Washington Vegetable gardeners planning this year's crop will find 2002 off to a colorful and promising start, with catalogs offering fresh hues in tomatoes, peppers, beans and pumpkins.
Why all the excitement about new varieties? Novelty drives the mail-order seed business, even when the term "new" finds itself stretched at times. New can mean new to a company, new to this continent or genuinely new on the scene.
If you like this buzz and hype, check out the catalogs now streaming forth. Retail stores may have the same coveted varieties, but if you wait until March to buy your seed packets, the innovative varieties may be sold out.
In the myriad catalogs that arrive at your doorstep, there is ample space to photograph and wax eloquent about the great qualities of these new vegetables, and the catalog writers spare no ink. Like a stalk of celery, they are best taken with a pinch of salt. But the beauty of vegetable gardening unlike other aspects of your yard is that if a plant doesn't grow or disappoints, you can soon replace it with ones that will succeed, with very little loss of money, time or space.
Some of these newcomers may replace existing varieties; others will grow alongside old favorites.
Beans: The most famous runners climbing pole beans with abundant flowers and long, straplike pods are red and/or white and a magnet to hummingbirds and insects. Sunset, sporting pink flowers and an early crop of short beans, matures in 75 days,
about 10 days earlier than other runners (Thompson & Morgan, (800) 274-7333; www.thompsonmorgan.com).
Flat Italian Romano beans are the richest tasting; pole beans are available in a range of colors but, until now, bush varieties have been limited to green. Purpiat is a purple Romano that comes in space-saving bush form (Thompson & Morgan).
Brussels sprouts: How about burgundy Brussels? Falstaff retains its red-purple coloration even after cooking. In the garden, the color intensifies in the fall after a hard frost (Thompson & Morgan).
Carrots: Gardeners who love those baby carrots imported from Holland can now have their own. Adelaide is the variety of choice for its sweetness (Thompson & Morgan and Pinetree Garden Seeds, (207) 926-3400 or www.superseeds.com).
Cauliflower: One of the most exciting introductions for this year is a purple cauliflower, Graffiti, with a vibrant purple head instead of the traditional white (Johnny's Selected Seeds, (207) 437-4301; www.johnnyseeds.com).
Cucumber: An All-America Selection for this year, Diva is being touted as the cucumber to beat all others. Fantastic tasting (nonbitter), highly productive and resistant to the cucumber beetle, Diva will be widely available this year.
Pepper: Jamaica Hot Chocolate has huge appeal not only for its name but also for hot-pepper lovers looking for something new. Its pedigree is habanera, long considered the hottest pepper on Earth, but this one adds a smoky, even a chocolate-y, note.
Want bragging rights on something new this year? Try Super Heavyweight Hybrid. Each sweetly flavored green-to-yellow bell pepper weighs a half-pound and is the size of a small melon. (Both varieties available from Tomato Growers Supply, (888) 478-7333; www.tomatogrowers.com).
Pumpkin: White pumpkins might have been all the rage a few years ago, but this year,they are bound to be eclipsed by Halloween in Paris. No, not the concept the variety! It's a yellow pumpkin from France with as much enchanting beauty as that other French pumpkin, the red-orange Rouge d'Etampes. The two grown side by side is all you'd need to make a glorious statement this fall (Cook's Garden, (800) 457-9703; www.cooksgarden.com).
Tomato: There's no end to new tomato varieties. Two that stand out, however, are Legend, a medium-to-large red tomato that is resistant to late blight; and Carbon, dark red to black, which, like a lot of ugly tomatoes, is reputed to have an exceptional flavor (Tomato Growers Supply).