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New fruit, vegetable and herb varieties to grow — and devour — this year

Plant, pluck, eat, repeat!

Plant, pluck, eat, repeat!

(Photo by Helen Battersby)

If you've ever run outside or onto the balcony to grab a few cherry tomatoes to toss into a salad, or snipped fresh cilantro to garnish a dish, you know how satisfying it is to grow your own food. Whether you have the space for a raised bed or a few pots on a porch — or even just a spot to hook a hanging basket — here are some new and delicious varieties to look for at the garden centre.

A sweet turnip you can eat like an apple

I didn't think I'd ever get excited about a turnip, but the Silky Sweet Hybrid turnips bred in Japan were a delicious discovery. I sowed the seeds in early spring last year and pulled out these root veggies in time for barbecue season (they're delicious roasted with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper). Apparently you can also eat them raw like an apple — and, of course, you can eat the greens, too. You can also enjoy a fall crop by sowing seeds again in late summer.

A mildew-resistant basil

"Basil is one of my favourite herbs to grow, but the recent arrival of downy mildew has made it difficult to maintain a crop of basil all summer long," said Niki Jabbour, author of Growing Under Cover. "Therefore, I've been growing mildew-resistant varieties like Rutgers Devotion DMR, which is a Genovese type perfect for pesto. The large aromatic leaves are packed with a classic spicy-sweet basil flavour and produced in abundance, from early summer through frost. And while many of my non-resistant basil plants succumbed to downy mildew last summer, Rutgers Devotion DMR was unfazed. I'll definitely be growing it again in 2021."

A trio of strawberries that are perfect for small spaces

Bushel and Berry is a collection known for its ornamental self-pollinating berry plants. These plants prove you don't need a long farm lane to grow berry bushes. They do well in pots and small gardens. This year, the brand is introducing three new strawberry varieties: Rosy Belle, Scarlet Belle and Snowy Belle. These everbearing plants will produce fruit from summer to fall.

An ornamental kale that's good enough to eat

Emma Biggs, co-author of Gardening with Emma, recommends growing Dazzling Blue kale, describing it as "another winner for its looks, because a garden should be a feast for the eyes too!" Plant this lacinato, or dinosaur, kale as foliage among the flowers in your containers as it's both edible and ornamental. "This variety has green-blue leaves with vibrant purple veins and is also very tender and tolerant of cold weather," said Biggs.

A stunning striped sweet pepper

Grow the Burpee Mocha Swirl Sweet Pepper as a fresh-from-the-vine snack, or to add to summer dishes. Not only can you harvest these peppers to eat, they change colour from green- and white-striped to deep reds and browns as they ripen, making them a great ornamental option, too.

(Photo submitted by Home Depot)

A sweet jalapeno that won't burn your mouth

Speaking of peppers, jalapeno Sweet Poppers pepper, also from Burpee, is a favourite of Garden Therapy's Stephanie Rose. The Garden Alchemy author enjoys the mild flavour, especially when the pepper is stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon. I grew this last year as well and pickled my abundant harvest to enjoy through the late fall and early winter.

A blue tomato

Helen Battersby of Toronto Gardens said she had a bumper crop last year from a gift seedling tomato plant called Blueberry. Battersby planted it in a felted 20-gallon bag and said it grew to be at least seven feet. "Because my garden is part shade, part sun, cherry and cocktail tomatoes will ripen for me much better than larger forms, so that's what I prefer," she explained. "Blueberry was gorgeous to look at, delightful to eat and sized like a large cherry tomato. In February, I was still eating the last of the green ones I salvaged in fall."

An elongated eggplant for the grill

Easy to harvest, Asian Delite eggplant is happy whether it's planted in a garden or in a large container. Asian eggplants are known to be a bit sweeter than Italian varieties and have fewer seeds. These tender non-bitter veggies are easy to pick and don't need to be peeled before you throw them on the barbecue or into a stir-fry. 

(Photo by PanAmerican Seed)

Tara Nolan is the author of Gardening Your Front Yard and Raised Bed Revolution. She is also one-third of the popular gardening website Savvy Gardening.

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