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Intrepid Urban Farmer: Deluged by catalogues — it’s YUGE — and have been sorting and planning

By Ginger Dawson
Special to NKyTribune

Twenty-nine catalogues!!  Unbelievable.

I started receiving this bale of paper, in fits and starts, beginning right before Christmas.  They trickled in and then became a deluge around the first week of January.

As the catalogues came in, I just tossed them all into a pile.  The stack got so unwieldy, I was somewhat loath to tackle it….but tackle it I did.

A partical selection of Intrepid Urban Farmer’s catalogue glut. (Provided)

Burpee, Burgess, Gurney, Johnny’s, Jung (pronounced with a “J”, not like the psychoanalyst), Rupp, Shumway, Territorial Seed Co., Vermont Bean Seed Co. and on and on — practically one for every letter of the alphabet.

Now, I am an organized sort but, no, I did not arrange my catalogues into alphabetical order.  Just because I am a tomato counter does not mean my penchant for organization extends to a dewey decimal system for my catalogues…even though the above list is alphabetized.  Hmm.

It’s always exciting to peruse my choices and start, fresh, with a whole new slate. I will use some of last year’s leftover seed as well, but usually not beyond that.  I know that there’s a very a good chance older seed will germinate, but I put so much work into this that it seems wise to start with fresher seed stock.  It’s just one little decision that I can make to help ensure my success rate.

So, prior to making selections and ordering, I decided to see exactly what was leftover from last year.  I had been particularly ambitious with order quantities in 2016, so I went through all of my seed and discovered that I had ALOT.  This required a detailed inventory (some personality traits cannot be overcome).

After I got my inventory list compiled, I moved on to the 2017 catalogue stack.

As I sifted through this pile, a few started to stand out.  Burpee, which was always my grandfather’s choice, always makes the cut.  I needed more “Steakhouse” variety Beefsteak tomato seed.  I always like to grow this tomato because it’s YUGE (that seems to be the current popular spelling).   I had a few seeds left from last year, but not enough.  These tomatoes get to be two or three pounds apiece.  YUGE.  They are fun to watch growing (at least I think so).

The catalogues that made the cut this year.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds is an outfit located in Winslow, Maine.  As far North as they are, Johnny’s has practically the shortest growing season in the entire U.S.  If these guys can make a go of it, anyone can.  For that reason alone, I always scrutinize this catalogue.  Johnny’s is also packed with tons of valuable information; another plus.  I ordered a few things from them:  zinnias, D’Avignon radishes (Frenchy!  I love that), onion sets and a new variety of Italian frying pepper.  I also like a variety of eggplant that they have — Nadia.

Apparently the meaning of “Nadia,” according to some baby-name website is “hope.”  This seems very appropriate.  I hope I have better luck with my eggplant this year.

Jung Seed and Plants originates out of Randolph, Wisconsin—another northern location.  I’ve ordered from here in the past and recall that I had pretty good luck with their seed.  This year I ordered King Arthur bell peppers and a couple of varieties of tomatoes.

Being a somewhat literate sort, I was certain that the pronunciation of “Jung” was “Young”.  I mean, really.  How else would it be pronounced?  This snobbish notion was immediately dashed when I placed my order over the phone.

I dialed the number and my call was answered, “Hello, Jung (yes with a “J” sound) Seed”.  So much for that.  Chastened again.

In the U.S., we alter pronunciations that fit in with our regional dialects.  Versailles, Kentucky, for example —the French pronunciation of “Vair-sigh”, becomes “Ver-sales.” I guess “Jung” (with a “J”), is the Wisconsin version of the Swiss  “Jung” (with a “Y”).   I’m just glad there’s only one way to pronounce “Paris.”

I’ve always been a pretty serious reader.  When I was in high school (and still to this day) my reading would teach me the meaning of many words that I had never heard spoken.  This was the source of quite a few embarrassing moments when I would stretch my vocabulary in a fearless attempt to try the words on for size.  Once, in high school, I used the word “gauche”, in some manner, and pronounced it “Gow-shay.”  Fortunately, everyone laughed, thinking I had done it on purpose.  After the fact, I was secretly relieved by my ability to cover my faux pas by going along with the laugh, and  simultaneously mortified by my ignorance.   Suddenly, my attention to dictionary pronunciations took on as great a significance as knowing the meaning.  Perhaps it should have initially, but hey, one step at a time.  I have always been a work in progress that insists on going at its own pace.

What’s on hand.

Pinetree Garden Seeds, also from Maine, is where I found New Zealand spinach.  I’ve raised this in the past, and was very pleased with its performance.  It really is not a true spinach, but it tastes just like it and can be used in the same way culinarily.

New Zealand spinach is not as fussy about needing cooler temperatures as regular spinach.  It will survive well into the scorch of summer.  It actually can be a perennial plant in regions to the South of us, here in Covington.  I did have some gone-to-seed plants, that I had pitched on the compost pile, germinate the following season.  So, we may be on the border of it’s climate range.  I’m looking forward to trying this again.

Added to this compilation of last year’s seed and this year’s new orders, I also have a few packets of seed from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.  On trips out East, I always try to stop there and see what’s available.  This past winter I selected four items:  Early Scarlet Globe Radishes, Scarlet Runner Beans, Cow’s Horn Okra and West Indian Gherkins.

These little West Indian Gherkins seem interesting.  They’re little bitty round cucumbers about one to two inches in diameter.  The back of the packet says that if you pack them into glass jars, covered with malt vinegar and dill seed, they will cure into a nice pickle in two months.  I hope I get to that point.  I always have terrible issues with the dreaded Cucumber Beetle.

New Zealand spinach from 2013. Ready to do this again!

I can’t help but think that these little gherkins will lead me down a primrose path riddled with bugs and disappointment.  Gardening as an exercise in time compression.  A whole lifetime of struggle and disappointment jammed into one growing season.  Just like my annual battle with zucchini and the hated Squash Vine Borer, it’s one more faction to square off with in the annual holy war behind the Italianate on Russell St.  Some years I win, most years the bugs do.  Damn them.

So, I have gotten my orders placed and I am waiting for them to arrive.  I decided that I needed to count (imagine that!) the varieties of seed that I am going to deal with this year.

Here’s the count: Nine varieties of tomatoes, six varieties of peppers, three varieties of cucumbers (dumb, dumb, dumb),  three varieties of lettuces, two varieties of spinach, onions, eggplant, swiss chard, okra, zucchini (dumb again!), Brussels sprouts, spaghetti squash, carrots, beets, two kinds of radishes, kale, two kinds of cabbage, zinnias and sunflowers.

Thirty-nine different varieties.  Unbelievable.  YUGE!  Ten more than the number of catalogues I received.  Looks like the dirt, bugs and scuffle hoe are going to be flying on Russell St. this summer.  Fortunately, my neighbors go at this like I do, so they’ll know when to duck!


Ginger Dawson has resided in Covington 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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