By Peter Covino
The 100-pound radish and two-foot long cucumber is not something that attacks the heroine in a science fiction movie, but the stuff of reality in the 2018 Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog.
If you like to grow unusual fruits and vegetables or maybe even just look at the pictures, the Baker Creek book is the place to go.
And in Central Florida, of course, the time to start planting some of the unusual edibles is right now.
Here are some of the most unusual items found in this year’s catalog.
You may have to do some research to see what will grow best in Central Florida or just experiment. You might just have the most surprising garden in the neighborhood.
If you can’t get a copy of the catalog, seed varieties are available at www.rareseeds.com. Online orders are also the quickest way to order.
The Sakurajima Giant Radish 100-pound radish is native to the Japanese island of Sakurajima and is noted for its fine flavor and mammoth size. Some specimens have actually grown to 100 pounds, but it commonly grows to 15 pounds in South Japan. A packet of 100 seeds is $3.50.
Tomatoes are supposed to be red or maybe green, but the seed explorers at Baker Creek have found the Black Beauty tomato, the world’s darkest tomato, so they say. It is dark and meaty and has the same antioxidant content as blueberries and blackberries. It takes 80 days from seed to harvest. It’s a limited seed variety and is $5 a packet.
Brad’s Atomic Grape tomato (featured on the cover of this year’s catalog), is an elongated large, cherry cluster tomato. It features various colors like lavender and purple stripes that turn to olive-green, red and brown with blue stripes when fully ripe. The variety won a best in show at the 2017 National Heirloom Expo. A packet of 15 seeds is $4.
If you go to the grocery store, it would appear that watermelon comes in about three or four varieties, but the reality is there are hundreds of kinds. The Baker Creek book features about 24, that you will never see in the store including Orangeglo, a catalog favorite. It features a deep orange flesh, with a sweet, almost tropical flavor. Resistant to wilt and insects a packet is $3, one-ounce is $8.50.
If you like to think big, the Titan sunflower is a record-setting flower head variety, with flowers reaching up to 24-inches across. It also produces really big seeds. A packet of 10 seeds is $2.50.
Strawberry Festival time will come soon to Plant City. The catalog has a handful of varieties that harken back to its Alpine heritage in Europe including the Yellow Wonder Wild Strawberry, a creamy yellow variety featuring small, tasty fruits. It is a variety served in only the finest restaurants, 75 seeds are $3.
If you think your garden is hot stuff, it doesn’t get any hotter, apparently, than the Carolina Reaper hot pepper. Billed as 190 times hotter than a jalapeno. These little peppers are fiery red with a scythe shaped tail, giving it its reaper name. The heat rating is 1.5 million Scovilles, compared to the habanero’s 100,000. Packet of 10 seeds is $5.
If you can’t take the heat, the most exciting new pepper of 2018 is the Sugar Rush Peach, a long, peach-colored snacking pepper, with a sweet, tropical flavor. It has a bit of heat, combined with sweetness. A packet of seeds is $4.
Everyone loves herbs for both flavor and medicinal value and the catalog has dozens of varieties.
New this year is Self Heal, or prunella vulgaris, a flowering herb known for its healing properties. It is a perennial mint, with very high antioxidants and great for tea.
The catalog itself (and the website) features some 2,000 varieties of flower, vegetable and herbs, the largest selection of heirlooms varieties in the U.S.
You can ask questions about seeds by calling 417-924-8887, but the company does not take orders over the phone. Florida customers are not charged sales tax on vegetable or herb seeds.
There is a $3.50 postage and handling flat fee charge per order and checks, money orders and credit cards are accepted.