Happy Seed Year

“Happy New Year!” When I hear that, seeds come to mind. The new year’s first month is when I plan my garden, fueled by favorite seed catalogs.

In this month’s “Edible Garden” column for Edible Seattle magazine, I offer glimpses into my annual plunge into the seed catalogs. I’ve written about this before in a series on this blog as well–here’s the first one. I took my writing inspiration from Katherine White, whose “Onward and Upward in the Garden” is a funny, perceptive, classic read.

The arrival of colorful seed listings literally whets my appetite, and I dig into my canned veggies and winter garden when browsing the offerings. Sautéed kale pairs quite nicely with down-home Territorial Seeds, while pickled beets (my mother’s recipe) brightens even further the glossy Seed Savers Exchange catalog.

Since Edible Seattle wouldn’t let me take over all their pages to wax poetic about seed companies, I’d like to offer links and comments on a number of favorite catalogs.

SSE's Prickly Caterpillar

Entry for Prickly Caterpillar in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog.

Here are some of our stellar bioregional Pacific Northwest growers:

Adaptive Seeds — They seem to have a little of everything, including a number of tomato varieties unknown to me. Till now, that is.

Bountiful Gardens (a project of Ecology Action) — This is the seed catalog of the non-profit garden educators. Check out their collection of plants that will create habitat and food for beneficial insects, one of founder John Jeavons’ important messages.

Irish Eyes Garden Seeds — What started as potatoes (those Irish eyes!) and garlic has blossomed into a full seed company. But still, check out the spuds!

Kitizawa Seed Co. — They offer the broadest selection of Asian vegetable seeds, which means I can try two or three new mustard or choi varieties. Happy 100th anniversary to the Kitizawa family business!

Resilient Seeds (& Backyard Beans & Grains Project) — Resilient offers a curated list of legumes and grains that grow well in our climate. I’m excited to try their Overwintering Fava, which they say has more tender skin that eliminates the need to peel.

Territorial Seed Co. — The giant in our midst, this full-line vegetable seed company always has a couple of pages of new offerings, as well as nearly all your old favorites.

Uprising Seeds — One of my fave newer companies, Uprising offers a wide variety of seeds, including the Felder cabbage mentioned in my Edible Seattle article that’s going into my garden this year.

Victory Seeds — They focus on rare, open-pollinated and heirloom seeds, a wonderful combination.

Wild Garden Seed — This treasure offers many “farm originals” that have been bred for our region. The catalog also includes an annual essay from Frank Morton, whose Wild Garden Kale mix has become a staple for me. It’s always interesting to see what he’ll come up with next.

 

And here are some valuable companies outside the Northwest:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds — With the most amazing print catalog (a real work of art) and a penchant for quirkiness, this company also sells unusual heirloom seeds not found anywhere else.

Botanical Interests — The providers of my recently unearthed gigantic parsnip, this company has a full array of vegetable seeds, sold in beautiful packaging.

Fedco Seed Co. — This Maine-based company focuses on cold-hardy vegetables, which is a good angle for our maritime growing season.

High Mowing Organic Seeds — Serious about organics, this company provides high-quality seeds and sells to commercial growers as well. They grow much of their seed on a 40-acre farm, and have more than 40 new varieties for 2017.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds — Another Maine company, this one 100% employee-owned, was a pioneer nationally in garden seeds.

Seed Savers Exchange — This revered non-profit leads the heirloom seed movement and, through their extensive seed bank, offers thousands of little-known varieties. I urge gardeners everywhere to support this organization as well as to try some of their unique varieties.

I know this is not an exhaustive list (although a bit exhausting, when you pile up all the catalogs on your desk!). If you sell seeds to home gardeners and want to suggest I add you to the list, please contact me.

ps: If you’re crazy about seeds too, come to our Great Seattle Seed Swap at the King County Seed Lending Library. It’s the last Saturday in January in north Seatt.e

Shirley’s Beet Pickles

If your beets are sizing up, or you can get a big batch of them at a farmers market, how about making some tasty pickles? This is my mother’s beet pickle recipe, simple and yet delicious.

Beet Pickles

And of course, since it came from her and it is food I loved as a child, it always takes me back to my North Dakota farm roots.

I don’t know what variety beets she grew, but for pickles I like to grow Detroit Dark Red or Early Wonder Tall Top for the rich burgundy color.

Ingredients

  • 5-1/3 cups cooked beets (about 6 large)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1-1/2 cups vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 stick cinnamon, broken
  • ½ teaspoon whole allspice

Directions

Remove beet tops, leaving 1 inch of top. Boil the beets in lightly salted water. When tender enough for a knife to pass through them, drain. Cool the beets in icy water, slipping the skin off them while they’re still hot. When cool, cut into 1-inch chunks.

Simmer the water, vinegar, sugar and spices for 15 minutes.

Pack the beets into jars and cover with liquid to within 1/2 inch of the jar top. Process for 30 minutes in a hot water bath.

Makes 3 pints.

p.s. For details on growing successive plantings of root crops, including beets, for fall and winter, see my column in the July-August, 2016 issue of Edible Seattle.

Cultivate Community: Share Seeds

Handling garden seeds always fertilizes my mind. The crops virtually spring up, even before they’ve been sown. And it’s almost as energizing to pass a handful of seeds to another gardener.

So this weekend I expect sprouts to come out of my ears and roots to grow from my fingertips as I help to host “Seed Swap!” It’s the second annual open trading day sponsored by the King County Seed Lending Library.KCSLLlogo

We’ll be sharing seeds and cultivating community on Saturday, Jan. 31, 1-4 p.m. at the Phinney Center in Northwest Seattle. The free event is in conjunction with National Seed Swap Day.

For me, it’s just an extension of a practice we’ve been doing for years with a group of gardening friends.

Gathered around the kitchen table, we thumb the seed catalogs, share our own seeds, and decide what to order and grow this year.

We return to our own gardens with the wisdom of our friends’ results, along with a few of their shared seeds. And when we collectively order a new variety, it comes with the feeling that we’re plowing a new furrow together, each in our own garden, but somehow with everyone’s hands on the hoe.

Go Hawks!Our event will inaugurate the newest branch of the seed library: the Phinney Neighborhood Association! The PNA has agreed to host the seed collection in its popular Tool Library. Starting in February, seeds can be “checked out” during the Tool Library’s regular hours.

Workshops will offer tips on saving and cleaning seeds. Speakers include KCSLL Co-director and Urban Food Warrior Caitlin Moore, author and educator Lisa Taylor (Your Farm in the City, Maritime Northwest Garden Guide), and me. There will be a tour of the tool and seed library, and tables with greening groups there to visit.

So this Saturday, come up to Phinney Ridge and bring your seeds and empty seed packets. If you don’t have seeds, just bring an open mind about trying something new. Someone’s sure to inspire you with a smattering of seeds.

Gift Some Ideas: Books, Classes, Guide

Gifts

Here’s a last-minute gift idea for the garden gnomes in your life: give them ideas.

Winter often causes discontent among gardeners, being forced by the weather to put the growth on hold. So why note spend this time learning new techniques and brushing up on your skills?

I was involved in two great projects this year that you could get for your gardener, and I also would like to submit my two gardening books for your consideration.

Online class: My new Craftsy class “The Extended Harvest: Vegetables for Every Season” is on sale for half price. In fact, all of their great classes are on sale, including many other gardening classes and photography, art, cooking and craft topics.Craftsy logo

Filmed in my garden, my 7-lesson, 2-hour video class takes viewers through techniques for year-round edible gardening. It was fun to make, and I hope you will enjoy learning from it.

Book: It’s a topic close to my heart: also the theme of this website and my book Cool Season Gardener, which you can find at many bookstores and garden nurseries.

Guide: I had the privilege to serve as editor for Seattle Tilth’s major overhaul of the Maritime Northwest Garden Guide, which came out early this year. Wow, what a project.

Primary author Lisa Taylor and I put our heads together and packed the guide chock-full of all the education, tips and techniques taught by Seattle Tilth, the region’s premiere center for learning how to grow your own organic food.

Book: My early work with Seattle Tilth, as a volunteer in the garden and a student, exposed me to the regional heirloom vegetables that became the topic of my first book, Edible Heirlooms.

Our affiliation with Abundant Life Seed Foundation and Seed Savers Exchange exposed me to the world of heirlooms, which sparked a lifelong love for growing, appreciating and eating heritage vegetables.

The class is quickly ordered online, and the Garden Guide and my books are widely available at bookstores and garden nurseries.

May this winter’s ideas generate a fruitful garden in 2015.

Happy Holidays!

 

Extended Harvest class

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Cinderella’s Limo

Susie's pumpkin illustration

An incredible rendering of the Cinderella pumpkin (really an old French squash variety) was done by my wife, Susie Thorness, for my book Edible Heirlooms.

I just figured out what I liked about the story of Cinderella: the transformed pumpkin.

As you will recall, the mistreated heroine of the story needed a coach in which to travel to the ball, once she herself had been transformed into a beautiful maiden. After all, you couldn’t just hoof it up to the big event in your gown. So a pumpkin was transformed into a glittering carriage, elevated on giant, spindly wheels and presided over by a stately coachman (formerly a rat) who drove a team of spirited horses (which had been mice). Now, that was the way to show up at the ball.

And in a moment, the pumpkin became a star. Just as the girl had been overlooked by the family when she just needed a bit of cleaning up to dazzle everyone, so did the plump orange squash simply need to be freed of its viney headdress and swath of shrouding leaves to be seen at its best: rich in color, with a glossy glow, perfectly unique and shapely. Ready for its Rolls Royce makeover.

Cinderella pumpkin

This year’s model, straight off the vine.

It is not the only transformation of a squash into a vessel of higher purpose (or, for that matter, transportation–see giant zucchini car races), but it is perhaps the one with the most imagination. Of the many things around the farm that could have been transformed into a carriage fit for a princess, the pumpkin might have been the most unlikely choice. But an inspired one.

The Cinderella pumpkin was modeled after the French variety Rouge Vif d’Etampes, a slightly flattened, elongated squash with glowing red-orange skin. It is a far cry from the tall, rotund, pale Connecticut Field variety carved up for Jack O’Lanterns on Halloween.

It’s ironic, really, because if any member of the squash family should be the icon for a transformative night of magic and costumes, this Cinderella really has the foot that fits that slipper.

pumpkinslice

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