Under still-chilly banks of brown-tinted, aging snow, slow
droplets of melt soften the awakening soil. Brave, bright
crocuses break the newly thawed earth, mild breezes compete
with the last of winter’s cold winds, and eager
gardeners–wondering if it’s still too early
to plant a few rows of peas–rejoice in the opening
scenes of spring’s stately pageantry.
Uncommon and Rare Seeds
Occasionally–with all the hoopla about the new flower
and vegetable introductions from the “big boys”–we
tend to forget about the offerings of small seed suppliers. Yet such firms are often quietly working to
preserve varieties that have never even been
included in–or have all but disappeared
from–the larger catalogs.
The Abundant Life Seed Foundation, for
example, specializes in plants native to the North Pacific
Rim, especially rare and endangered species that are not
generally commercially available. The foundation offers
seeds of trees and shrubs, garden and wild flowers, herbs,
vegetables (all open-pollinated and untreated), and sprouts. They will even barter for needed seeds, tools,
office supplies, or donated labor. So if you’d like to
plant a few Saskatoon serviceberry trees… or a stand of
thimbleberries or Himalayan blackberries or a patch of
Gramma Walters pole beans (perhaps allowing the vines to
climb the stalks of some Black Aztec corn), send $2.00
($2.60 in Canada) for a two-year subscription to the
foundation’s catalog. It’s worth every penny!
Another outfit that specializes in uncommon “kernels” is
the Prairie Seed Source. The Prairie Seed folks are devoted
to the preservation of the prairie plants that
once covered ten states and two Canadian provinces but which have–during the past 200 years–been
plowed, paved, or poisoned almost out of existence.
Disease and Pest Resistant Plants
Wholistic gardeners have developed a great number of
insect- and disease-control strategies, which include
organic sprays, companion plantings, and “everybody get out
in the garden with a can of kerosene” bug-picking parties.
But folks often forget about one of the most important
weapons in the natural gardener’s arsenal: the careful
selection of resistant plant varieties. A few minutes of
research in seed catalogs can save you many hours of
backyard toil and increase your garden’s yield.
You could–for example– fret about the
fungus that’s always laid waste your cucumbers in the past or you could plan ahead and set out one of the “super
cukes” with resistance or tolerance to anthracnose, powdery
and downy mildew, angular leaf spot, and scab. Look for
Sweet Slice and Victory among the table varieties, and
Liberty and Saladin for pickling.
Corn can be susceptible to a variety of insects, diseases,
and environmental stresses, but resistant cultivars
do exist. Burpee’s Honeycross is wilt-resistant,
and the ears are well protected from earworm and smut
damage. lo-chief–an All-America selection from a few
years back–is celebrated for its resistance to
drought. And Florida Staysweet, one of the extra-tasty
“super sweet” varieties, tolerates leaf blights and has a
lowered sensitivity to MDM virus.
Lettuce is one of the most popular garden crops, but many
backyard growers are disappointed when the plants bolt to
seed in the summer heat. Try cultivating Buttercrunch,
Summer Bib, or Green Ice, and chances are you’ll have
saladmakings well into the hot weather and maybe even all
Many folks also like to use peppers to perk up a bowl of
greens, but gardeners–especially those in cooler
areas–often have problems with poor fruit set as a
result of chilly nights. However, both New Ace and Canape,
fine-tasting peppers in their own right, laugh at
adverse weather. Resistant Giant Number 4 boasts
some immunity to tobacco mosaic virus.
Mildew often cuts short the summer squash season, but
Twilley’s Ambassador zucchini and Zucchini Select (from
Stokes) are both resistant to powdery mildew. The former also tolerates downy mildew. Plant these
varieties and harvest bumper crops right up until frost!
Almost everybody loves tomatoes, but nobody likes
the red fruit’s too frequent companion:
blossom-end rot. Sometimes–no matter how
careful you are about watering and working calcium-rich
crushed eggshells into the soil–half the crop of
‘maters will show those leathery patches. But if you make
sure to plant a few Floramerica vines, you’ll
always have some unmarked fruit: This tasty recent
All-America winner is tolerant of (or resistant to) 15
tomato diseases including blossom-end rot.
Save yourself some work and choose resistant varieties.
And, this summer , take an inventory of the
ailments your vegetables are susceptible to. Then, next
spring, you’ll be able to make even better-informed
The Gardener’s Bookshelf
The parade of fine gardening books never seems to end, and
two that have come our way recently deserve mention.
The Complete Book of Herbs and Herb Growing by Roy
Genders (Sterling Publishing Co., 1980) is a
beautifully illustrated volume that is crammed full of
information about more than 100 medicinal and culinary
herbs. Genders brings a lifetime of gardening experience to
this fine work … which–along with Park’s
Success With Herbs (George W. Park Seed
Co.)–would form a perfect basic herb-grower’s library.
And, for all those folks who want the guesswork taken out
of their gardening, we’ve recently produced (and are pretty danged proud of) the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Guide to (almost!) Foolproof