Lead Us Not into Temptation—Seed Catalog Overload
“I have seen women looking at jewelry ads with a misty eye and one hand resting on the heart, and I only know what they're feeling because that's how I read the seed catalogs in January.”—Barbara Kingsolver
Although best known as a fiction writer, Barbara Kingsolver wrote a non-fiction book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to chronicle the decision she and her family made to move from Arizona to Virginia and totally live off of what they raised on their small farm and from other local farmers, beekeepers, cheese makers, etc.
But wait! Her quote talks about seed catalogs in January. January? I was supposed to be thinking about my garden in JANUARY? It’s almost the middle of February ... am I too late?
No, there’s still time, but you really DO need to start PLANNING your garden soon. Fair warning though, when the seed catalogs arrive, or when you look at online seed stores, you can easily become overwhelmed by the choices. Everything looks FABULOUS, and you might be tempted to buy more than you really need. Resist the temptation.
The first thing to do is determine what you and your family LIKE. Next figure out how many you NEED. Let’s say you want to grow cabbage. Ask yourself how many heads of cabbage you ate last week ... the last two weeks ... last month. Sure you LIKE cabbage, but how much do you REALLY eat?
After you decide which VEGETABLES you want to grow for your family, your next decision is which “cultivars” or “cultivated varieties” should you grow? ALL those vegetables look great in the catalog, and it’s tempting to purchase what looks best, but you have to ask yourself if they will grow well here in Maryland?
The best resource I have found is from the Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC) of the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. Their document Recommended Vegetable Cultivars for Maryland Home Gardens is available online at www.hgic.umd.edu/_media/documents/hg70.pdf. Let’s say you want to grow beets. The HGIC recommends the following beet cultivars for our area: Cylindra, Detroit Dark Red, Early Wonder, Formonova, Klein Ball, Red Ace, Red Ball and Ruby Queen.
How are these cultivars selected by the HGIC? Their web site says: “The listed cultivars have performed well over a wide range of soil and weather conditions in different locations around the state. Maryland Master Gardeners selected many of these cultivars through a written survey. It is not possible to list all of the cultivars of each vegetable crop that would produce a satisfactory harvest in Maryland. Use this list and your past experience as a guide. Check with neighbors and other gardeners in your area to find out which cultivars grow best.”
I personally find a little “comfort” that someone has done the legwork for me, but I keep in mind that the list is only a guide. Each year I like to try one “odd” vegetable to stretch my knowledge and my palate. I haven’t figured out what that will be this year.
Please share with us which cultivars have been successful in your garden, and more importantly, which have not. For me, I didn’t have great success with San Marzano tomatoes last year. I chose them because they are a good sauce tomato and are ready for harvest earlier than most so I thought that would mean I would have less chance of stink bug damage. I’m not sure how much was the variety I chose (San Marzanos ARE on the HGIC list), the extreme weather last year OR the fact that right around harvest time Hurricane Irene dropped a huge tree on my garden. On a bright note, the stink bugs really didn’t bother them much—they loved my beet greens more.
Did you have problems with stink bugs last year? It’s my understanding that they think we’ll have less of a problem with stink bugs this year—I hope that’s true.