Hope springs eternal, and with luck so will our garden this summer. Alicia and I sat down over breakfast at my house and, perhaps under the influence of lots of caffeine, placed a rather large order for seeds from the Fedco catalog. Alicia works for Fedco in the winter, so we get the seeds at a sizeable discount., but even if she didn't, it'd be worth it. Growing your own food is basically cheaper than buying it. I've been saving paperboard egg cartons for planting seedlings, and we're hoping for a dryer summer this year than we had last year. As I said, hope springs eternal. Here's what we're planning to plant:
Green beans: Provider. Organic and Fedco's best-seller for 30 years. Our beasn did very poorly last year, so we'd like another shot at proving that we can grow them.
Sweet peas: Sugar Snap. The name would suggest that they're unusually sweet. A grower from last year declares, "Truly like candy--but far better." Also organic and a huge seller, though a little fussy. We had little luck with peas last year; the soil didn't drain well.
Cucumbers: two varieties. Little Leaf, which isa little blocky cuke, good for eating and pickling; and Lemon, an odd variety that has fruits shaped like, well, lemons. This latter is an antique variety, first introduced in 1894. Very sweet, and, so Fedco claims, never bitter. We'll see.
Summer squash: three varieties. First, Raven, a best-selling zucchini. (This is a vegetable I never thought would even have a best-seller.) Second, Early Yellow Summer Crookneck, which pretty much describes it. I'm not a huge fan of summer squash, but Alicia is, and she's promised me a trip to her organic farmer friends' place in Starks, Maine, where I can gorge myself on winter squashes; hsi butternut squashes are terrific. Still, I will gladly grow anything. Third, Benning's Green TInt, a little patty pan squash with a, you guessed it, green tint. I have never eaten a patty pan squash, but I do think that they're darn cute.
Pumpkins: Winter Luxury, which are a breathtakingly beautiful orange and good eating as well. I will be making pumpkin mush with maple syrup for winter breakfasts this coming January -- a very old New England treat.
Carrots: Scarlet Nantes is a good basic carrot, but Yaya is trifle exotic. We couldn't decide between the two, so we ordered both.
Beets: Alicia's little boy Jonah loves beets. I have never developed a taste for them, so Jonah has decided that I'm going to and insisted that we get some. We ordered Early Wonder Tall Top, which come up early and provide very nice beet greens. Maybe I'll develop a taste for them. I do like the greens.
Parsnips: I love parsnips, easily the most underrated vegetable out there. We ordered Harris Model. Like carrots, except sweeter and even better.
Skirrets: I've never even had a skirret, but I keep seeing the name pop up in my medieval cookbooks, so I know that they're old. Alicia didn't even know what they were, which is unusual for a farm girl. Not knowing much about them, she is taking them on as a personal challenge. There is but one variety in the Fedco catalog, titled simply Skirret.
Turnips: Oasis. This is a Japanese variety, where they are popular. I'm fonder of turnips than I used to be, and winter root veggies do very, very well in Maine's cool soils.
Leeks: Last year's leeks were wonderful. We have the exotically named Bleu de Solaize coming; they overwinter well, so if we do that, they'll be even more delicious in the spring of 2010.
Onions: Dakota Tears will no doubt make you cry -- the catalog says that they are very "oniony" -- but isn't that the point? A big producer, which is good, because for all that we had last year, it just wasn't enough.
Spinach: Bordeaux. This baby grows fast, so if you like early baby spinach salads, come on over. We also ordered Space, a peculiarly named variety that overwinters well if it's mild. In Maine? Uh, sure.
Lettuces: There are so many varieties, how do you choose? You order the mix of organic seed like we did. We have no idea what we'll get, but there will at least half a dozen varieties. We ordered a greens mix, too, so we'll eating salads until we burst come July.
Arugula: Ice-Bred Arugula Organic. Mainers grow this stuff in cold frames so they can eat it with Christmas dinner, and this variety winters well this way. Not as if it's going to last in my house that long, but one can always hope.
Chard: Bright Lights. Apparently this chard has an enormous range of colors in the ribs and veins of its leaves, and a dark green leaf. Fedco's most popular chard by a long shot. It's apparently very, very pretty.
Mustard greens: Mizspoona Salad Selects Gene Pool. I don't know what all that means, but it's organic and it's wonderful braised. So let me go get my wok.
Bok choy: I've always wanted to try to grow this, so we're going to. We ordered Shuko, a Japanese variety. As I said, let me go get my wok. I expect that a Chinese cookbook is in my future.
Broccoli: My only gripe about last year's broccoli crop was that there wasn't nearly enough of it. We ordered a mix again so we can harvest it all summer long. Broccoli is nice in that if you pick it once, you get more.
Cabbages: Mammoth Red Rock is another old variety, introduced in 1889. And it was introduced in Bangor, Maine, so it must grow well here. We decided against planting cauliflower, as it's sort of fussy and doesn't give you the bang for the buck that cabbage and broccoli do. It also takes up lots of space, not that that's a huge issue with the size of the plot we had last year at Sparrow Farm in Pittston.
Kale: I love kale braised or in a stir-fry. We ordered Beedy's Camden, which also overwinters very well with the right wnowfall.
Eggplant: I've recently taken a liking to eggplant, a vegetable I didn't grow up with. So we ordered Pingtung Long, a Chinese variety that's long, skinny, and not as bulky as the five-pound monsters you see in the supermarket.
Sweet peppers: We got two kinds. Peacework is an organic early red bell pepper developed at Peacework Farm in California, and Bulgarian Carrot Chile is a brilliant orange, fiery hot pepper. I will be making some salsa this summer.
Tomatoes: As far as I'm concerned, tomatoes are the whole point of gardening. I simply gorge on them in August. So we got a bunch of kinds: Be My Baby, a very sweet cherry tomato that was one of last year's hits; Orange Banana, a paste tomato that's shaped like a banana and was also a huge hit last year; and an heirloom mix, so we'll get all sorts of tomatoes. We did this last year, and it was worth it. I have no idea what I was picking and eating, but when it tastes like it did, who cares?
Basil: Sweet and Thai. Both were fabulous last year, and we took crates of it home.
Cilantro: Caribe. This is a workhorse of a plant.
Fennel: Again, last year's was wonderful. We ordered Zifa Fino, as it's really hardy, but last year's just grew and grew, not seeming to care what the weather was like.
Sage: White Sage. This is what First Nation folk used to make smudge sticks. It's also good to plant if you want to attract bees.
Thyme: We ordered German Thyme. Also good to plant to attract bees.
Calendula: You can use this to make tinctures, and that's waht Alicia wants to do. Frankly, I'm not even sure I know what this plant is. But what the heck.
Nasturtium: We ordered a Tall Climbing Mix. These are just pretty on their own or in a salad. I made it clear that I wasn't interested in planting flowers that I couldn't eat.
Sunflowers: We ordered the Sampler Mix again because last year's were so nice.
We will add to this list as the season gets closer. For example, we haven't even begun to think about potatoes, but they are very late to plant. There are also more herbs that I would like to have; dill comes to mind. Even so, if I had nothing but the basil I had last year, I'd be pretty happy. I regret that Maine is quite cool in the summer, as I'd love to plant hot-weather plants like lavender. Likewise, we haven't bothered with truly hot-weather vegetables that I loved growing up in the Midwest -- corn and melons. They can grow here, but it's a lot of work and no little amount of luck. Besides, Michigan spoiled me. Whatever I could grow here, it will never compare to a muskmelon out of Michigan garden in early August.
In any event, the Garden, Year Two has begun in earnest.