What inspires this gardener most when days are endlessly gray or bitterly cold? An array of colorful seed catalogues helps but even better is the smell of fresh potting soil and holding a handful of seeds.
Each January as the days begin to get longer, I’ll dig out a couple of wide-mouthed terra cotta pots, give them a scrub, and fill them with a good germination potting mix. I always have left over vegetable seeds from the previous season and make it a point to set aside peas, arugula, cress, and mache.
I’ll poke 1/2 inch holes two inches apart around the top of one soil-filled pot and pop in peas. Placed in a south facing window, with luck they will sprout in a week and as they grow I’ll snip off the twinning pea tendrils, I don’t expect to actually grow pea pods – just the tender shoots – good in a stir fry, mixed in a salad, or gracing the top of a ham and cheese sandwich.
I’ll also pot up cress – Vermont’s own High Mowing Seeds, has one called Persian Broadleaf Cress, a specialty green. They describe it as “2-6 inch long, dark-green leaves with tiny teeth around the margin and a mild cressy flavor…a delicious and nutritious green.” I’ve planted cress the past couple of winters and snip it long before it reaches six inches and add it as a final touch to salads or sprinkle it as a nourishing garnish on a bowlful of creamy cooked homegrown cannelloni beans.
Seeds of Italy is a favorite seed company for their endless variety of greens and chicories (not to mention eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and the most wonderful beans). They also sell packets of garden cress – in Italian “Crescione Comune”. Seeds of Italy is my constant source for arugula, another easy to grow green that will brighten up the seemingly never ending days of winter and my need for freshly grown greens.
I’m going to experiment and try my hand at English Watercress I got from Renee’s Garden. Renee says “watercress is a cool weather crop”. Rooms away from our wood burning stove are cool (maybe too cool). I’ve filled an old bowl with garden gravel chips (you can get at Agway or any other gardening center) and will put potting soil on top. Watercress likes moist soil and I hope, with careful watering, to keep a mini reservoir within the gravel at the base of the soil.
Tip: If you don’t have any terra cotta pots stored away for the winter, not to worry. I’ve planted up a mini garden in used plastic containers — whether they once held yogurt, salad mixes, olives, etc. Save the tops to cover your newly planted seed to aid in germination. As soon as the seeds sprout, remove the top. Poke a couple of drainage holes in the bottom of the plastic containers to keep your seedlings from getting soggy — and place your mini gardens on top of an old cookie sheet with sides, or a foil or plastic lined cardboard box – the idea is to keep moisture from overwatering from destroying the windowsill or table beneath.
The Goods: Seed catalogues can be an endless source of entertainment when you have the winter doldrums. Yes, you can look at them online, but I find it more exciting when they arrive in the mail and have something to hold in my hand and savor with my eyes.
Seeds from Italy
My all time favorite company. They supply packets of seed illustrated with a detailed photo of the product. I want everything from this catalogue and over order every year wishing I could clone myself to plant all the yumminess they supply. They have many varieties of salad greens; bitter chicories (delicious with lots of olive oil, garlic, and sprinkled with hot pepper flakes); endless varieties of beans — pole, bush, snap, fresh shelling beans, and drying beans; tomatoes, cabbage, kale, the list goes on.
A new company with a mission to grow the best organic seeds for our northern climes. I’ve bought a few packet of seeds from them and passed them on to Chance for the school’s salad garden. Fruition would love feedback and how their seeds grow in our hills and valleys.
Seed Savers Exchange
A catalogue I source from readily and is filled with mouth-watering eye candy. The company is a non-profit with deep roots in seed heritage.
High Mowing Seeds
Vermont’s own. Their catalogue is loaded not only with goodness but multiple tips on growing.
My good friend, Newbury neighbor, and fellow gardener, Mary Durfee, swears by Fedco, not just your ordinary seed company. An old New England company they not only sell an endless assortment of veg, flower, and herbs but you will also find Moose Tubers (aka potatoes), soil amendments, fertilizers, tools, books, and through http://www.Fedcoseeds.com/trees fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, perennials, bulbs, and ornamentals
Renee’s offers many varieties of vegetable, herb, and flower seed for the garden. I like their seeds as they come with detailed growing tips printed right on the packet of seed.
A tiny catalogue for onion sets and sweet potatoes. I have been ordering from them for years and have gotten a kick watching the progress of the Brown’s three girls grow as they are featured on the cover of the catalogue each year.
Happy Winter Gardening!