Updated: Jan 12, 2022
It’s December in eastern Connecticut, the time of the year when gardeners cozy up with seed catalogs and their garden maps and plan what to grow for the next year. I’m reflecting on which plants were my favorite performers in my garden last year, and which ones I’m most excited to grow for next year. Below I describe my favorite plants of 2021 and why I’m excited to grow them again in 2022. All of these plants will be available during the May 2022 plant sale at Sterling Organic Farm. To guarantee you get the plants you want, and to save 30%, make sure you preorder your plants by March 1, 2022. If you're interested in preordering plants, please click here.
In no particular order, plants I’m excited about . . .
Oregon Spring and Taxi Tomatoes
2021 was my first year growing determinate tomatoes, which grow to a certain height and then stop. I had always preferred indeterminate tomato plants, which will keep growing ever taller provided they do not succumb to frost or disease. However, the brutally hot and dry summer of 2020 made it dangerous to work in the greenhouse, tying up the tomato plants that put on at least a foot of new growth per week. With the determinate tomato plants, we simply popped a small tomato cage on and then let them be. The only maintenance they required was harvesting tomatoes and inspecting the plants for tomato hornworms.
The determinate tomato varieties I chose to grow, taxi and Oregon spring, produced abundantly over a surprisingly long amount of time. I had read that determinate tomatoes will eventually stop producing more tomatoes, which was fine by me, since I had planned to rip the tomato plants out in August to put in fall crops. I transplanted the tomatoes into the greenhouse on April 14th, and harvested my first tomato on June 19th. On July 6th, we were hauling heavy boxes of them out of the greenhouse. At the end of August, there was still an abundance of tomatoes ripening on the vines, although production of new flowers had stopped. We pulled all the plants and brought the green tomatoes indoors to ripen, and were still eating the last of them in September.
Taxi, a bright yellow tomato, and Oregon spring, a bright red tomato, were beautiful paired together in summer salads, with their contrasting colors and flavors. Taxi is all sweetness. It is an excellent tomato for those with stomachs sensitive to the acids in tomatoes. Oregon spring has a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity, with a rich tomato flavor. Earlier than other full size tomatoes, Oregon Spring will give you that first taste of ripe local tomato that you have been missing all winter. While both taxi and Oregon spring are early to bear fruit, Oregon spring was specially bred to tolerate colder temperatures, and can be planted out a month earlier than your typical tomato planting time of year. I haven’t yet experimented with planting Oregon spring earlier than usual. It is something I look forward to trying in 2022. I hope you will also consider these wonderful tomato varieties for your garden next year. Oregon Spring and Taxi tomato plants can be pre-ordered online for pickup at our May plant sale.
Milkweed is the only host plant of the monarch butterfly caterpillar. No milkweed, no monarchs. I love seeing these bright orange beauties fluttering around my farm. They get me to look up from whatever task I’m working on and pause for a moment to appreciate my surroundings. I even put a monarch butterfly in my farm’s logo. Regardless of the benefits to the butterflies, butterfly milkweed is a lovely perennial for your flower garden. They are low-growing plants that bring forth bright orange blooms from July through early September. They have a mildly toxic milky sap, which means that deer, rabbits and other four-legged critters will leave your plants alone. They are great for adding a pop of color to the edge of a garden. This species of milkweed is native to Connecticut. Having evolved here over millennia, it is adapted to our growing conditions and will thrive with little care.
2021 was my first year seeing monarch caterpillars on the farm. In years past, the butterflies have come through in the fall during their annual migration. This year, they were actually around during June and July, laying eggs on the milkweed plants. It was fun for me to go out and check my milkweed for new eggs and caterpillars. I was surprised to find that there were more caterpillars on the butterfly milkweed I had planted in the front yard than on the common milkweed growing wild on the edges of the field. I also saw many butterflies drinking nectar from the flowers in between bouts of mating and egg laying.
I recently learned that 2021 was the first year to see an increase in monarch butterfly populations, after decades of decline. I hope you will join me in planting milkweed to keep this inspiring trend going. I’m offering milkweed plants at a super low price of just $2 each during the plant sale preorder.
I’ve never grown onions from seed before. In 2021 I took my first baby steps into the world of growing onions from seed by growing scallions. I was surprised to find them delightfully quick and easy to grow. While I don’t normally keep scallions in my kitchen, once I had bunches of them around fresh from the garden, I was surprised by how often I used them in my cooking, and by how much I enjoyed cooking with them. I am definitely excited to grow this fun and tasty crop again.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind for growing scallions. If you’re starting your own transplants, you can put twelve seeds per soil block or cell. They don’t mind being crowded, and will naturally push away from each other and spread out once they are transplanted out. When transplanting your young scallion plants, make sure to plant them deep, with just an inch or two of leaves sticking out from the top of the soil. This will result in the white part of the scallion being longer. Scallions take about two months from when they are transplanted to harvest, and don’t mind some cooler weather, so you can get several batches in per growing season. I hope you give scallions a try in your garden and have just as much success with them as I did. You can preorder scallion seedlings to pick up during our May plant sale by clicking here.
There’s nothing like freshly harvested garlic in July. Well, except garlic chives, which let you enjoy that fresh garlic flavor from June through October. Their fresh garlic flavor and bright green color are wonderful to add to your cooking or to sprinkle on your food as a garnish. I especially love them chopped raw on garlic bread and baked potatoes. Garlic chives are a perennial that will come back every year, and slowly grow larger over the years. They don’t have a tendency to take over your garden in the way that mint and other unruly perennial herbs can. The greatest surprise benefit that the garlic chives had to offer were dainty-looking white flowers in September that were sturdy and long lasting in flower bouquets. This plant would be equally at home in your vegetable garden as in your flower garden.
Zinnias are the plant that made me fall in love with flower farming. These bright and cheery blooms never disappoint, churning out dozens of long stems for flower bouquets while also providing a visual feast for the eyes in the garden, and an actual feast for dozens of types of pollinators. I like to transplant zinnias out after the last frost in May, and a month later they are getting their first blooms. If you frequently dead head your zinnias, or cut flowers for the vase from them, they will keep blooming until the first hard frost. Next year I’m excited to grow benarys giant, the largest zinnia with multiple layers of petals and blooms up to five inches across. I’ve grown benarys giant for several years now, and they always thrive. This year I grew the Oklahoma series zinnias for the first time, and they were a wonderful smaller zinnia to compliment the towering benarys giants. I’m offering both types of zinnias in the 2022 plant sale. Here's a link to preorder the benarys giant zinnias, and one for the Oklahoma zinnias. I hope you’ll join me in growing these delightful blooms.
What plants are you most excited to grow in 2022? Comment below!
About Sterling Organic Farm
Sterling Organic Farm is a USDA certified organic farm in Oneco, CT. We grow and arrange flowers for weddings, events and for everyday bouquets. Check out our flower CSA for the best deals on a weekly flower subscription. We grow a wide variety of organic vegetables available through our vegetable subscription CSA. Click here to learn more about our wedding flowers, and click here to learn more about our CSA shares.