Garden Seasons: Small Seed Company Offerings

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Paris Trail
Esopus Spitzenberg apples, another antique variety from Mayor Nursery.

Sudden showers release the rich earthy odors lurking within the still-warming soil, and hosts of brightly blooming flowers nod bravely in the dancing spring breezes. Surrounded by the annual miracle of the planet’s rebirth, let your heart rejoice, and give thanks that your garden plot allows you to participate once again in this great awakening. 

Now that your first spring planting is likely to be pretty much completed, it’s time to take a breath and think about planning succession sowings of late summer and fall crops. And it’s also time to evaluate seed company offerings from some of the smaller, less well-known seed houses.

Describing itself as a homestead-based and -oriented seed company, Rick Grazzini’s firm, Self-Sufficient Seeds, has a dandy 65-page catalog that lists only varieties that Rick and his associates have put to trial and found worthwhile. Among the offerings that caught my eye were Burley snap beans (they have thick, fleshy pods with small seeds), Amsterdam Fine-Cutting celery (a Dutch leaf celery that’s grown for its tasty foliage, rather than for its stalks), bolt-resistant Perpetual and bright red Vulcan Swiss chards, Blaro and Lanro kohlrabies (these are European cultivars, with fewer stems and petioles than the common U.S.-grown varieties), and Keystone 7241 bolt-resistant spinach (Rick found that it stood without going to flower until mid-July, despite the heat of the Pennsylvania summer).

Several hundred miles northeast of Rick’s operation, Pinetree Garden Seeds — another particular favorite of mine — has come up with a real winner of a summer squash. Gold Crest hybrid, when tested last year by Pinetree’s owner Dick Meiners, produced 31 fruits from a very compact bush. As in the past, Pinetree sells small, garden-sized packets of untreated seeds for very low prices … often as little as 25 cents per pack!

Yet another vendor of small quantities of seed is Le Jardin du Gourmet. At this firm, the number of seeds in a package varies, but the price is always the same: a budget-cosseting 20¢! Look for interesting European cultivars as well as old favorites, and note the house specialty: shallots (the company offers several kinds).

A variety of vegetables from around the world have been stuffed into a real cornucopia of a catalog issued by The Urban Farmer. Among the impressive offerings are ten different varieties of leeks and Nine Star Perennial, a British broccoli that not only overwinters, but will crop for three to five years before the bed needs renewing! And along with plenty of good cultural information, this catalog provides lip-smacking suggestions from the owner’s cohort, the Chef. The packets are small, and the prices are low.

The larger seed houses haven’t been caught napping, either. The Olds catalog has always struck me as one of the most extensive, and the 1983 version continues in that tradition. For example, potato-lovers have a choice of nine cultivars, and you can select either whole tubers (5 pounds for $2.75, plus shipping) or eyes (50 for $4.95, postpaid). Olds also sells “starts” for the delicious little, yellow-fleshed fingerling potatoes that are so good in salads. Finally, they carry the Explorer true-to-seed variety.

Harris Seeds offers several exclusive introductions this year, including Polaris, a Nantes-type carrot; Avenger, a 57-day beet that displays true hybrid vigor; and Fancy Red, a disease-resistant radish that matures in 25 days.

Nearby, the folks at Agway continue to offer Pennfresh ADX, the multiple-gene super-sweet corn mentioned in Garden Season: Super Sweet Corn Varieties. There’s also Autumn Pride, a high-quality bush-type Hubbard winter squash with bright orange flesh that resists turning watery or stringy.

And at Comstock Ferre & Co., you’ll find Crisp As Ice, a butterhead lettuce that’s very slow to bolt, and Baby Slip, an 88-day honeydew that slips from the stem when ripe — just like a cantaloupe.

The adventuresome Twilley Seed Company continues to introduce new hybrids. Among the many for 1983, we particularly noticed Blue Max, the first hybrid collard; Tropical Delight, a Napa-type Chinese cabbage that’s bred to withstand hot weather; and All Top, a turnip grown (as you’d likely guess from the name) solely for its delicious greens.