Today, finally, I placed my seed order. Ordering seeds always seems very daunting to me—like taking on the Impossible Project or maybe surviving a twenty-six-point-two-mile run.
I was thinking about this the other day while playing eeny-meeny-miny-moe with Crisp Mint and Rouge d'Hiver on the lettuce page of the Fedco catalog, and I decided it was time to get help. (For seed ordering. Just to be clear.) I called my friend Tracy (who helped me start a garden for the chefs at one of Alex's restaurants last spring), and she told me to talk to a friend of hers, Master Gardener Celeste Makely. I met Celeste in her sunroom, we talked for two hours about seeds and seedlings and garden planning and even baked tomatoes. She sent me home with a tiny fig tree, a homegrown Valencia orange, and all sorts of excellent recommendations. I am not very good at sharing oranges, or potential fig factories, but fortunately, I do much better with notes. So for those of you who aren't quite sure what you want to plant, here are Celeste's top seed picks for 2010:
1. Danvers (carrot)
Apparently, the reason carrots are so tricky to grow is because they need a very fluffy soil. If they don't get it, they tend to become distorted. Unless they're Danvers. Celeste says these carrots stand up particularly well to heavy soils, and are thin and long with a strong top. (For yanking.)
2. Spinach and lettuce of any kind
Spinaches and lettuces are, by definition, easy, Celeste says. Order what you think is tasty, or pretty, plant a bunch, and don't worry about it too much unless the weather gets outrageously sunny and hot. If that happens, give the plants some shade and some water, and they will soldier on. Depending on how you plan to plant your garden, it might be a good idea to buy some early and late varieties, and some that can stand the heat. This way you can be in greens all the time.
3. Chioggia (beet)
These are those pretty magenta and white swirled beets you see at the farmers' markets all the time. Celeste cooks sometimes at the soup kitchen in Provincetown, and last year, a local gardener donated a whole bunch of these. She says they were the hit of the season—wonderfully sweet just roasted with a little bit of oil and salt and pepper.
4. Early Spring Burpless (cucumber)
Celeste likes these for slicing, because they are early, and prolific, and inside their bright white flesh is oh-so-crisp. They also grow long, and don't have too many spines.
5. Bush Pickles (cucumber)
These are ideal for people who don't have much space, but want lots of cucumbers and lots of pickles. Celeste says they grow small (about four to five inches, a.k.a. ideal pickle length), and stay firm, even jarred.
6. Bright Lights (Swiss chard)
We grew Bright Lights Swiss chard in our garden last year, and I can attest to its fabulous-ness. We planted it twice, once in the early spring, and once at the end of August, and we have been in red-yellow-pink-and-orange chard from April through today. I know! Two plantings, a million cuttings, lots of salads, lots of stir-fries, a whole bunch of soups, one Swiss chard gratin, a whole lot of blanching and freezing, and several pounds of onions and garlic later, and we are still eating from a single pack of seeds. Celeste likes it because it's beautiful, and prolific, and easy, and as I just mentioned, about as versatile in the kitchen as one green can be. She found this recipe for goat cheese rolled up in chard leaves and grilled, which even without having tried it I feel I can heartily recommend.
7. Pointsetta (hot pepper)
Pointsetta wins purely on cuteness. It's a new pick for Celeste this year, but she likes the way that the peppers point up instead of down, and are very bright and tiny and generally adorable. She's doing a demo garden for the new Wellfleet Community garden plots, and she says that when she saw this she simply couldn't resist.
8. Jalapeño (hot pepper)
Believe it or not, Celeste recently had a Jalapeño plant that lived for five years. She says she simply planted it in a pot, and brought it inside in the fall and back out again every spring. Jalapeños are easy, and better yet, produce peppers that sliced in half, stuffed with cheese, and broiled, will bring you to your knees.
9. Herbs (not Rosemary, or Parsley)
At least not from seed. Rosemary and Parsley are both difficult to germinate, Celeste says, and not worth your trouble at all. Get them, but buy them already robust in little pots at the garden store. As for the rest, plant Oregano and Spearmint but watch out because they spread, and accumulate as many varieties of Thyme and basil as you can. Oh! and while we're on basil, Celeste thinks Genovese, the big, broad-leafed Italian variety is very nice, as are Thai basil and lemon basil.
10. Tropical fruits (huh?)
Celeste's last recommendation is just in case you decide that this year, you want to go big time. She has a sunroom on the south side of her house, and for a while now, she's been experimenting with tropical fruit trees. Based on my Valencia-orange-eating-in-February experience, I'd say it's been a wild success. In addition to the oranges, she's ordered and successfully nursed to maturity a Meyer lemon tree, a Ponderosa lemon tree (which produces fruit the size of baseballs!), and several varieties of Italian figs. (The seeds for which her grandfather brought over from Italy.) She thinks that if you have a sunny room, you should go for it.
There you have it—Celeste's top ten for 2010. Before I go, though, a few notes. You probably noticed there are no tomato varieties up there. That's because next week, I will be bringing you another of Celeste's seed-ordering lists, this time ONLY for tomatoes. Yipee!
And a note about seed ordering: Celeste orders most of her seeds from Totally Tomatoes, which carries both tomatoes and a few other plants, like hot peppers and cucumbers and basils. It's a great catalog for anyone, but maybe more so for a tomato zealot like Celeste than for the rest of us.
I order all of my seeds from Fedco, a Maine-based company that I like because it a) sells only seeds adapted to our cold New England climate, b) is very committed to sustainable growing and non-GMO seeds, and c) has in its catalogs sections like "How Not to Order" and seed descriptions like this. Reading it makes my eyes water and my sides hurt.
To request a Fedco catalog, all you have to do is click on over here, and then call and leave a message with your name and address. They say it might take a few weeks to get it, but mine only took a few days. Have fun!