ASK THE GARDENERS. Questions & Answers

Q I am interested in growing several vegetables that are currently considered trendy. I am unable to find any of them in the plethora of seed catalogs I have and wonder if you might be able to tell me of seed companies that handle the following: calabaza, peach tomatoes, persimmon tomatoes, currant tomatoes, baby white carrots. Also, I am looking for prickly pear, pepino melons, and lotus root. Could you tell me what the difference is between tomatillos and tamarillos? L.C.

Reedville, Va.

Seeds Bl"um (pronounced ``bloom''), of Idaho City Stage, Boise, ID 83706, have all three tomatoes you mention. They have a squash called La Calabasa as well as Belgium White carrots. We did not find pepino melons, but found jelly melons, which look like a prickly pear. Bl"um lists 22 muskmelon varieties and 14 watermelons. We found no lotus roots.

In addition to the above tomatoes, we found 43 more, including Purple Calabash, White Beauty, Dad's Mug, and Kootenai. They do list tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa) as well as ground cherry (Physalis pruinosa), also called husk tomato and strawberry tomato. They do not list tamarillo, nor is it listed by that name in any horticultural encyclopedia. Its real name is Cyphomandra betacea. Another common name is tree-tomato. Sometimes it appears in advertisements with claims that it is a real tomato, which it is not.

Like Physalis, however, potato (Solanum), eggplant, tobacco (Nicotiana), tomato (Lycopersicon), and a host of other plants, it belongs to the Solanaceae or Nightshade family. Tamarillos are more like eggplant, with glossy skins and red or yellow oval fruit. Tomatillos resemble green cherry tomatoes with a papery covering. They are used in Mexican sauces (salsa verde is a favorite).

Q After reading your comments about Purple Ruffles basil, I have decided to try it this year for the first time. As yet it hasn't grown as vigorously as the tall, regular green basil, but perhaps weather has been a factor. You asked folks to send addresses of other companies that handle several kinds of basil, so I thought you would like to know about Pinetree Garden Seeds, New Gloucester, ME 04260. It has nine kinds of basil. I have been very pleased with the variety of seeds and other supplies, as well as quality and service.


Somerville, Maine

Purple Ruffles and Green Ruffles basil seem to be a little more difficult to grow than the ordinary tall variety. Both appear to resent abnormally cool growing conditions and drastic fluctuations in temperature, which the Northeast experienced in the spring.

Ours has only now started to grow vigorously and complement the dusty miller and pink begonias planted with it. We will use it to make a beautiful pink basil vinegar later on. Thank you for sending the name and address of Pinetree Garden Seeds.

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