Seeds for a New Year
sowing catalogues of happiness
My new year begins with seeds. Catalogues that were stashed during the holidays are retrieved and savored. Vegetables, flowers, fruiting trees and flowering shrubs. I am tempted and want to grow more than my garden could ever hold. For the first time ever I restrained myself and sorted through what I have and made a hard decision between what seeds I actually need and what seeds I greedily desire. The need, I am happy to say, finally won out!
If you don't have any seed catalogues, please do get on the phone and order one or go online and request them -- it is much more fun to dream with descriptions and pictures in hand. To help you down the garden path, I've listed my favorite seed suppliers.
Seeds from Italy distributes Franchi Seeds in the U.S. Established in 1783, Franchi is Italy's oldest family-owned seed company. The seeds are non-GMO, packets are extremely generous and illustrated with a four-color glossy photo. Seeds from Italy is one of my go-to places for greens, beans, winter squash, and tomatoes.
I am a big fan of bitter greens whether eaten raw and added to a salad or gently tempered by a cold water soak before sauteing in olive oil and garlic and sprinkled with salt and red pepper flakes. Endive, chicories, and escarole are all handsomely represented in the catalogue with names I love to pronounce - "puntarelle" rolls off the tongue, "pan di zucchero selezione borca" sounds like a proclamation to what I have no idea, and "Bianca a Bergamo" most certainly announces the arrival of a princess.
Each year I try new varieties of tomatoes but always plant a small, prolific, drying tomato (also great for roasting) named after a prince -- Principe Borghese and the consistently clustered Maremmano, an heirloom from central Italy.
I dry many different beans for winter use -- two Franchi favorites that I grow year after year are a beautiful Borlotto (or cranberry) bean from Venice, Lamon; and Spagna Bianco - a huge white bean that is just as good fresh as it is dried.
In the past couple of years the catalogues from Fedco which include Fedco Seeds, Fedco Trees, Moose Tubers, Fedco Bulbs and Organic Growers Supply have stolen my heart. Printed on newsprint in black and white they are chock full of information and delightful illustrations. Fedco "does not knowingly carry genetically engineered seeds". Seed offerings carry a catalogue code so you know what type of grower you are supporting. If you want to shun corporate, you can! If you want to support the little guy, even better! If you want organic, they tell it like it is. If you like what you see and want to support a "sustainable seed system", you can become one of Fedco's more than 1000 consumer member-owners.
My friend Mary makes sure I share a Moose Tuber order with her every year, five different varieties of seed potatoes picked out at the whim of Fedco has made us happy campers every time. Mary will order more shallots and Stuttgarter onions than she knows what to do with and I'm happy to share some of them too!
Speaking of onions, I've been ordering a storage onion, Hybrid Copra, from Brown's Omaha "The family that eats onions together … stays together" for more than a dozen years. The Brown's daughters have grown up in front of my aging eyes as the girls have been featured on the catalogue cover every year.
www.seedsavers.org Seed Savers Exchange has a mission "to conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants." The vault at their Heritage Farm contains more than 20,000 varieties of seed. Their catalogue has more than 50 varieties of seed not found anywhere else. If you would like to support Seed Savers mission, I hope you will not only buy their seed but also become a member. Members can offer and request rare seed from fellow members and receive a copy of the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook chock full of not only vegetable seeds but scion wood from rare apple and other fruit and nut tree varieties, herbs, spices, flowers, even cotton, hops, and flax.
highmowingseeds.com High Mowing Organic Seeds in Wolcott, Vermont is another great source for large and small quantities of vegetable, herb, flower and cover crop seed. I get the seed for our favorite winter squash, Black Futsu, from High Mowing. Their 2017 catalogue says the squash is great raw, "julienned and quick-cured with salt in a winter slaw." If it is as good raw as it is roasted, it will be a treat. They also carry Kakai Hulless, a pumpkin grown for seed, not flesh. We dry the seeds, then toast them when we want them as a snack or used as a substitute for pepita sprinkled on top of big bowls of chile and vegetable packed tacos.
For Christmas my friend Mary gave me a beautiful, fat, four-color glossy catalogue from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Their book, The Whole Seed Catalogue, is lush with pretty enough to eat photographs of a plethora of vegetables, many I've never heard of, and the oddest looking squash and melons I've ever laid eyes on. Worth the cost for pure entertaining education.
While I'm waiting for winter to wane, I've been planting up peas, placing pots in sunny windows. We had pea shoots in our salad last night from the first batch of peas planted a little over two weeks ago. A simple thrill for dark days (and times) -- peas germinating, breaking through the surface of potting soil, growing what seems like a half inch each day -- a wee bit of homegrown "fresh" goodness to lift the spirits.
Pea shoots ready to eat! Photo copyright Jane Booth 2017.