Ever since Lehman Brothers bought the farm and folks discovered to their horror that they couldn’t ALL be millionaires, interest in growing flavorful, healthful vegetables in the backyard has skyrocketed –especially since nobody can afford to hire someone to do it for them anymore.
Does this mean that you and I are limited to the vegetable varieties we can find at Home Depot (you know, special varieties like “tomato” or “green pepper”)? No way! There’a raft of totally excellent mail-order seed sources, two of which I’ll pass my blessing on today. In subsequent posts, I’ll reveal superior mail-order sources for trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs, etc. that have earned the coveted Grumpy Seal of Approval.
Because they cost so much to print and mail, printed catalogs are becoming scarce, as companies depend more and more on their websites for sales. Websites usually list more plants than catalogs do and they’ll let you know in real-time if something is sold out. But you know, there is something special about leafing through a printed catalog filled with beautiful photos and illustrations that you just can’t get by clicking a mouse. So even though it makes me sound like a fossil, keep those catalogs coming.
My first pick is John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds (www.kitchengardenseeds.com). For many years, Scheepers has been known as a premier source for quality bulbs. This catalog, however,specializes in hard-to-find gourmet and heirloom varieties of vegetables. It also lists herbs and flowers.
Among the first things you’ll notice is that this catalog isn’t designed just for Southerners. It’s filled with weirdo offerings Southerners hardly ever eat, like orach (isn’t that a lightweight vacuum cleaner?), kohlrabi (undoubtedly a staple in Poland), celeriac (stores up to 8 months in a cellar, which is good, since it’ll take that long for someone to eat it), and salsify (“tastes like a cross between artichoke hearts and oysters” — ooh, yum!).
Fortunately, the catalog balances all that with delicious varieties of true Southern treasures, like dandelion greens (I kid you not), turnip greens, mustard greens,collards, okra, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, squash, and eggplant.
One thing this year’s catalog has inspired the Grump to do is plant a variety of different colored carrots, such as ‘Purple Dragon,’ (What! Is there no ‘Crouching Tiger’?), ‘Yellowstone’ (forget what you’ve heard about not eating yellow stone), ‘Snow White’ (must be planted by seven dwarfs), and ‘Atomic Red’ (an exciting, new sport of ‘Atomic Wedgie’). I’ll be growing them in containers, so they’ll have perfect, deep, loose soil. I’ll report back on how they do.
Oh yeah, one more thing. If you go to Kitchen Garden’s website, you’ll find great recipes for just about all the veggies listed, such as “creamy kohlrabi” and ”celeriac cutlets.” Couldn’t find any for orach and salsify, though, so I’ll make one up — “Braised Marmot and Salsify with Orach-Prune Reduction Sauce.” Pair it with a dry peach wine.
My second pick today is an old favorite, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (www.southernexposure.com). This outfit does everything right. They offer more than 700 varieties of seeds, many of them family heirloom types that people grew up with and can’t find anymore. They look for varieties that tolerate drought and resist diseases and insects to reduce the need for pesticides. They specialize in open-pollinated (non-hybrid) seeds to maintain genetic diversity and our agricultural heritage. They don’t treat their seeds with pesticides or offer genetically engineered seeds.
I just love the variety names you find while leafing through the catalog — ‘Turkey Craw’ pole bean; ‘Cosmic Purple’ carrot; ‘Texas Honeyjune’ sweet corn; ‘Drunken Woman’ leaf lettuce, ‘Beck’s Big Buck’ okra; ‘Pinkeye Purple Hull’ pea; ‘Thelma Sanders’ Sweet Potato’ winter squash; and ‘Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter’ tomato. I was disappointed not to find ‘Grumpy’s Grisly Gross’ gourd, but maybe they had a crop failure.
So check out these two places, Grumpians. I get no royalty for recommending them, just the satisfaction of knowing I have immeasurably enriched your lives.