Monday, January 22, 2007

Seed Ordering Madness

I didn't have a suitable picture to illustrate this post so I just chose one I thought everyone would think was pretty. The lovely looking lady here was one of our helpers from a few years back.

Sometime around mid December of every year beauty begins to appear in the mailbox at the end of my lane. As the days continue their steady descent towards the winter solstice, the fields exchange their vibrant green color for a bleak shade of brownish gray and occasionally glistening white, and the weather becomes less conducive to outdoor activity. Then the flow of mail order seed catalogs steadily increases to a flood and as the pile grows ever higher on the dining room table, so begins my annual ritual of delightfully perusing their colorful and enticing contents.

The best ones always put on the front cover a stunningly beautiful close up photo of one of their latest vegetable varieties such as a tomato or melon at the peak of ripeness, or perhaps a pile of assorted fruits, vegetables and flowers of varying size, shape and color lying on a table or in a wheelbarrow with an attractive young woman or a three year old child standing by it. The effect on my senses is similar to what I may experience when I see pictures of whopper burgers and submarine sandwiches on the price marquees at the fast food establishments I infrequently visit.

It begins as a flight of fancy as I leisurely browse through the pages. My favorite catalogs have rows of photos glowing in living color of all of their offerings, and scattered throughout are profound quotations by famous persons or pertinent quotations from the Bible relating to the virtues of caring for the land and working in the soil. Those that do not use color photos usually have nicely done illustrations by talented artists, and if I care to read some of the finer print, I often find delightful stories about how the seeds of some obscure heirloom varieties were meticulously saved and passed on by the immigrant ancestors of someone with whom the owners of the seed company had made contact. I think the one thing that really sets my fantasies rolling is that no where among the pictures does one see a bug or worm or the evidence that they have been there. Tomatoes always look perfect and there is never any blight on the leaves. There are not even any pictures of weeds growing healthy and defiantly. Dream on!

Sometime in early January the realization hits me that the time is at hand to seriously get down to business and get some seeds ordered. So I wander out to the back room and dive into the freezer to retrieve the boxes of old seed left over from last year. I dig the latest copy of my computer generated seed inventory out of the desk drawer, pry open the still chilly seed containers, carefully count the seeds I have on hand, and jot down on the inventory sheet how much of what I have and how much of what I need to buy. I spread out across the kitchen table a half dozen or so of my best seed catalogs and begin flipping pages, trying to decide what I should or shouldn’t grow this coming year, and I comparison shop in search of the best prices.

This is a job I can easily spend a full day working on. I have to repeatedly bite myself to keep from doing something crazy. Spread out before me are:
· 40 – 50 varieties of lettuces in varying colors and types
· More than 100 varieties of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes in eight colors
· 40 varieties of beans of all types
· Lots and lots of oriental greens and vegetables with funky names
· Close to 100 American, Asian, and European melons in all kinds of size, shape, color and texture
· 75 varieties of squash and pumpkins
I usually trial a different tomato variety or so every year along with a few other things that I am curious about. Despite my fascination with oddball melons and squash I have to repeatedly remind myself that the soil here is not the ideal for those things and I will do best limiting my selections to the few tried and true hybrid varieties I already know will perform satisfactorily here. The bills have to be paid!

Despite all the caution I usually find myself in the growing season wondering why I didn’t plant this item and wondering “what in the world was I thinking when I ordered this much of this seed?”

After the decision making is done, I whip out the checkbook and write several hundred dollars of checks to preferably not more than three seed suppliers. Before the season is completely underway I will spend another several hundred dollars at our local garden center and greenhouses for more seeds and plants. Along the way I will also likely swap seeds (usually heirloom seeds) with friends and acquaintances.
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