My mailbox fills with seed catalogs this time of year. Dazzling pictures and promises of bounty, leading one down the garden path to the hope that ‘this year will be different.’
One of my favorite garden writers, Steve Solomon, advises that starting seed at home might be more trouble than its worth and he recommends looking for quality transplants instead. Lots of good local nurseries make this easy, although, I have to be careful of impulse buys in big box stores since they now have labels that announce their plants have been treated with neonicotinoids —a pesticide that will kill my bees. Unsurprising to fellow gardeners, Solomon is of two minds about transplants. The mind of a gardener is so often fractured. He writes that purchased transplants are hothouse grown and he believes sturdy little homegrown plants fare much better in the garden. I have found that to be true and I have settled on ordering from two seed houses this year: RH Shumway https://www.rhshumway.com and Johnny’s Selected Seeds http://www.johnnyseeds.com
I am thinking of breaking away from my preference for open-pollinated seeds (that I can save and plant next year) and ordering the F1 hybrid cabbage ‘Ruby Perfection’ from Johnny’s. This Maine nursery is not only highly rated by experts, but it arrogantly publishes the germination rate of its seeds. Red cabbage struggles in my clay soil and this one is said to mature just as summer begins, a good thing in my Southern garden. I imagine the beginning of summer is different in Maine, but this is all still imaginary anyway. I have settled, I think, on two heirloom tomato cultivars, ‘Amish Paste’ and ‘Brandywine’. The first, Johnny’s says, is great for processing; the second, a slicer, is supposed to grow to a pound or more and is “rich, loud and distinctively spicy.” Three superlatives are nothing in the seed catalogue world where extravagant praise is the norm.
From RH Shumway I am considering ‘Early Copenhagen Market’ cabbage with heads that are “uniform, solid and superb.” See what I mean? And I will likely order an old favorite, ‘Goliath’ broccoli, that has not been in the trade for a while and is said, somewhat redundantly, to bear very large heads. I will try ‘Cheddar’ cauliflower because I like the yellow color, even though it is pretty indifferent to my attentions. I harvest about one small head for every four plants I put in. But January is the month of hope. And Shumway, a seed supplier since 1870, tells me this cauliflower is “packed with almost as much beta carotene as carrots” and that its flavor is fantastic and the “texture guarantees gourmet enjoyment.” So there.