Friday, January 6, 2012

Falling in Love


It is like falling in love all over again. I see the handsome exterior and I take a closer look. From top to toe I gush over the features new and old. No- it is not a new Harlequin Romance: it is plant catalogue season and I am ready to devour the stack of glossy catalogues by my bedside.

Catalogue covers always show a flower or vegetable in its full glory, all shimmery with light and moisture. The new varieties are often displayed and described on the first or second page. McFayden’s catalogue lists the Chinese Tenderheart Cabbage and explains how it won’t bolt in summer. Westcoast claims they are GMO free: I learn about Burgundy Amaranth, an Aztec grain suitable for popping. Thompson and Morgan showcases colour with ‘Spanish Dancer’ Sweet Pea and Stokes brags about the new Tendersnax baby carrots and my mouth waters. How can I live without all these new plants?

Finally the serious reading begins and the highlighter pen comes out. There are limits to every garden. Time, money and space must all be considered. A single packet of Brussels Sprouts has 50-75 seeds and with each plant taking a full square foot in the garden and producing a pound of sprouts, I have to be careful to limit my orders to what I can grow. The celeriac packet holds 1,000 seeds and a single packet of lettuce contains 600-1,000 seeds. Don’t order several kinds of every plant from a different catalogue unless you have just bought a farm and quit your day job.

Read Widely and order selectively:
Once an order has been placed catalogues will start sprouting in your mailbox naturally. Catalogues are sexy but the practical gardener heads online to place the final order. Different suppliers offer different benefits so read several physical catalogues or study them online before you place an order. Do you want organically grown seed or GMO free? Or would you prefer “treated” seed of beans because it is more likely to survive our cold spring soils better? All options are available. Since most seeds come from very few suppliers and are then retailed by many, read widely and then order selectively.

Make Sensible Choices:
Yes the Cutie Pops corn sounds fabulous in the Stokes catalogue but unless you plan to allow a big space for a small yield you should probably buy corn from Taber in the fall. Artichokes, Cardoon, Celery and Leeks take months 3-5 months from seeding indoors to planting out in the garden and this intensive care is too much work for me. Instead of ordering a packet containing 1,000 leek seeds or 50 celery seeds in January I buy a dozen transplants in late May.

Starting quick growing seed of cabbage or cauliflower too early indoors will be a problem when they start to bloom prematurely. Start Tomatoes by mid-March so you have about ten weeks to grow them on cabbage and cauliflower need to be started 4-6 weeks before planting out; and zucchini and cucumbers need 4 weeks indoors so don’t start them until early May. I always write the planting out dates and seed starting dates start dates on the package as soon as I receive them in the mail.

Try Something New
I only started eating Kale a few years ago when I got a small packet of seed from a Seedy Saturday giveaway. Florence Fennel was a fancy crop I tried in my garden only after I tasted it in a salad. Cobra Tomatoes were a flavor failure last year and I won’t be trying those again, ever. I like to try new things and compare the relative success to the plants I tried previously.

This year I am speaking at Seedy Saturday in Calgary on March 17th but I won’t be waiting that long to order something new. Instead I treat the Saturday as a chance to learn new things from others, trade for some open pollinated crops, and ask gardeners what they are asking. Join me there and I will give you a package of mixed Kale seed I originally got from another seedy Saturday. I could say it is the leanest, sexiest Kale on the market but that would be exaggerating. It is simply a tasty and relatively new crop for me that I have loads of and want to share.


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