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Now, you’re ready to create a little jazz in the garden this spring. Grab your seed catalogs and a cup of something warm to drink. Follow me into the living room. Sit near the fire, and we’ll discover new and old vegetable varieties ready to perform.
As a young gardener, I moved quickly into growing vegetables so I’ve got a large repertoire to draw from. Now, I find I yearn for organic veg I can’t buy in the store. Pesticides and herbicides are bad for us, and although we can’t eliminate them completely from our world, we can limit their impact by what we grow and eat.
Most gardeners grow tomatoes because the ones in the store, even the organic ones, aren’t that good. The tender tomatoes of your childhood aren’t easy to ship so what you see in the stores is picked green and sent across country. This year, try tasty tomato cultivars like ‘Cherokee Purple,’ nearly fool- proof in my garden; ‘Pittman Valley Plum,’ an almost-seedless, paste variety; and ‘Amy’s Apricot,’ a medium-sized, yellow cherry.
From seed catalogs, there is almost infinite variety. There are now so many options and places to buy seeds. A few of my favorites are: the Seed Savers Exchange, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Territorial Seed Company and Renee’s Garden Seeds. These companies sell seeds for almost any type of vegetable you might consider growing. There are also specialty catalogs for specific vegetables like tomatoes and chili peppers. Last year, I grew Italian seeds from Franchi found at growItalian.com, and I loved them.
If you can start seeds indoors, only your imagination limits your choices. You can start small, and later, once you’re addicted to seed starting, build a seed-sowing station like mine. I’ll show you how in a future article.
Starting with lettuces and other greens, I will always grow Tatsoi mustard and ‘Ruby Red’ Swiss chard, along with ‘Forellenschluss,’ ‘Tom Thumb’ and ‘Black-Seeded Simpson’ lettuces.
I love a great tasting, green bean, one with a bit of tooth to it. The sort which tastes like a true, green bean. I grow the standard ‘Blue Lake’ for my husband, but I also have a soft place in my heart for an heirloom called ‘Dragon Tongue.’ It is beautiful growing in the garden and tastes great too.
Pumpkins, which are a later crop, also have so many options. You can grow them anywhere too, especially the miniature ones. I saw these trailing up a fence in North Carolina. They look great on the vine and also, later as autumn decorations indoors.
Perhaps, you want to grow a cucumber like ‘Crystal Apple,’ once sold by Ferry Morse in a 1934 catalog, but nearly lost to horticulture if not for seed savers. It’s described as being “very tender” with “creamy, white skin.”
Another vegetable difficult to find except in the home garden is the eggplant, or aubergine as European gardeners call it, a much nicer name for this lovely vegetable. In seed catalogs, you can find smaller eggplants in purple or white, light blush or even green. These varieties are better for stir fries, so if you like Thai food, try ‘Listada de Gandia,’ ‘Casper’ and ‘Fairy Tale.’
Any of these vegetable ensembles can make beautiful music in the garden if only we’ll try something new and different. I’m game. How about you?