Brock: January can be a good time for gardening

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 1, 2020

January can be a very good time for vegetable gardens. If you planted in fall, you should be summing up harvesting now. And it’s time to prepare for most folks’ preferred gardens, the spring / summer session. Lots of nurseries and gardening centers will be selling tomatoes, bell peppers, etc. in March. But if you want specific cultivars (“varieties”) or if you just like to start things yourself, order some seeds in the early part of this month.

It’ll take six weeks to go from seeds to ready-for-the-garden transplants for tomatoes and bell peppers. Do the math and you’ll see mid-March plantings will require late-January seeding. ‘Celebrity’ tomatoes and ‘California Wonder’ bell peppers probably top the list in popularity. They are okay options but numerous variety trials have proven that there are much better choices available.

Heirloom varieties, for instance, abound in tomatoes especially but also other vegetables. These older varieties like ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Red Brandywine,’ and others tend to have lower production and disease resistance than modern “hybrid” varieties. But their fans claim the taste is far superior and well worth the trade-off. (You can also save the seeds from these year after year.)

Every spring we hold a variety trial in Paulina to test new varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers. This has given us an opportunity to see which varieties can stand heat and disease pressure, as well as which tomatoes consumers prefer. Recent highlights have included ‘Bella Rosa,’ ‘Bush Goliath’, ‘Amelia’, ‘Stellar’, and ‘Mountain Merit,’ all winners in both production and taste. ‘Jet Star’ is especially popular in St. James Parish and always does well in our trial. Sorry to tell you, but the old ‘Creole’ hasn’t made much, and it has yet to win in our blind taste tests.

As for bell peppers, common popularity contest winner ‘California Wonder’ has not been wonderful. Judging from the name, I think it was developed for a milder and drier climate than ours. Meanwhile, ‘Touchdown,’ ‘Aristotle’, ‘Declaration,’ and ‘Bayonet’ will delight you with their performance if you’ve never tried them. They’re disease-resistant, large, and extremely productive.

In cucumbers we haven’t seen anything that’ll knock your socks off, since the old standard ‘Straight Eight’ continues to do well. ‘Diva’ and ‘Sweet Success’ have also been good, giving some options in the standard green cucumber category. We’ve been very pleased with a white cucumber called ‘Martini,’ though. Besides the novelty of white skin, it did better than others in last spring’s extended wet and mildew-ey period, lasting into the “hot heat” of mid-June.

Another cucumber worth mentioning is ‘Lemon Ball.’ It’s a small ball-shaped heirloom whose skin begins to turn yellow as it matures. Performance is probably a little less than the hybrids but it’s something fun to grow for the kids.

Once you’ve gotten your seeds in the mail, start smaller seeds (tomatoes and bell peppers) in small trays. Keep them in a warm place and give them as much sun as possible once they emerge. Larger seeds like cucumbers and squash are faster, so seed them two to three weeks before the garden is ready. Eggplants like ‘Santana’ and okra (any variety) will have to wait for warmer weather so they may be seeded in early March or so.

If you want to know more about gardening, landscaping, or anything else horticultural, contact the St. John, St. James, & St. Charles Parishes County Agent André Brock at Also, the LSU Ag Center’s website can be accessed at with lots of user-friendly information, including this article.

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