Tomatoes, turnips rule in big year for veggie gardening

  • A man tends to his garden. Tomatoes and turnips are among the winners for US seed company sales. In the year of the new coronavirus and new gardeners in droves trying to grow their own vegetables, tomatoes are still king. And in a twist, the respect-seeking turnip actually turned some heads. (Metrocreativeconnection/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Jim Husk holds a ripe tomato, in Homestead, Fla. on March 28. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In the year of the new coronavirus, when new gardeners came out in droves to try growing their own vegetables, tomatoes were still king. And in a twist, the respect-seeking turnip actually turned some heads.

Seed companies taking stock of what went well and what came out of the woodwork proclaimed the tomato as their top seller this year.

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Specifically, at Burpee, the Bodacious Tomato was the best-selling vegetable seed. The company calls the large, disease-resistant but pricey hybrid indeterminate tomato, which is good with sandwiches, burgers, salads and more, “our new superstar.”

The Park’s Whopper tomato has been an annual centerpiece for Park Seeds, “and 2020 was no different!” said Kelly Funk, president of parent J&P Park Acquisitions.

At Ferry Morse, the Large-Fruited Red Cherry Tomato that fills out on tall, indeterminate vines was crowned its No. 1 seller. “It’s an easy-to-grow variety that produces prolifically all summer long,” said Ferry Morse chief marketing officer Rebecca Sears.

Obviously, tomatoes aren’t the only veggies that gardeners grow from seed. Cucumbers, peppers and beans also are near the top of consumer retail sales.

At Burpee, the biggest surprise was the Silky Sweet Turnip, which chairman George Ball said was “kind of mind-blowing.”

Yes, a turnip. That easy to grow but hard-to-figure-out-what-to-do-with root vegetable.

“It’s the butt of many jokes and the bane of many appetites,” Ball said.

Burpee’s website compares the the Silky Sweet Turnip to a reinvented apple, whose sweetness “makes it seductively snacky.”

Ball said Burpee bought the entire supply of the turnip variety from a breeder in Japan.

“If you think you’ve ever had a turnip before, this is going to change your mind,” he said. In retrospect, “this thing was everything we had hoped for.”

As far as flower seeds go, the eye-catching Zesty Zinnia Mix was Burpee’s top seller.

At Ferry Morse, Sears said that while the most popular vegetable and flower seeds have remained consistent every year, sales of wildflowers and lettuce increased more quickly than other seed types, a reflection of “gardeners trying their hands with easy and fast-growing plants.”

Lettuce, she pointed out, can be grown in a windowsill container, so it works well in apartments as well as yards.

“There’s no doubt that gardening surged in popularity this year,” said Sears. “People have sought out an escape and productive activities during quarantine, and have found both in DIY gardening projects that connect them with nature while providing food and beauty.”

Susan Elliot, a spokeswoman for the Burlington, Vermont-based Gardener’s Supply Co., said that in more than 35 years of business, “it has never been this busy.”

Elliot said the employee-owned company’s best sellers were functional items such as raised beds, tomato cages and water irrigation systems. She also said a folding bench that saves gardeners’ knees sold surprisingly well. The company remains out of stock on some of its greenhouses.

Early this year, Gardener’s Supply Co. obtained additional warehouse space and built what it thought was a month of inventory of raised beds.

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“When March hit, we blew through that inventory in about a week, and the raised beds were back-ordered all summer, in all sizes,” Elliot said.

Home goods retailer Lowe’s also saw a surge this year in consumers looking to grow their own food, including high demand for seed starting, raised garden beds and tomato cages, spokeswoman Amy Allison said.

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