Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Vegging out with the Seed Catalogs

March 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

by Renie Stag Smith

As I open this year’s seed catalogs, I can almost smell life coming to the garden —  the cured and pungent manure feeding this year’s crops, the water sprinkler’s back and forth splashing moistening the dried-out soil, the sweetness of the tender green shoots breaking through the ground and reaching for the heavens.  Although it is only the end of February, the end of winter, it is past time to think about what plants to order and where they will be placed in the vegetable garden.

I don’t grow flowers.  I can’t.  I’ve tried.  I leave the delicate leaves and flowers to others who are more graceful and refined than I.

But the Scot in me, the one who is sturdy, frugal, and stubborn, can grow fruits and vegetables.  And every season for the past several years, I have eagerly awaited the delivery of the seed catalogs.  The mailperson distributes these bound delicacies to me as though he is a waitperson serving me a chocolate soufflé or a crème brulee.   I almost want to tip him for serving the juicy morsels to my home.

I devour the catalogs all through the month of February.  I plot the placement of the plants in the garden I have behind my mother and father’s home, just a few short blocks from my house.

I begin every growing season with Great Expectations (yes, that IS an English pun — thanks, Charles Dickens – I used to teach this novel in the spring when I taught ninth grade.  Ah, Pip, how I wished for an easier and more productive life for you, your convict, and Miss Havisham every year as I tried to plant the seeds for the love of reading in my students!).

Every picture in every gardening catalog or online site must have been taken in Iowa where the growing season is perfect, the moisture just right, and the wind nonexistent.  However, I live in a part of the country where the spring winds are usually in excess of 25 mph (today a gust was clocked at 65 mph with sustained winds at 48 mph), the only moisture that we’ve received in the last 90 days is a trace, and the heat of the sun wilts any plant that isn’t designated a desert plant.  How can I realistically expect any of the tender plants that I order from gardening centers to prosper and mature?  And yet, I do.

I’ve tried growing plants from seeds in little fiber pots, nursing and nurturing them until they are mature enough to set out in the garden.  I’ve dropped the minuscule seed into organic seed soil mix in late January, misted them gently with organic fertilizer-laced water, and set them under ultra violet lights on top of electric warming trays that were once meant for feet mats.  After several weeks, these little plants look healthy enough to place in the bare soil.  Invariably they wilt and die from lack of humidity and from the intense heat of the spring sun within a few days.  I have better luck with plants that are guaranteed from the seed catalogues.  Oh, sure, some of them die, but at least I can get replacements in time to salvage the growing season.

Every year, I look at the gardening catalogs and dream of harvesting exotic vegetables that I know I will love because the pictures are so tantalizing!  Even if I don’t like the vegetable, I’ll grow it, just because the photo and the name of the fruit in the catalog looks so appealing and enticing.  “Detroit Dark Red,” “Black Passion,” and “Murasaki” are all alluring names for something as common as beets, eggplant, and yams.  I’ve tried to grow them all.  Thanks goodness I wasn’t successful with them, because I intensely dislike beets, eggplant, and sweet potatoes!  Some veggies that I’ve been overly successful with are zucchini and yellow squash.  Three years later, these plants are still coming up voluntarily and my neighbors still run when I come home with a harvest in my basket.

This year I’ve decided to limit myself to a strawberry patch, a three-year old asparagus plot, corn, and a salsa garden (lots of tomatoes, onions, and every type of pepper imaginable).

I’ve realized that gardening is not the money-saving enterprise that I had hoped for in the beginning of my agricultural experience.  I had to purchase a roto-tiller, seeds, soil mix, small pots, heating pads, grow lights, fertilizer, plant stakes, water hoses, sprinklers and then plants.  As the plants grew, I had to acquire hoes, spades, gloves, trowels, and other gardening tools.   After the harvest began, I had to buy canning supplies, a chest freezer, and lots of plastic freezer containers.

Gardening takes time, patience, money, and sweat equity.

But, truly, there is nothing better than a just-picked cob of corn, a tomato still warm from the plant, an asparagus spear cooking on the grill, or a freshly-made pico de gallo.

You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t finish this article.  I’ve got to go and order this year’s plants!

Burpee Seeds and Plants –

Biker Billys jalapenos! –


8 Responses to “Vegging out with the Seed Catalogs”
  1. Bill says:

    My love of gardening started when I was about 8 years old. I took some popcorn and pinto beans from the kitchen cupboard and planted them in a small patch of dirt in the front yard. To my surprise, they sprouted and grew. I’ve been hooked ever since. Like you, I love perusing the seed catalogs but only have space for a dozen tomato plants. The rest of my garden space is filled with rose bushes. There’s something about the smell of the earth as you condition the soil that is adictive.

  2. Lane says:

    Our new house has a huge yard and an existing garden, although I’m not sure what’s in it. A little advice would be lovely!

  3. Jen says:

    If ever you feel the need to work your magic on my soil, please do! I have a black-thumb that kills everything. Put we do love the fresh produce from your garden.

  4. Tanya says:

    OH, my love is heirloom tomatoes and sweet 100’s. I can eat them faster than I can pick them and so can Brylee. I tried something new- not exactly in my garden- but a lemon tree indoors. It actually survived after losing many leaves but it has a dozen blooms on it now and smells heavenly. I don’t know what to do with it but watch and see what happens.

  5. Desi G. says:

    I have a vibrant green thumb when it comes to indoor plants! I HEART my plants!

  6. Sharon says:

    My parents always had a wonderful garden brimming with carrots, lettuce, onions, corn, tomatoes, green chili, wild asparagus, & many other vegetables . I spent many a hot summer day hoeing & pulling weeds. I think I decided right then I didn’t want to have anything to do with a garden even though I love fresh produce & especially fresh tomatoes. The one time I did decide to grow a garden, my radishes were so hot no one could eat them. I think I didn’t water them enough in the hot New Mexico sun. That was pretty much the end of my gardening days. I became a ‘city’ girl & bought my produce at the local grocery store. I do have to admit your article does entice me to try my hand at gardening even if it is just to grow a tomatoe plant!

  7. Teresa says:

    I have fond memories of farming from my youngest days. I rode on the back of the plow horse while my grandad plowed his land walking behind. Then I got to “drive” the tractor when he finally got one. I still have some of the aluminum tubes and metal stop that he used to water his truck farm by hand from the irrigation ditch. My small garden now has plenty of okra, my favorite. Oh, but those memories are priceless; thanks for jogging them!

  8. Franchesca says:

    I would like to garden but I have no time for it! Plus it is like everyone in my family repels plants except for my aunt who can bring a plant back to life! She is a miracle worker!

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