flavours and disease tolerance were all in demand by visitors to the garden trials.
Container vegetables can be very easily marketed, especially when they contain great flavour, have good fruit size, and display disease tolerance for the most part. Small fruit functions as ready-made single portion sizes and can produce an attractive display either by being left on the plant or in culinary preparations.
To help consumers succeed though, other supportive items may need to be available at garden centres. Tomatoes may need a cage or the squash may need a trellis system. Mesh or repellents may be needed to deter wildlife such as rabbits, deer or squirrels. Garden centres should have items like these on hand, as well as trained staff in place, to ensure the customer has everything they need to start.