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Intrepid Urban Farmer: From 20 catalogues, seeds are chosen — and the fun (and wars) begins

By Ginger Dawson
Special to NKyTribune

I have completed the very important annual business of sorting through the landfill-enriching stack of seed catalogues I received. This year, the tally was twenty. This count is down a little from previous years. Could it be possible that the seed catalogue powers-that-be have seen my column decrying this wretched excess and have paid attention? Somehow, I think not.

Twenty catalogues. That’s a lot. But still, I feel compelled to thumb through each and every one of them. You just never know what will pop up.

The chosen few.

The chosen few.

Now, I do like the huge selection that this process provides. The variety of heirloom and hybrid vegetables is astonishing. But, really now. How many times do you need to see Swiss Chard “Bright Lights”? Every catalogue has it.

I want these seed catalogue people to realize how much of my time they are taking in making me thumb through the pages of every single catalogue and scan the description for “Bright Lights.” I’ve read twenty descriptions! And, since each one is a little different and I have a hang-up for thoroughness, I have to read them all. Yes, I know how this looks. And yes, I know they don’t care.

BUT, let me put forth this suggestion–Why don’t all of the seed company people talk to one another and decide who has the rights to sell “Bright Lights” Swiss Chard? Or “Waltham” Butternut Squash, and several other old standards? You could split this business up and I think it could be a fair arrangement for all. Each company could only have one.

Think of the savings! Why, in printing catalogues, that winnowing of one sixteenth of a page entry could be a real boon. Why in postage alone, it could save twenty-five cents per ten thousand catalogues! This is an idea that has legs!

Now, I am not considering the amount of time it would save me. NO. I consider my business consulting to be a selfless endeavor. Maybe even a charity. Its value is reflected in its price. Think it over.

Until that happens, I am resigned to my usual process.

First off, I make a master list of what I would like to raise. I always start with the old friends. These are plants I am well familiar with. I know their habits, what they like and what makes them grumpy. Tomatoes, peppers, green beans, basil, radishes, etc. are at the top of this list.

Seed order -- old school.

Seed order — old school.

Next, I pick the worthy, long-time adversaries. It seems as though I am driven to have this battle. It’s the annual holy war on Russell St. Squash Vine Borers and Cucumber Beetles….damn them! I have to plant zucchini and cucumbers. I HAVE to. This is a deep-seated human flaw that I cannot escape. Each year the battle lines are drawn. Sometimes I win, sometimes the bugs do. Each year, I am convinced I am in the right and will triumph.

If you want to try to understand essential human nature, for better or for worse, become a gardener. I can’t guarantee that you’ll have a clearer picture, but you will gain a certain measure of humility.

After I have all of the varieties selected for my “must-dos”, I revisit some of the newer plants I have experience with. These are plants I have raised for three or four years. I am still figuring these out. What varieties are best for me? How much do I enjoy cooking and eating these vegetables? Are they reasonably easy to deal with? Or are they a lot of work with little pay-off. I cannot be expected to tolerate too many problem children. Zucchini and cucumbers give me fits enough. Balance in all things, I say.

Eggplant is one of my newer vegetables. There are so many intriguing varieties, it is easy to get carried away with choices. I’ve raised several. In my cooking, I found that if I wanted to prepare some of my favorite dishes (eggplant parmigiana, Baba Ganoush, etc.), I needed to have a larger quantity of eggplant ready to go than what the little fancy, fussy types were ready to give up. If a recipe called for two larger eggplants, I had maybe three or four little ones ready to pick. Not enough. This dilemma happened again and again. I just raise the bigger varieties now. Many times, one is adequate for the recipe I want to prepare. This is much better.

My trajectory with Brussel Sprouts is still forming. I’ll be raising these again for the third year. I guess my chosen variety is OK. I know for certain I’ll have much sturdier supports for them. When a serious wind kicks up, I won’t have that daunting mess of wire, leaves, tiny sprout heads, and stems the size of small trees to wrestle. In retrospect, I probably should have called in FEMA. It was a catastrophe.

I’m going to plant cabbage. Last year was the first time I had luck with it. I’m going to push it (the luck, I mean), again. With me it’s always luck until I have enough time to really process what a plant is trying to tell me. Hmm. There’s a relationship lesson in there, somewhere. Hmm.

And here’s the new one— okra. I’ve never planted okra, and scarcely ever cooked with it. This will be a defining year. I’ll either start enjoying it, or I will damn it to eternity. In the past, when I did have an experience with it, I do remember referring to it at the time as “slime pods.” This does not bode well. But, I have heard so many people refer to it in such loving terms, since then, that I decided to try to raise it. Now, I could have just bought some at the store and experimented with it, but that is not my way. I go all in. Love or hate? That is the soap opera script for this next summer. Which way will the “worm turn”?

End of one project and beginning of the next.

End of one project and beginning of the next.

And finally, I selected the asparagus variety I am going to start. As I have mentioned in the past, it is time for me to get a new asparagus bed going. Jersey Knight (a mostly male plant) is the variety I have selected. I have had asparagus for many years, and this will be the beginning of the third patch I have established. It’s the very first one I have started from seed and I am really looking forward to getting it going.

In all, I have ordered twenty different packets of seed. I also have several packets left over from last year. I generally prefer not to use seed that is over two years old. I think, most of the time, older seed is fine to use, really. But, I put a lot of work into this annual affair, and in order to give myself the best possible chance at success, new seed seems like a wise choice, at least to me.

The seed orders have already started arriving, via my overtaxed and abused mailman, and I have started planning for this coming season.

The seed starting will commence, and prepping the new asparagus bed will get underway. All will be right with the world—except for the holy war against the squash borer and cucumber beetles.

I can’t wait!


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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