Most of the time, unsolicited catalogs in our mailbox don’t interest me for any longer than the time it takes to walk back down the driveway from the mailbox. They go straight to the recycling, sometimes bypassing even the house. But December is seed catalog month, and when it comes to seeds, I have little if any self-restraint. I try–really I do!–but every year my good sense is overtaken by a sort of childish enthusiasm that leads me to believe all sorts of outlandish claims.
“This melon is so tasty that it will make you sing!”
“These tomatoes are monstrously huge, not prone to cracking, and fantastically prolific”
“These tiny peppers will delight your customers and keep them coming back for more”
A word to the wise: don’t grow tiny peppers. No one likes them.
While I well know my weakness for obscure or novel seeds, my curiosity usually gets the better of me, at least on a few fronts. And, to be fair, that curiosity has sometimes paid off in spades–kids love purple carrots; my orange pimiento peppers were a big hit, and I found a new favorite cherry tomato last year. But just say the words, “Mexican sour gherkin” or “fairy tale eggplant” to Andrew and he will roll his eyes. He has a particularly accurate memory of my less stellar experiments (especially when he had to help pick them).
With my history, next year presents a particularly challenging balancing act for me. On the one hand, we plan to attend farmers markets, where purveyors of the odd and obscure are often rewarded with the appreciation of adventurous foodies and chefs. On the other hand, the scale of my operation will necessarily shrink next year–I’m limiting myself to the high tunnel for market and the u-pick garden for personal growing and a few controlled experiments. And then there’s the fact that seed purchasing becomes increasing economical as an enterprise scales up. Whereas a tiny packet of pea seed might cost $3.95, I could buy a pound for $10. So while I would prefer to grow a little bit of everything (except rutabagas), I’m going to have to make choices.
So far the short list for next season’s experiments includes:
- One giant pumpkin (Dill’s Atlantic Giant). I was inspired by a report on NPR all about this year’s winning pumpkin, which weighed in at more than a ton. I have no such gargantuan aspirations, but I do really love the idea of carving a giant pumpkin and then photographing a baby in it. As giant pumpkins have a commercial value of approximately zero, I think that this is the year to indulge my fantasy.
- “Salanova” Lettuce. Ok, ok, so I’m pretty confident that this is over-hyped: lettuce that you grow as a head but harvest to make baby lettuce mix. If the name alone doesn’t scream “gee whiz!” then the “collection” names (would you prefer the Foundation Collection or the Premier Collection, madam?) and the fantastic claims (“92% more pounds produced per dollar spent!”) ought to warn me away. And yet I am drawn like a moth to the flame…
- Broccoli trials. This is surprisingly boring and practical of me. I need to figure out what is the ideal seeding window for fall production without over-stressing the plants in summer heat and pest pressure. If I can get this figured out, future CSA members will enjoy a broccoli bounty in the fall.
- More baby bok choi trials. Gosh darn it–why can I never find the seeds that yield tiny, perfect 3 inch baby bok choys? Surely I am not alone in this craving? The search continues.
- Popcorn. Totally unpractical for the market gardener–they take forever to mature and with our local stink bug population there is no guarantee that I will get anything. But I really like popcorn, and I’m sucker for a name like “Tom Thumb”
- Artichokes (Round two). This time I’m doing it right–an early start inside on a heat mat followed by timely planting out for proper vernalization. If this year’s crop ends up like last year’s (ie: non-existent), I’m going to Wegmans from now on.
For the record, I’m planning to be practical in the high tunnel (the part of the garden that is supposed to generate income). Just tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and haricot vert in there. After all, something has to pay for all of the artichoke seeds…