Dennis Gilson, the Front-Yard Farmer, grows a variety of seasonal vegetables, berries and fruit trees at his home in Niceville, Florida. On these pages and in his blog, Dennis offers local gardening information, insight and advice for others in North Florida that choose to eat what they grow.






The stack of 2012 seed catalogs on my desk is growing faster than the weeds in last year’s sweet potato bed. There’s never a dull month for home vegetable growers in Florida. When we’re not in the garden, we’re planning our next one.

January is the perfect time to order your seeds, plants and seed potatoes. If you don’t act fast, it’s easy to fall behind. Planting windows open as early as this month in chilly north Florida for several traditional spring-harvested vegetables, such as potatoes, English peas, celery, cauliflower, broccoli and turnips. Many more vegetables can be planted in February. See my vegetable gardening guide for complete planting dates.

It’s always fun to try something new in the garden. I have found many of my favorite veggie varieties by trying new offerings. Here are my new favorites from the seed catalogs and local retailers, and several other proven performers that are on my favorites list:

Rattlesnake Pole Beans growing in Niceville, FL. Photo by Dennis Gilson.
Rattlesnake pole beans

Rattlesnake Pole Beans
Several years ago a gentleman asked if I knew where to find Rattlesnake pole beans. He remembered his grandfather growing them and said they were extra delicious. I could not find them at the time but when they showed up in the Gurney’s seed catalog last year I was quick to give them a try. This heirloom variety is productive, stringless, and quite tender and delicious when harvested young. They can even be used as a snap bean if harvested early enough. The eye-catching pods are green with purple streaks which are said to resemble the markings found on a rattlesnake (I’ll have to trust them on that). The dried beans are buff colored with deep brown speckled markings. This variety is especially suited for hot and humid environments. Until now, I’ve always been a bush beans grower. Rattlesnake pole beans have won me over to the other side.

Honey Bear Acorn Squash
I don’t usually buy squash starter plants but when I saw the name, Honey Bear Acorn Squash, I could not pass it up. I’m glad I didn’t. This isn’t your traditional acorn squash. The texture of the flesh is finer and starchier than ordinary acorn squash. And as sweet as a girlfriend right before Christmas. According to Bonnie Plants, this 2009 All America Selections Winner hybrid squash is perfect for pots and small gardens. Each plant bears 3 to 5 squash. The fruit are such a dark green that they look almost black. Each small fruit can weigh about a pound and is ideal for baking and serving "in the half shell." What’s more, these plants are tolerant to powdery mildew. Seeds are readily available on the Web.

Diva Cucumbers. Photo by Dennis Gilson
Diva cucumbers

Diva Cucumbers
My favorite find for your 2012 garden!  This high-yielding 2002 All-America Selections Winner produces sweet, tender, crisp, bitter-free cucumbers that are nearly seedless. Get this: Plants are gynoecious (all-female) and parthenocarpic (grow fruits without pollination). Sweet!  These cukes have glossy bright green skins which are spineless and tender, especially when harvested at 4 to 6 inches. The 5 to 6 foot vines bear at nearly every node and the non-bitter foliage makes the plants unattractive to cucumber beetles. Resists scab and has tolerance to powdery and downy mildews. Now if I could just get my cucumbers and lettuce to mature the same time!

Cloud Nine White Eggplant
Another starter plant I found locally from Bonnie Plants that I had not tried in my garden so I gave it a go. It produced lovely, eggshell white, oblong fruit with a sweet flavor and no bitterness. Eggplant is easy to grow and makes a great container plant.

Trofeo bush beans grown in my front-yard garden in Niceville. Photo by Dennis Gilson.
Trofeo filet-type bush beans

Trofeo Snap Beans
This filet-type snap bean has terrific buttery flavor and crisp, tender texture. The upright bush plants produce huge yields of thin, long, straight green beans. They have some disease resistance but do best when harvested before it gets too hot and humid. I enjoy Trofeo every bit as much as Flavor Sweet beans, which made my favorites list several years back but are now difficult to find.

Here are more of my favorites with proven performance in my home garden:

Acorn Table Queen Squash

Acorn Table Queen is an heirloom variety of acorn squash that goes back 150 years or more. It is a vining squash, so it can take up some space in the garden. So far, the best flavor and biggest traditional acorn squash (medium-sized) I have raised.

Amelia tomatoes growing in my Niceville garden. Photo by Dennis Gilson.
Amelia tomatoes

Amelia Tomatoes
No matter what other varieties of tomatoes you may put out in your garden this spring, it’s a good idea to have at least one variety which is resistant to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV), just in case the others fall prey to this devastating disease. Of the several TSWV varieties I have tried, my preference is Amelia. Beautiful, large fruits with pretty good flavor. Amelia’s should be widely available at gardening centers and seeds can be found at several seed companies on the Web.

Burpess's Butterbush Squash grown in Niceville. Photo by Dennis Gilson.
Butterbush squash

Burpee’s Butterbush Squash
Butternut squash is a real favorite in our household but there are only two of us here and the big fruit is often more than we need. Also, the fruit takes about four months to ripen and the vines take up a great deal of garden space. Burpee’s Butterbush to the rescue! Burpee’s Butterbush is bush-type plants with single serving-size fruit that ripens in three months instead of four. I find them to be even tastier than Waltham Butternut squash.

Early White Bush Scallop Squash
Early White Bush Scallop is a summer squash by Ferry-Morse. Ferry-Morse seeds are usually available at Lowes and Home Depot, among other places. Early White Bush Scallop squash ranks high on my favorites list. The squash is mild and delicious and the plants stand up well to powdery mildew. What’s more, they perform quite nicely through a good part the summer.

A basket of Fairy Tale eggplant grown in my front-yard garden in Niceville, FL. Photo by Dennis Gilson.
Fairy Tale eggplant

Fairy Tale Eggplant
If you like eggplant, you just have to try Fairy Tale. This short, slender, purple and white eggplant is as delicious as it is beautiful. Great on the grill! Perfect for containers. Fairy Tale produces lots of fruit right through the summer and into the fall in north Florida. You can find this All-American Winner through a variety of suppliers.

First White Hybrid Cauliflower
First White Hybrid Cauliflower is a prize winner that also is a winner in my north Florida garden. Big heads with small, tight curds. Mild flavor. Available at Burpee Seeds. I planted First White Hybrid in garden space receiving only a half day of sun and the heads still averaged 8 inches across and weighed just under two pounds each. They did much better than Snow Crown growing adjacent to it.

Flavor Sweet Bush Beans
Flavor Sweet bush beans from Gurney’s are one of my favorite snap beans. The long, slender, dark green pods are deliciously sweet. They freeze well and I have had wonderful yields. I plant them mid March through mid April

Gotta Have It sweet corn grown in Niceville, FL. Photo by Dennis Gilson.
Gotta Have It sweet corn

Gotta Have It Sweet Corn
Gurney’s calls Gotta Have It sweet corn a sweet corn without equal – and I think they are right! The short, stocky (60”) plants stand up to the elements and produce the best tasting sweet corn I have ever had. It’s slow to become starchy, holds its flavor for a long period of time and freezes very well. The ears are big, with bicolor kernels. I have had great success growing this sweet corn in containers, too. It needs warm soil to germinate. I don’t plant this variety until mid April here in Niceville. Henry Fields offers this corn as That’s Delicious.

Gretel Eggplant
I was delighted with the Gretel eggplant I found locally from Bonnie Plants. This small, slender, white eggplant is a 2009 All American Selection. Tastes great and the tender skin does not need peeling. This variety performed all summer long in my front-yard garden. It is especially well-suited for container growing.

O'Henry Sweet Potato grown in Niceville. Photo by Dennis Gilson.
O'Henry sweet potato

O’Henry Sweet Potatoes
I was hesitant to try the white skinned, white fleshed O’Henry sweet potato. I have always been so pleased with my red Beauregard’s. Besides, who ever heard of a white sweet potato? But I gave them a try so I could share my findings. Boy, am I glad I did. The best sweet potatoes I have ever grown. Big, smooth, stringless and very sweet. Drier than some sweet potatoes. The skin is so thin and tender – no need to remove.

Sweet Treat Hybrid Carrot
Sweet Treat Hybrid carrots from Burpee are sweet and extra crunchy. The five inch, slightly tapered carrots are especially good for fresh eating. I prefer Nantes Half Longs for freezing.

Yukon Gold potatoes from my front-yard garden in Niceville, FL. Photo by Dennis Gilson.
Yukon Gold potatoes

Yukon Gold Potatoes
Yukon Gold potatoes are a yellow skinned, yellow flesh potato with a delicious, buttery flavor. In my home and garden, these early maturing potatoes rank well above red potatoes and fingerling potatoes. They store well, too.




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