They’ve been piling up for the last two months: seed catalogs – and plant nursery catalogs too. Their arrival usually signals the onset of my garden dream time – the frozen month or so during which I peruse the colorful pictures and descriptions contained in these myriad purveyors of temptation. However, this winter I’ve mostly been piling the catalogs in a corner for later reading while I take advantage of the continuing abnormal seasonal warmth to complete more yard and garden clean-up chores.
This past weekend, Wonder Spouse and I tackled our deer-fence-enclosed north slope. Mountains of evil Microstegium vimineum were raked up and hauled away, along with vast piles of tree limbs and tangles of Japanese Honeysuckle pulled from soft ground and off trees it was trying to strangle. Poison Ivy was gingerly dislodged from the base of a large Tulip Poplar. Leaves were raked and relocated around trees and shrubs – instant mulch. We were tired and sore but proud of our accomplishments after two days of hard work.
The catalogs continued to accumulate in their designated corner unread. I’d tell myself I’d get to them in the evenings, but found myself too tired to keep my eyes open after a long day of debris wrestling. Finally, during yesterday’s rain, I sat with the catalogs long enough to settle on my seed needs for the upcoming vegetable garden season. As is my usual practice, my choices combine old reliable favorites with a few new temptations that I feel obliged to try out in this year’s garden.
I always start with the tomatoes for two reasons. First, whole catalogs are devoted to them, so there’s more to study. Second, my greatest struggle every year is to limit myself to a sane number of varieties. My willpower is strongest when I begin my selections, so I settle on my tomato choices first.
Last season, I grew seven different varieties of tomatoes, as I described here. This year, I’ve managed to limit myself to six varieties. It was almost five, but a variety in my main seed source’s catalog was too interesting to resist. Here are this year’s selections:
- Early Goliath – We grew this one last year and were so pleased with its early and continuing productivity that we are growing it again.
- Big Beef – This variety continues to please with its enormous, flavorful slicers that begin to ripen about mid-season and continue through hard frost.
- Viva Italia – We find this roma-type paste tomato to be indispensible for sauces, and they’re meaty enough to hold up when thinly sliced onto pizzas.
- Sweet Treats – This cherry tomato is so perfect that we’ve decided we can’t survive a summer without it. Everyone who tastes one of these little treasures exclaims aloud with delight.
My experiments for this year are:
- Super Marzano – We loved the flavor of this roma-type variety’s ancestor, San Marzano, but it didn’t hold up against our southern Piedmont heat and diseases. This newer hybrid comes with much more disease resistance, and it’s supposed to be high in pectin, which means it will thicken pastes and sauces quickly and flavorfully. I’ll let you know.
- Indigo Rose – The picture in the catalog was so surprising that I read its description, which completely hooked me. It looks gorgeous – almost purple – and it supposedly is very high in anthocyanins, which are powerful anti-oxidants. Their good flavor is supposed to have “plummy overtones.” Color me intrigued.
I ordered all my tomato seeds except Indigo Rose from Totally Tomatoes. I’ve been ordering from these tomato/pepper specialists for many years, and I’ve never been disappointed. The rest of my vegetable and herb seeds come from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
After discussing the pros and cons of potential bean candidates, Wonder Spouse and I decided to stick with the bean varieties we grew last year: Jade bush beans and Fortex pole beans. Both were fantastically productive and delicious. We’re sticking with Red Ace beets; we know they grow well in our garden, and they always taste wonderfully sweet.
In addition to Nelson carrots, we’re going to try Laguna carrots, which are supposedly very heat-resistant. The idea of keeping carrots productive even midway through our summer swelters was too tempting to resist.
I went a little nuts on the lettuces. I always do. Suffice it to say that I focused on heat-resistant varieties, made sure to get some colorful red ones, and also threw in a mesclun mix for pizzazz.
I’m trying Sugar Sprint snap peas. They are theoretically stringless, unlike the Sugar Anns I’ve been growing. And I went with heat-resistant spinach varieties.
On the summer squash front, I’m growing Raven zucchini again; we’ve been pleased with their vigor. And we’re going to try Spineless Perfection. If this variety really lacks spines, I will indeed be delighted – assuming they produce well and taste good too. We’re trying a patty pan type called YStar that intrigued Wonder Spouse.
But we’re not doing winter squash again. We’ve decided we just don’t eat enough of them to justify the garden space needed to grow them. And we’re lucky enough to live in an area blessed with many small farmers and markets that offer tasty, locally grown winter squashes in abundance when we do have a craving.
We’re going to try Bright Lights swiss chard, and in addition to my culinary basil standards (Nufar and Aroma2), I’m going to grow Amethyst Improved, which is supposed to be deeply and reliably purple while tasting fabulous.
I don’t usually order annual flower seeds beyond Queen Sophia marigolds, which I consider essential to the vegetable garden. But this year, as a benefit of my membership in the Garden Writers Association, Renee’s Garden sent me a media kit that offers me free seeds if I’ll write about my results. Free seeds – say no more! I’ve ordered ten flower varieties, many of them heirlooms, which I’ve found are usually better at attracting pollinators than the fancy newer hybrids. I’ll let you know how they do as the season progresses.
As usual, I’ve ordered quite an ambitious number of seeds. As always, if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, I’m going to have a sad excuse for a garden. My county is in moderate drought right now. Every rain event promised seems to peter out just before it gets to my house. But my seed orders are in. I am placing my garden in the hands of the weather gods.
P.S. If you know any good rain dances, drop me a line…