Thursday, January 31, 2008

2008 Variety Possibilities

One of the interesting things about planting so many heirloom varieties is that you get a lot more climbing things. Almost all modern tomatoes found in the catalogs are determinate. They grow to a certain height, set fruit at once, and die. Lovely for farmers, but not so lovely for most gardeners, who may not want to spend harvest weekend putting up a garden’s worth of tomatoes. Many of the older varieties are vining tomatoes. They grow and make fruit and flowers until frost (or disease or pests) strike them dead. The same is true with beans – almost all the beans in the catalogs are “bush” beans. Hmmm. I love climbing plants – there’s something satisfying about watching plants cover a trellis or fence (or fellow plant). Last year, bindweed or morning glory nearly consumed the community garden, swarming up and over everything in its way. It took near-daily vigilance to keep the vines from covering the garden in a blaze of blue and white flowers and brilliant green leaves. Where there was no fence, it clambered up tomatoes and sunflowers just as happily. I like to imagine it dormant under the ice, plotting to vault from the mass of dead oat grass over the tender seedlings yet to be planted.

I am planting vines this year, then. All my tomato varieties are indeterminate – partly luck, but also because they’re from Seed Savers, and the urge to grow and set fruit at will has not been bred out for the convenience of the commercial grower. Most of my beans are bush habit, which is actually sort of a good thing, considering how much fun it is to make trellises. The limas and (shockingly) the Climbing French Beans climb. And, of course, my peas. Last year I bought Dwarf Grey Sugar Peas. They were neither dwarf nor grey, and there weren’t very many peas. Instead of being the 2.5-3’ advertised, my plants hit the top of the 5’5” fence and kept going. This year I have naturally taller varieties (Golden Sweet and Mammoth) and one short variety (British Wonder). We’ll see what we see.

So here are the variety choices for 2008. Even I realize that there's no way that all of these can be fully planted out, so I've got a lot of reading to do to figure out how much of what to plant. These are just the seeds broken out into categories.

I pretty much plan on planting all the peas. I’m especially excited about the Golden Sweet, which is supposedly one of the varieties Mendel used in his experiments. And beans are marvelous, and supposedly easy to save for seed. Other than that, I want to plant a variety of things and try saving seeds. Squash and melons are among the easiest things to give away - no washing, no packaging, just the handing over of pre-packaged flesh. I'm sitting down with Eliot Coleman's graphs tonight to see when I should expect to plant and harvest the other sorts of bounty. Hopefully I can work out something.

Arikara Yellow
Climbing French Bean
Jacob's Cattle Gasless

Lina Cisco's Bird Egg
Sieva Lima Bean
Vermont Cranberry Bean
Windsor Fava Bean


Bull's Blood

Romanesco Broccoli

Copenhagen Market Cabbage
Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage
Des Vertus Cabbage

Five Color Silverbeet

Country Gentleman
Golden Bantam

Armenian Cucumber

Double Yield Cucumber
Jelly Melon Cucumber
White Wonder Cucumber

Goyo Kumba

Lao Purple Stripe
Red Ruffled Eggplant

Turkish Orange Eggplant

Copperhead Amaranth

Sweet Basil Genova strain.

Thai Basil
Garlic Chives Allium tuberosum
Zefa Fino Fennel
Lavandula angustifolia
Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis
Lovage "Magnus"
Sweet Marjoram Origanum majorana

Common Mint Mentha spicata
Triple-curled parsley
Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis

Broadleaf Sage Salvia officinalis

German Thyme Thymus vulgaris

Lettuce and Greens
Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce
Red Leprechaun Lettuce
Arugula (“wild”)

Curly Cress
Green Wave Mustard
Hon Tsai Tai
Red Shiso
Perilla frutescens
Reine des Glaces Lettuce - (a.k.a. Ice Queen)

Amarillo Oro
Minnesota Midget Melon
Eden's Gem Melon Emerald Gem Melon
Jenny Lind Melon
Pride of
Schoon's Hard Shell
Small Shining Light Watermelon

Clemson Spineless Okra

White Wing Onion

Harris Model Parsnip

British Wonder Pea
Golden Sweet Pea
Mammoth Melting Sugar Pea

Balloon Pepper
Candlelight Pepper
Georgia Flame Pepper
Thai Hot Pepper

Tobago Seasoning Pepper
Wenk's Yellow Hots

Anna Swartz Hubbard Squash
Chirimen Squash
Fordhook Acorn Squash
Galeux d'Eysines
Jaune et Verte Squash

Sweet Meat Winter Squash

Purple Tomatillo

Amish Paste
Bloody Butcher
Giant Syrian Tomato
Gourmet Yellow Stuffer Tomato
Plum Lemon Tomato
Purple Russian Tomato
Roman Candle Tomato

Purple Top White Globe Turnip

Flashback Calendula
Painted Tongue - Salpiglossis sinuata
King-size Strawflower Mixture - Helichrysum bracteatum
Mahogany Midget - Coreopsis tinctoria.
Sacred datura - Datura wrightii

Black Peony Poppy
Wildflower Mix - Dame’s Rocket, Black-Eyed Susan, Shirley Poppy, Blazing Star and Bachelor’s Button.

Ladybird Nasturtium
Tall Climbing Mix

Tip Top Nasturtium Mix

Rostov Sunflower
Autumn Beauty Mix Sunflower

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Seed Savers Love

So a month or two ago, I appealed to several seed companies for support with my seed project. Since I do plan on distributing the food free, it seemed like they might be able to kick in a couple packets of older seed - I don't need 95% germination rates, after all. Since the yard I'm planning on sharing is big, I can't really afford to fill it all on my own. I never heard anything back, so went ahead with my plan to plant what I could, with the budget I had, and work up from there.
Yesterday, I got home to find an envelope from Seed Savers on my doorstep. How nice, I thought - they sent me a few things. I tore it open, and the thing practically exploded with the force of the packets within. It was seriously like Christmas. And New Years. And maybe a birthday. I'll try to dig out my camera tonight and take a picture of the bounty.

As a result, some of the things I forgot to order are now in plentiful supply. So is pretty much everything else. Beans, arugula, lettuce, broccoli, beets, cabbage, chard, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, lovage, spearmint, thyme, melons, nasturtiums, okra, peas, peppers, squash, tomatoes, sunflowers, turnips, and more flowers for the flower patch, including my only seriously poisonous plant, Sacred Datura. I'll compile a list for my records and put it up at some point soon. Many, many thanks to Seed Savers for their support.

It's also interesting that all this bounty - what could turn into hundreds of pounds of squash alone (even a packet of 25 seeds could produce upwards of 300 lbs.) can all be fit into a padded envelope now. Also, it's sort of amazing that there's no overlap between varieties I ordered from Fedco and received from Seed Savers (although there were several packets of the same variety of a couple different things). So support Seed Savers if you can - they are awesome, generous people.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Seed Order

So last night, I placed my order for seeds. I’m sure I got too much, violating the “think small, and start smaller” principle. I want diversity, though – turnips alone is not going to cut it. I ordered from Fedco. I like their co-opness (co-opisity? Co-opism? Co-opship?) and their variety of heirloom varieties. Even nicer is that they’re in Maine, so they understand northern climates and will usually warn people if something won’t finish before the season ends. Also, although the catalog descriptions are upbeat, they do note negative characteristics – tomatoes that crack, spinach that bolts early, potatoes that give it up at the first sign of beetles.

I didn’t order near as much as I wanted to order. I wanted pretty much the whole damn catalog. And most of Kitazawa’s catalog. (I refrained from ordering from them before I really knew what I wanted for Korean cooking, but I would love to do a Korean corner next year, with the stuff for kimchi, veggies for banchan, and those little 1-serving melons.)

Windsor Fava Beans – called broad beans in Britain. These I got because of a newly awakened crush on British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, and his totally cool gardener. Broad beans aren’t given much attention or space in American catalogs and gardens, but according to the Brits, the tender tops are edible. Also, I think I’ve been conflating fava beans with lima beans. I have a terrible aversion to limas, but they’re not really the same thing at all.

Vermont Cranberry Beans – for eating dry. I like the idea of dry beans. I’m used to pintos, but I’m having trouble finding them in northern catalogs, and suspect they need a long hot summer. If this goes well, I want to try a black bean next summer.

Golden Bantam Yellow Sweet Corn – an heirloom, open-pollinated sweet corn. I keep hearing that sweet corn is not sweet corn unless it’s picked from the garden and rushed inside to be boiled, salted, and eaten. I’ve never done this, so I don’t know. Seems like time to find out, doesn’t it? Also, I want to experiment with growing beans up the corn stalks.

Mammoth Melting Sugar Snow Pea – In general, I try to avoid descriptors like “mammoth” in my variety names. Size is not really what I’m looking for. But Mammoth is supposed to be prolific, easy, and sweet. And I never get enough snow peas.

Jenny Lind Muskmelon – small, heirloom muskmelon (green, not orange like cantelope). I love good melons. Bad melons are awful, but a perfectly ripe sweet juicy melon on the porch in July (or August) is heaven. I’m not really in prime melon territory – you need to be farther south for that. But that’s not going to stop me trying. I like that these are serving-size melons, small enough to carry away and eat alone.

Sweet Meat Winter Squash – a blue-grey, hubbard-style winter squash that keeps well. The squash tend to be big (8-10+ lbs), but a good compromise between taste and storage (supposedly – I’ve never eaten one). And they’re blue.

Harris Model Parsnip – I’m going to put myself out there and say: I love, love, love parsnips. Roasted. In soup. Baked. And, uh, raw, when they have a sort of licorice-y, tweaky tang that is low-calorie goodness. I’m guessing my soil is not going to be the deeply aerated, organic mattered loam necessary for prime production, but how can I not try?

White Wing Onion – Onions are something I feel okay buying – I love them, but they’re cheap, and the seed goes away eventually. These I got because I pushed a wrong button on the order form. Oh, well.

Des Vertus Savoy Cabbage – Gene Logsdon swears by savoy-type cabbage. I like cabbage fine – it’s not my first-choice veggie, but it’s good – and savoy-type cabbage cost an arm and a leg in market if you find them. Des Vertus is not special, except it’s open pollinated.

Hon Tsai Tai – if this is the vegetable I think it is, it’s a favorite from Korea (it’s not advertised as that, but many, many vegetables come from and go to China and Japan, so it’s not outrageous to expect some carry-over.) Slightly bitter, but fantastic in stir-fries.

Green Wave Mustard – part of my ongoing quest to eat more leafy green things. Also, mustard is pretty tasty.

Curly Garden Cress – love watercress, but don’t love how quickly it goes bad. This is supposed to be a good substitute from the same family. May grow indoors, with the rest of my herbs, and eat the baby leaves.

Turkish Orange Eggplant – I like it when vegetables are small. These eggplants are supposed to be about egg-sized, and used in stir-fried while young and green. They turn orange when mature. Also, the seed was cheap.

Thai Hot Pepper – I eyed these plants at the market all last year. Small bushes bear loads (no, really, loads) of tiny, brightly colored peppers that are quite decently hot, and can be harvested at almost any stage. I like them red, but I like spicy food. The plants are very pretty, and the peppers are pretty good. The flavor is not as excellent as some peppers, but the size, convenience, and heat makes a good case for them.

Zefa Fino Fennel – another variety courtesy of Jamie Oliver. I’ve had fennel seeds, but can’t remember having fennel root. An experiment, since I don’t think it’ll do well, but Fedco didn’t warn northern gardeners against it, so worth the 90 cents to plant a few. Highly recommended by several catalogs.

Red Shiso – I really wanted Korean shiso (tulkae). This is Japanese shiso, and tastes quite different to me, but I’m not placing a separate order for one plant. It’s a relative of mint, so it’s supposed to spread readily. It’s fantastic in stir-fry, raw, on meat, with tofu.

Copperhead Amaranth – My “feed the birds” project, and an experiment. Amaranth is one of those old, old grains, native to this part of the country (not in the woods – maybe in the prairie?) It’s got good essential amino acids, and doesn’t need to be hulled. I probably won’t eat very much, if any, but I would like to offer the seeds to the bird population next winter.

Herbs – mostly for growing inside, but I’ll probably start a few outside too, for the variety and fun of it. Sweet basil, thai basil, garlic chives, lavender, lemon balm, sweet marjoram, mint, rosemary, broadleaf sage, German thyme

Solar Flashback Calendula Mix – I haven’t been a huge fan of marigolds, but these are pot marigolds, which of course in the world of gardening is something completely different. Bright, easy to grow, and supposedly pest discouraging, I’m growing these simply because I like the gold and orange flowers.

Tall Climbing Nasturtiums – The plan is to let these climb the sunflowers. I’m such a fan of climbing plants, it’s not even funny. I just like them. Also, I like the idea of eating flowers. And they’re pretty. My neighbor’s nasturtiums did really well last year – not quite morning glory well, but smother-the-tomatoes well.

Black Peony Poppies – fluffy balls of gorgeous rich maroon-black color. Real peonies are expensive perennials, so these are sort of the annual version of “hey, I like this shape – how does it look in the garden?”. Will be planted behind the calendulas. I wish I had the hollyhocks of the same color, but the seed-buying has to stop somewhere this year. Also want California poppies, but I’ve heard that they choke in heavy soil.

Autumn Beauty Mix Sunflowers – Tall, multi-stemmed sunflowers for the flower-patch and bird-feeding attempts. Yellow to gold to red to maroon.

Wildflower Mix – the bulk of the flower patch, augmented by more poppies, sunflowers, nasturtiums, and calendulas. Dame’s rocket, shirley poppies, black-eyed susans, blazing stars (which look an awful lot like gayfeather), bachelor’s buttons.