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Urban Farmer: Seed catalogues have arrived in force, now the fun — and ordering — begins! Hurry Spring!

By Ginger Dawson
NKyTribune’s Intrepid Urban Farmer

Right around Christmas, when I was up to my eyeballs and possibly drowning with the joys of celebrating the holiday season, my seed catalogues started to arrive. Lots of them.

This is what happens to me every year. It is the fate of every hard-core gardener. All it takes is a couple of little seed orders from the previous year and I am singularly responsible for the demise of a few trees and a grumpy mailman. Twenty catalogues! Count ‘em! I do like to have a choice, but this seems positively rapacious. Organic seed companies eschewing their mission statements (I imagine) and sending out hundreds of thousands of catalogues! Is this “green”? I do like to get quite a few of them, but I can’t figure out how to turn off the faucet at ten.

Is anybody out there in seed catalogue land listening? One can hope.

Catalogue 1

Even though I have received entirely too many of them, I am always eager to get them and start thinking about the new season. What new hybrids or heirlooms will be available? It is fun to begin the process of selecting and ordering seed.

First off, I make sure I order the must-have seeds. These are ones that I, and many other gardeners, will want. There is competition. The really desirable varieties can sell out. Having learned this the hard way in the past, I have already ordered five of my tomato selections.

The Burpee Steakhouse variety, which was introduced just last year, is a phenomenal hybrid. These enormous, high quality tomatoes came on at the same robust weights all season long. They were disease resistant and fun to grow. I had to have these again. And, you’re welcome, for that bone I just tossed you!

There were three other tomato varieties that I ordered but I am keeping these to myself. I have to try to limit the competition somehow. It’s taken me far too long to learn not to show my whole hand. I’m a rotten card player, but we are talking tomatoes here. That’s different.

One tomato that I order is the determinant variety, Grandaddy VF. The “VF” behind the name indicates that it is fusarium and verticillium resistant (these are soil-born diseases that can be real stinkers). It’s an excellent meaty tomato, doesn’t take over the garden (being determinant), and has excellent flavor. One other very important reason I like to order this tomato is so I can get a copy of the R.H. Shumway’s catalogue. It is modeled after a Victorian/early Twentieth Century seed catalogue with all hand-drawn illustrations and beautiful color in a large format. I order this tomato chiefly so I can continue to get this catalogue. I save them. OK, so I may be partially responsible for the glut of catalogues I get. I am not perfect.

Heirloom tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes

After getting these few definites ordered, it’s time to vet the catalogue pile. I put ones that I’ve ordered from the past and know I will order from again in one pile, and the “also rans” in another. I have to have a system, or I’ll become immobilized by this embarrassment of choices.

After the two piles are established, I peruse the second string in a quick, partially thorough way to see if anything jumps out at me. I never know when something might grab my attention, whether it be a unique bean of some sort, a better price on Cowpots (sterilized cow-poo pots for seed-starting— my fave!) or a new garden tool I’ve never seen before. Any contenders in this pile get set aside for more serious examination.

Now. Down to serious business.

The first thing I do is decide what my garden is going to produce this year.

Tomatoes, naturally, peppers (hot and sweet), basil, radishes, lettuces, greens, a couple of types of beans, beets, carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant and whatever else might tease an experiment. Now also, I have garlic planted and the marvelous convenience of a few perennials: a nice, mature patch of asparagus, rhubarb, chives and a few little clumps of strawberries which could use a some attention.

Seed catalogue

Each year, I try to build on past experiences. I have the tomato thing down pretty well— peppers and basil, too. Eggplant and cucumbers I’ve raised only about four or five years….with varying degrees of success. My eggplant last year was unbelievable! I had four plants and they just exploded! Beautiful, large Aubergine! When I get excited about this stuff, I get frenchy! On the other hand, my cucumbers were awful. Rotten pickles. Didn’t get a single, stinking one. Dismal. Damn bugs.

Taking these experiences into account, I will grow that same variety of eggplant again, and most certainly pick another variety of cucumber. These past failures and successes will guide my selections in each category I choose. Understand that those tomato varieties that I so easily committed to right off of the bat are the result of real blood, sweat and heartache over a period of years.

I get my list together and, really, just slog through the chosen pile of catalogues and try to make some selections. Now, not only do I have to decide (for example) which variety of Swiss chard to order, but which company! Most companies have my preferred variety (Bright lights), so with which one will I place my order?

As I refine my choices, I try to consolidate the selections to three or four companies, except R.H. Shumway (I want that fancy catalogue again!). This desire to limit the number of companies I place orders with will dictate which one gets my Swiss card order. And so it goes until I am done.

The orders are placed, I wait for them to arrive and hoard the seeds like a greedy field mouse. Now all I have to do is wait for the beginning of April to commence seed starting. Let the 2015 garden begin!


Ginger Dawson has resided in Covington, Kentucky since 1988. Raised on a farm in South Central Ohio, she has enjoyed a very eclectic and enriching life. She loves her Italianate Victorian Townhouse and particularly the garden behind it.

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