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Spring dreaming

(Originally published March 2, 2014)
 
Here we are again, just a few weeks before spring is supposed to officially begin, once again covered in a coating of ice, just waiting for the snow to follow. It feels like we’ve been living in black and white for the past few months, and I’m tired of thick socks and dry skin.  But I’m going to ignore the cold today and spend some quality time with all the seeds I ordered for this year’s garden. I’m buying for the network of raised beds my dad and I share on his land, and for my mom, who has her own set of raised beds on the other side of the pond. (She and Dad would protest that it’s a lake, not a pond.) I’m going to focus my energies on that first day of spring, which also happens to be my mother’s birthday.

During many visits to farmers’ markets all over the area last year, I sampled lots of new varieties of veggies, and  that experience really expanded this year’s seed order. I loved the candy-sweet white salad turnips and the gorgeous heads of Skyphos butterhead lettuce I got at the Salad Garden booth, the lemon cukes I found at Honey Creek Farm and Bluebird Composting, and the spectacular heirloom tomatoes I found just about everywhere. My mother and I are particularly interested in trying the Salanova® lettuce Rob Hemwall at Pierpont Farms showed us during last spring’s Slow Food Katy Trail farm tour.

A head of Skyphos lettuce growing in the field at the Salad Garden farm in Ashland, 2013.

A head of Skyphos lettuce growing in the field at the Salad Garden farm in Ashland, 2013.

Salanova® lettuce growing in at Pierpont Farms, 2013.

Salanova® lettuce growing alongside tomatoes at Pierpont Farms, 2013.

I still plan to visit my favorite farmers’ markets because it’s just plain fun–the amazing variety of super fresh food, the music, chatting with all the vendors–and I’ll probably still walk away with bags full of goodies I just can’t resist, but with all the seeds I’ve stockpiled, this year’s garden should be big enough to feed 10 veggie-loving families. I’m grateful for the cold-season farmers’ markets in Columbia and Jeff City, but winter still means too much dependance on grocery store produce. And while it’s nice to have new grocery stores popping up with great-looking produce departments, some of it even locally grown, I didn’t feel too lucky to pay $2 for a bundle of chard that turned out to be just three stalks when I unwrapped it. Bring on the spring!

Here’s a list of the seeds I’ve ordered, saved, or been given by kind friends who know the way to my heart. I’m sure a lot of these varieties will be available at the markets too, and many more. I’ve separated them by seed company, in no particular order. I buy organic varieties whenever I can, but I won’t make that distinction below. Please tell me about your favorite varieties in the comments section below.
 

Johnny’s Selected Seeds:

Johnny’s, an employee-owned company based in Maine, is a favorite source for market gardeners and small farmers as well as home gardeners like me.

    • Nelson and Yaya Hybrid carrots (pelleted): Yaya Hybrids are my favorite carrots, sweet and crunchy, and though we haven’t tried Nelsons yet, they’re supposed to be even sweeter. The pelleted seed will make it easier to space them properly while planting, so I won’t have to spend so much time thinning out my over-crowded carrots.
    • Hakurei and Scarlet Queen Red Stems turnips: I loved similar turnips that I got at the markets last year, especially the sweet, snow-white salad turnips.
    • Eder kohlrabi: Kohlrabi is one of my father’s favorite garden snacks, and mine too. I hope this variety is as sweet, tender, and quick-growing as the Quickstar kohlrabi we got from Johnny’s last year that is no longer available.
    • Evergreen Hardy White bunching onions: My mother wants to grow a true green onion, like the scallions you buy in the grocery store, so we’re hoping to establish a patch of these that we can overwinter and treat as perennials.
    • Jackson Classic and Northern Pickling cucumbers: Both varieties performed well and made good dill pickles last year.
A basket of mixed cucumbers, probably including Boston Pickling, National Pickling, Sumter, and Little Leaf varieties.

A basket of mixed cucumbers, probably including Boston Pickling, National Pickling, Sumter, and Little Leaf varieties.

  • White Icicle Short Top radishes: My dad is always in search of the perfect, sweet-but-not-hot icicle radish, so we’re trying this variety for the first time this year.
  • Salanova® Home Garden Mix lettuce (pelleted): This is a new type of cored lettuce that grows as a head but can be easily cut into a leafy salad mix. I especially like this variety for making a grilled salad like the one chef Craig Cyr of the Wine Cellar and Bistro made for me in a MO Deep Roots cooking video you can see here, along with the recipe.
  • Skyphos lettuce: This is a gorgeous red butterhead that adds nice heft to a salad.
  • Toscano kale: I’ve never grown the currently popular lacinato or “dinosaur” kale before, but I enjoyed eating it from the market last summer, so I’ll give it a try along with my favorite white and red Russian kales.
  • Fortex pole beans: My favorite green beans, they’re long, tender, stringless, straight, and flavorful.
  • Sarah’s Choice cantaloupe: My dad and I don’t have much luck with cantaloupe, but we’re going to try again this year since we both love it. This one sounds tasty and has disease resistance that we seem to need, and if we have another melon crop failure I know I’ll find plenty at the markets.
A mixed vegetable basket of  Cosmic Purple and Yaya Hybrid carrots, dill, chard, sugar snap peas, and Summertime Crisphead lettuce from my 2011 garden.

A mixed vegetable basket of Cosmic Purple and Yaya Hybrid carrots, dill, chard, sugar snap peas, and Summertime Crisphead lettuce from my 2011 garden.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

Based in Mansfield, Missouri, Baker Creek sells only non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated and non-patented seed. They have a huge selection of heirloom seed from the 19th century, and they publish Heirloom Gardener magazine.

  • Christmas Pole lima beans: I seldom grow limas, but I want to give this heirloom variety, dating back to the 1840s, a try. It’s on the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste list, which is “a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction.”
  • Beurre De Rocquencourt bush wax beans: I read about this variety in Organic Gardening magazine. It’s said to have a buttery quality, not unlike a Yukon Gold potato.
  • California blackeye peas (cowpeas): I want to eat my own blackeye peas next New Year’s! A first for my garden.
  • Bull’s Blood beets: This is my staple red beet every summer, with deep red fruit and beautiful, red-veined, tasty greens.
  • Golden beets: I like a non-red beet too, and these are lovely in salads.
  • Cosmic Purple carrots: Kids love these purple-on-the-outside carrots, and my sister, the teacher, has even found that her kids like to draw with them before gobbling them down! They’re also beautiful in this grilled carrot salad.
  • Lemon Cuke cucumbers: This cucumber isn’t much to look at, but it’s delightfully fresh and truly has a tart, lemony flavor.
  • Arugula: I can’t get enough of this peppery green in my spring and summer salads.
  • Superschmelz, or Giant White kohlrabi: It looks like fun to grow some massive kohlrabi bulbs like those I saw in the markets last summer!
  • Missouri Gold melons: I figure this heirloom cantaloupe has to do well in a Missouri garden, right?
  • Lincoln garden peas: ”An old-time pea introduced in 1908 that does better than many in warmer weather.”
  • Sugar Snap peas: This is a must in my garden every year. In fact, it should be mandatory that all gardens contain a long row of Sugar Snap peas! I eat many of them on the spot.
Sugar snap peas at their peak.

Sugar snap peas at their peak.

Beautiful French Breakfast radishes

Beautiful French Breakfast radishes

  • French Breakfast radishes: This is simply the best radish I’ve tasted, and the most beautiful. It’s the only variety for my mother and me.
  • Oriole Orange Swiss chard: I love planting an assortment of multi-colored chards, and this variety with its orange stem and veins and green leaves is right up my alley.
  • Verde de Taglio Swiss chard: This is a traditional Italian variety with large leaves and very thin stems, “outstandingly sweet and tender,” and I have a feeling it will become one of my favorites.
  • Purple Top White Globe turnips: This is the dependable old turnip variety that my dad plants every spring and fall.
  • Moon and Stars watermelon: This seeded heirloom watermelon is sweet and juicy, with beautiful moon-and-star markings on the deep green rind, and it grows well in our garden almost every year.
The leaves of the Moon and Stars watermelon plant displaying the distinctive star markings.

The leaves of the Moon and Stars watermelon plant displaying the distinctive star markings.

Umbrels of dill waving in the breeze, almost ready for pickling time.

Umbrels of dill waving in the breeze, almost ready for pickling time.

  • Bouquet dill: My dill has been self-seeding in the same bed for years, but I ran low last year when making 50 quarts or so of dill pickles, so it’s time to start a new patch.
  • Giant of Italy parsley: I want to establish a little patch of parsley near my house and let it self-seed too.

Seeds of Change:

Seeds of Change sells 100% certified organic seeds, both heirloom and hybrid varieties.

    • Sumter cucumbers: I loved this white-spined, blocky variety for pickling last year.)
    • Black Seeded Blue Lake pole beans: When it comes to green beans, I prefer pole beans since they yield more, over a long period of time, than bush beans. This is a favorite variety of mine, stringless and tasty.)
    • Lovelock lettuce: I have to try this crispy, heat-tolerant, beautifully maroon-tinged head lettuce.
Summer squash mix, Seeds of Change

Summer squash mix, Seeds of Change

  • Summer Mix summer squash: Last summer I loved this assortment of green, yellow, round, scalloped, bulbed, and straight squash in varying shades of green and yellow.
  • Black Seeded Simpson lettuce: This old standby is my mother’s favorite leaf lettuce for wilted lettuce salads.
A raised bed packed with broccoli, sugar snap peas, onions, chard, kale, and a variety of lettuces including Green Ice and Red Romaine.

A raised bed packed with broccoli, sugar snap peas, onions, chard, kale, and a variety of lettuces including Green Ice and Red Romaine.

Park Seed:

I don’t typically order from Park, but they had some irresistible prices in January. They are one of America’s oldest and largest mail-order seed and plant companies.
  • I ordered a few varieties of spinach since you simply can’t have too much of Popeye’s favorite: Tyee, Novico, Palco, Space, and Renegade. Bloomsdale Longstanding is another dependable old favorite.
  • Peppermint Swiss chard: You guessed it, the stems go from deep fuschia to white, so I must try it.
  • White Russian kale: My old stand-by. Red Russian is great too.
  • Jericho lettuce: I read about this heat-resistant Romaine variety in Organic Gardening magazine. I’m sure a Missouri summer will put it to the heat test!
  • Green Arrow peas: It’s time to try a new variety in addition to the usual Early Frosty peas we grow every year. Sweet garden peas, by the way, are best shelled and popped directly into your mouth on the spot so you can keep up your strength for the tasks at hand.
  • Muncher cucumber: A burpless variety that’s good for munching and pickling alike.
This bed contains my favorite mixture of greens in the foreground, including Red Giant mustard, Green Wave or Southern Giant mustard, mizuna, and other spicy greens. Onions and carrots alternate rows.

This bed contains my favorite mixture of greens in the foreground, including Red Giant mustard, Green Wave or Southern Giant mustard, mizuna, and other spicy greens. Onions and carrots alternate rows.

Odds and ends:

My friend Susan gave me a packet of my favorite Salads Greens Mix, containing mixed mustards, mizuna, tatsoi, komatsuna, and arugula. I love to harvest them when tiny for salad use or braise them when they’re more mature. As with most leafy greens, you can cut them again and again, and they’ll regrow until there’s a hard freeze. She also gave me a packet of Rainbow Swiss chard, which will complete my kaleidoscopic color scheme. Both came from Morgan County Seeds in Barnett, Missouri.

Magenta Swiss chard.

Magenta Swiss chard.

What will you be growing this summer, or what do you most look forward to finding at the farmers’ market this spring? 

(All photos by Laura Carter.)

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