Eleanor Sullo

Eleanor Sullo
So it's 104 in the shade and you want me to smile?

Friday, January 27, 2012

SHOVEL--Our Winter Garden

            About the only thing obviously growing in our 3/4 acre garden this time of year is the snow. Drifts of it, smooth and white, sparkling in sunlight. Patterned with bunny footprints, bird scratchings, bigger, mysterious prints, but mostly pure, pure white snow.
            Which is fine by me, as I’ve just finished the complicated task of ordering seeds—for an extended family of nine!-- for the coming season, flowers, vegetables, fruits, garden products and garden food. And I need a rest before it’s time to start planting in that good old  garden soil, or indoors in tens of flats where I start the seeds. Here are a mention of what I consider the best seed catalogues for seed selection, and why:

            PARK SEEDS is Number One in my book. They have 90 per cent of what is on my list, after a brief consensus is reached among the gardeners. For example, they are one of the few who carry “personal-sized” Chinese Pak Choi, called Toy Choi, a tasty, healthy green in a small size, perfect for stir fry or other Asian dishes, but a veggie you can have too much of in the regular size, unless you’re cooking for a crowd. They also carry Swallow eggplant, a new variety said to mature in just 51 days and to be “cold tolerant and very early.” Since we have trouble getting our eggplants to mature before fall,  perfect for our Connecticut garden.
            PARK is also the first I know of to carry Hybrid Rainbow carrot seeds, a new variety, which look so cool in the serving dish and taste as good. They advertise a new variety of spinach called Space I’m eager to try, and in their sale products, offer Ancho peppers at a ridiculous price. Price is one of the best things about PARK, and I hope they never change it: their seed packets are the lowest price of any I’ve seen. Where their average price for a packet is $1.50—ranging from .95 to 2.95 for newer hybrids, many popular catalogues, like Burpee’s or Gurney’s advertise most seeds from to 2.99 and up.
            In addition, PARK carries a huge variety of both annual and perennial flowers. Their Sunny Lady Impatiens, in a riot of glorious colors, are the only impatiens that grow defiantly in non-shady locations without fading or bleaching out—and that’s us.
            Henry Field’s Seeds comes in second, their desirability being based on having items we love but which are not always available elsewhere. Tops in that category are shallots, a mild onion we can’t live without and that always produces an excellent crop. We also like their treated corn seed, which manages to keep the hungriest birds away. Their corn seed includes Japanese Hulless popcorn, something rarely available in other catalogues and a favorite with us.
            Two catalogues we discovered about two years ago are devoted entirely to tomato and pepper varieties, many of which we can’t locate elsewhere: Totally Tomatoes, and Tomato Growers. They really bring it, and the pictures are to die for.
            Occasionally we find something rare and outstanding in Thompson and Morgan, an old English seed purveyor. Seed tapes for planting lettuce were a big prize, though we can’t locate any in this year’s pages. Their flowers are outstanding. The big news this week is that they currently have a sale going on, 10% off seeds and free shipping—something worth looking into.
            Harris Seeds used to be a favorite but prices have jumped there, often up to $3.00, $4.00 and beyond. Vermont Bean Seed is great for bean varieties, but if we can get them elsewhere and we’re trying to keep shipping costs down, it’s probably best to stick with two or three purveyors instead of four or five.
Most catalogues are also available online, and one we count on, Reimer, we only use online. That’s because we use it every year to order only our absolute preferred tomato—a HUGE, one-pound, slightly elongated, plum type perfect for canning and just as tasty fresh.
Now while I dream of a lush garden spilling over with its fruits of our labor and these wonderful seeds, let me shine up my shovel for a new year’s work.
And then take a nap.

Next week: Wooden Spoon: Back to the kitchen and seafood recipes inspired by our vacation on the southern coast.

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