by Dr. Gary R. Bachman, MSU Extension Service
Garden Gems are brand new Mississippi Medallion winners that produce plentiful fruit despite Mississippi heat and humidity. (Photo by MSU Extension/Gary Bachman)
For the last few weeks, I’ve been encouraging home gardeners to be intentional with their garden and landscape activities this year. Like many others, I’ve spent these last weeks considering what I’m going to plant and grow in my own landscape this year.
Among the plants I will definitely grow are my favorite Mississippi Medallion winners.
I promote these plants because of their performance in my garden. While there have been some that haven’t lived up to the hype, these low performers are very few and very far between.
The quarantines and stay-at-home orders of 2020 -- and I hope we won’t see anything like that in 2021 -- created a heightened interest in home vegetable gardens. I called these home gardens “COVID Victory Gardens.” There’s something satisfying and comforting about growing some of your food.
So, I’m going to start by sharing my favorite Mississippi Medallion vegetables. First up are tomatoes, as I get the most questions about them.
Garden Gem tomatoes were selected as winners in 2020, and this variety has proven to be a great performing tomato. Garden Gems have a bushy, semi-determinate growth habit that grows only to about 42 inches tall, which is perfect for my gardening preferences.
The fruit are about two inches in diameter and plentiful. I grew Garden Gems in both my spring and fall tomato seasons. I was impressed with the variety’s tolerance for our hot and humid environment, which plays havoc with many other tomato varieties.
Tumbling Tom tomatoes were selected in 2014. This is a smaller tomato plant that I’ve grown in hanging baskets for several years. The variety is available with both bright-red and a sunny-yellow fruit. I love its compact, trailing growth habit, and the clusters of fruit tumbling over the basket edge are very attractive.
I’ve written in the past about how I like to grow heirloom tomatoes and learn the stories behind the plants. One of the first heirlooms that I grew in my garden after moving to Mississippi was Cherokee Purple.
Over the last dozen years, this has been a consistent and enjoyable tomato that is purplish in color and has a rich taste. And, boy, does it have a fascinating story! It’s said that the variety has been passed along for over 100 years, and the seeds originally came from the Cherokee Indians.
The fruit are nice and big and perfect for a delicious “tomato sammich.”
This plant has to be trellised or caged, as it is a vigorous, indeterminate grower. The fruit start maturing in my Ocean Springs’ garden around mid-June. Although this is late, your patience will be rewarded.
So let’s continue to work on being intentional gardeners. There can’t be a better place to start than with tomatoes. I will start my tomato seeds next week, and the good thing is, there is plenty of time for you to get seeds to start your own plants, too.