The edibles market is exploding, thanks to new trends that shatter the traditional vegetable garden image by mixing veggies with ornamentals in the landscape or placing them in anything-goes containers. Breeders have brought the fun back into vegetable gardening with new varieties designed to be productive, flavorful and perfectly suited for small-space growing.
While flowers often sell based on looks, vegetables’ selling point is their fruit and what can be done with it. If consumers don’t know how to use a certain vegetable, especially out-of-the-ordinary ones like okra and kohlrabi, they are less apt to grow it in their gardens.
“Selling a vegetable start is easier when a customer knows how to use the fruit they will harvest,” says Jeannine Bogard, business product manager for garden vegetables at Syngenta Flowers. “With vegetables, you really need to push the benefits of that back-end reward.”
Follow The Food Trends, Find The Next Hot Crop
The Food Network and the Cooking Channel, as well as social media sites like Pinterest, are not only schooling consumers on how to use vegetables, they are also dictating what the next “hot” crop will be. Restaurants and the current superfoods are also trendsetters for the edible market. One only has to follow the food movement to find the next hot crop.
Sakata Seed’s ‘Aspabroc,’ more commonly known as Broccolini, is a great example of a new introduction completely driven by the foodie world, says Tracy Lee, Sakata’s Home Garden seed manager. Gardeners started asking for Broccolini in the garden center after seeing it in grocery stores or trying it in restaurants.
Keep An Eye On These Already Popular Edibles: Lettuce, Micro-Greens And Heirlooms
Breeders say lettuce and micro-greens, including kales, mustard and some exotic types like amaranth and okra are up-and-coming hot crops. Sakata is currently trialing some of its varieties for use as baby greens in mixed salads, while PanAmerican Seed has seen an increased interest, particularly from hydroponic growers, in its SimplySalad and SimplyHerb lines of multi-seeded pellets.
“Each SimplySalad pellet contains several different varieties of salad greens, making it less labor intensive to sow salad mixes,” says Josh Kirschenbaum, PanAmerican Seed market channel manager. “Newly available are SimplySalad Endless Summer (a mix of heat-tolerant, bolt resistant lettuces) and Wonder Wok (a mix of Asian greens), which are mild enough to eat raw in a salad, but sturdy enough to hold up when stir-fried.”
Heirloom tomato varieties are another hot item, but they are often less vigorous and more susceptible to disease than hybrid tomatoes. Plug Connection’s Mighty ‘Mato line, which features grafted heirlooms, is seeing good sell-through on the retail side. Nicole Jackson, sales and marketing director at PlugConnection, says she feels it is because growers are finding the success they are looking for with heirlooms, without all the hassles.
PanAmerican Seed also offers its Heirloom Marriage series, which features hybrid tomatoes where both parents are heirloom varieties. The resulting offspring mature earlier and are more productive than their parents are.
Containers Are The New Vogue In Vegetables
Along with the food trends, container gardening is the latest craze in the edible world. As people move to smaller living spaces and time becomes more valuable, the demand is growing for vegetables that take less time and effort to grow. Breeders are meeting that demand with varieties designed to take up less space while still maximizing production.
“Container gardening with edibles offers all the rewards of homegrown vegetables with minimal inputs, including time and space,” says Amy Gard’ner, North American product manager for Vegetalis. “Consumers are already starting to expect varieties that are bred specifically for containers, ones with tidy habits that are abundant, quick fruiting, aesthetically pleasing and delicious.
Along these lines, Vegetalis has introduced the ‘Petipikle’ and ‘Peticue’ cucumbers. With their multi-branching, compact habit, they can be grown in patio containers and hanging baskets. Another introduction, the ‘Sweet ‘n’ Neat’ table top tomato, is extra compact and readily adapts to different pot sizes.
Burpee Home Gardens’ ‘Sweetheart of the Patio’ tomato and ‘Tangerine Dream’ pepper allow growers to ship smaller plants with fruit on them, something that helps with sell through on the retail side. Scott Mozingo, product manager at Burpee Home Gardens, says crops like this make growers more efficient and keep consumers happy because they don’t have to wait so long for harvest.
And many of the newer introductions aren’t just for containers; they work great in the garden, as well. For instance, PanAmerican Seed’s new ‘Patio Baby’ eggplant, which was recently selected for a 2014 All-America Selections award, works equally well in a patio container or in the garden landscape.
Justin Hancock, marketing and digital specialist at Costa Farms, has noticed that consumers are gravitating toward more bold and dramatic containers, showing an interest in plants such as colocasia and canna. This applies to vegetable gardening in containers, as well. Consumers are taking notice of just how beautiful a well-grown eggplant can be when mixed in with ornamentals.
Mix Flowers And Ornamentals To Maximize Garden Space
This leads to another popular edibles trend, mixing flowers with ornamentals in containers and the landscape, something that Diane Blazek, executive director of All-America Selections, says may really be a space issue. Gardeners short on garden space like to mix plants that offer multiple benefits like scent, edible parts and attractiveness.
For the landscape, Syngenta’s hybrid ‘Brice’ zucchini is designed to have a compact plant habit and be more manageable in the garden than larger zucchinis. It also works for patio containers. Or, gardeners can try mixing the bright yellow fruits of the hybrid sweet bell pepper ‘Admiral,’ with chrysanthemums and verbena.
Sakata’s ‘Peppermint’ Swiss chard has two-toned pink and white stems that stand out well in containers when mixed with trailing snapdragons and white pansies. Lee says there is a lot of interest in containers like this, but from a grower perspective, production can be difficult due to timing challenges and the fact that plant growth regulators and certain chemicals cannot be used on vegetables.
“It can be done,” says Lee. “It just takes a different mindset and some planning. It is certainly something I hope more growers will be trialing in the future.”