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02 January 2009

I place two seed orders every January. The first goes to Victory Seeds, my favorite supplier of heirloom varieties. I appreciate the mom-and-pop feel, and of course the great service that I get year after year. The second goes to ValueSeeds, which is the Big Lots of seed retailers. They take sealed leftovers from everybody else and sell them a year later, deeply discounted. It allows me to experiment with varieties I might not be willing to spend $1.50-$2.50 a packet on.

After scaling back for the last two seasons, due to childbirth and job-related priorities, I’ve decided to go all-out this year and tackle some varieties that may take more work. More flowers, definitely, but I also plan to take better care of the plants that I grow every year that typically get ignored when the July heat arrives.

Here are the seeds that I’ve ordered:

Swedish Brown Bush Bean (Victory). Supposedly a nice nutty bean from Scandinavia. I’ve seen the growing season listed as between 85-95 days, so it should do well in Utah. Part of the problem with beans for me is that they are usually harvested when it is VERY hot and I have little interest in going out into the garden.

Japanese Hulless Popcorn (Victory). I’ve never grown sweet corn because there is always a plentiful supply in our area. It isn’t worth taking up that much space for the few ears I'd get. But popcorn… this is different. This variety has a short habit, which means it won’t block out too much sun. I plan to have it share space with one of the squashes I will grow.

Garden Huckleberry (Victory). This has become one of my annual standards and a personal favorite. If the seeds weren’t so difficult to germinate, I would be comfortable saving them year after year and spending the money on something else. I’ll still have leftover syrup from 2008, so I plan to make jelly with the 2009 crop. By now I have become comfortable making jam, this will be my first attempt at a jelly.

Sweet Florence Fennel (Victory). I cast fennel seeds into the garden two years ago as part of a ValueSeed experiment. A few of them took and I discovered that fennel grows easily, even in a 50% shade area. I let the few that took go to seed to see if I could get volunteers the next year, but the recruits never arrived. I am still convinced it’s possible, but these seeds are to grow and then eat.

“Wando” Pea (Victory). This is a departure for me. I’ve grown “Alaska” for the last four years or so. Alaska is one of the earliest peas I’ve come across. That comes in handy in Springville where the gap between “cool and wet” and “you’d think it were July” sometimes doesn’t leave enough time to get peas in. I missed the window last year (mostly due to laziness). “Wando” does better in heat and has a good yield.

Hubbard Blue Squash (Victory). My favorite winter squash is Waltham Butternut. I didn’t grow it last year and ended up missing it quite a bit. For the sake of adventure, I’m going to try Hubbard this year. A neighbor grew it last year, and I didn’t hear any horror stories. The only thing I’m afraid of is it averages 110 days to picking (compare to 80 for the butternut).

Atlantic Giant Pumpkin. I grew an Atlantic two years ago and had a lot of fun with it. I allowed one fruit to set and it ended up getting huge (75 pounds or so). This is one of those avenues of gardening that really interest the children for some reason—something about a seed pod bigger than you is just plain fun.

Tomatoes are what first got me into heirloom gardening. This year, I’m trying two varieties that are new to me and one that is a favorite requested by my in-laws.

Katinka Cherry Tomato (Victory). Nicole and the children are big fans of cherry tomatoes. I have pictures of each of the children, at various stages of toddlerhood, covered with seeds and juice from their chins to their belly buttons. Sadie is at about the right age this year and Katinka will be her introduction to garden tomatoes.

Lucky Cross Tomato (Victory). I haven’t grown a potato leaf variety in years (last was Brandywine in 2002). Since its introduction a few years ago, I’ve heard quite a few good things about “Lucky Cross” and have looked forward to fitting it into the garden.

Azoychka Tomato (Victory). This is the one Nicole’s dad enjoys. He requested it last year, but I had already made my starts. It ripens early (60 days) and is tart when compared with other yellow tomatoes.

Tomato Supersweet 100, F1 hybrid. I grew these last year, and wasn’t too impressed even though they did better that the real supersweet 100s I tried the year before. Maybe my heart just isn’t into it—I grow the Sweet 100s (they are hybrids, you know!) for Nicole at her request and I never get the kind of trusses I see in the pictures.

To be honest, I don't know where I'll put all these tomatoes. The garden only had two plants last year. Nicole has hinted that she would be willing to put up with containers on the patio, but hasn't given the indication that she would help with the watering. :)

“Parthenon” Zucchini. We grow zucchini every year. Zukes are nice because they set fruit so early. Bonus is that our kids like them as long as we pile on parmesan cheese.

White Lisbon Scallion. These are supposed to be grown as green onions for salads and dips. I doubt they are true scallions, but I’ll let a few go to see what happens with them. In my experience, the Alliums are all great self-seeders, so I expect this is the only year I’ll need to buy seeds.

Chinese Garlic Chives. Another Allium. I’ve got chives already but these ones supposedly taste and look different.

Coriander. Also known as “Cilantro.” For years I’ve had a goal of growing everything I need for salsa in my garden. This gets me one step closer. Maybe I’ll bury a few garlic cloves from the kitchen and finally have it all.

And now for the flowers… My stance regarding flowers in vegetable gardens used to be “they aren’t edible, so why bother?” It has softened somewhat over the years as my approach to gardening has become more holistic. Part of this transformation included moving away from traditional row-based gardening to a permanent potager format four years ago. Two of the criteria I select for when it comes to garden flowers are 1) hardy perennials and 1) eager self-seeders. Prima donnas that require a lot of care and feeding have no place in my patches.

Hyssop. A perennial herb with pretty blue flowers.

Dayflower. I’m not sure how well this one will do. It is a hardy perennial in zones 7-10 (My slice of Utah is zone 5), down to 14F. Deep blue flowers if I can get them to grow.

Lavender (Munstead Dwarf). I have a few lavenders scattered in different places, but they’ve all come from starts I bought. Nicole and I both enjoy the smell of lavender; our garden could do with more of it.

Sunflower (Velvet Queen). Three seasons ago, I sowed a mixed bag of sunflower seeds that included some red and purple (almost black!) strains. These were so beautiful and I was happy to have them seed and come back the next year. However, last year I noticed more yellow and less red and purple. The little red and purple that I did see had a lot of yellow in them too. I suspect that genetics were at play—perhaps the allele for yellow dominates over the allele for color. My hope is that some fresh seeds will bring fresh colors and fun crosses next year.

Edelweiss. Alkaline and full sun. I’ve got plenty of that. I’m going to seed these in the front bed where they should do well.

Missing are yellow squash—I’m tired of them. They grow well and we love eating them, but there is no room this year. Also, I’ve been trying to locate seeds for cotton that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Probably not this year. It doesn’t make sense to pay $5 for seeds that take the better part of 5 months to see the results of. I’m also looking for a dwarf sunflower strain. They grow to about 24 inches. I’ve seen them in a few catalogs, but unless I can batch them up with other packets (and believe me: I spend enough on seeds as it is), the shipping and handling would cost more than the seeds themselves.

I plan a few more things, and want to describe some changes I'm planning, but this post is getting long enough. I’ll document them some other time—the winter is long enough!