Thursday, February 10, 2011

Seed Catalog Time

Crocuses, winter aconites, cornelian cherries and robins tell us that spring is near. But seed catalogs in winter are earlier harbingers. From the mailbox, they tend to migrate throughout the house, first to the kitchen table, then to the bedside table, and finally to the reading basket beside the commode.

A gardening friend asked me last evening at dinner whether I had perused all the new issues. She was excited about the AAS winners and other new plants on the market, especially the grafted tomatoes. (Tomato grafting is a process by which favorite old varieties are spliced onto new, disease resistant rootstock.) I confessed that I had not. There are just too many to get around to.

As she spoke of grafted tomatoes, my mind wandered to recall names of some old-fashioned varieties. (To be polite, I didn't let on that my mind was wandering.) There's Arkansas Traveler, Beefsteak, Kimberly, Brandywine, Bull's Heart, Ox Heart, Italian Plum, Mortgage Lifter, to name a few. I don't know why such varieties were abandoned. Perhaps varieties with better taste and disease resistance were bred and widely accepted. Perhaps newer varieties were highly promoted and popularized disproportionately to their worth. If disease-prone, it may be that tomato grafting will allow some of those heirloom varieties to be enjoyed again.

If you would like to explore the world of heirloom tomatoes, check out Gary Ibsen's Tomato Fest. I've had no experience with the company, but it looks promising. Browsing their web site has whetted my appetite for home-grown tomatoes like the ones in my grandmother's garden.

I've always had a nostalgic place in my heart for whatever good that was lost. It was touched again last fall when we came upon a roadside stand with a pile of Kershaw melons and Candy Roaster squash. I hadn't grown any for about 25 years. It was as though I had found treasure. We stopped and bought fewer than I actually wanted, but all that we could handle for a few weeks. Of course, we kept the seeds for planting this spring.

If Kershaws, Candy Roasters and other heirlooms interest you, check out Seed Saver's Exchange. Diane and Kent Whealy founded the non-profit organization in 1975. I learned about Seed Saver's Exchange in the late '70s. Though I haven't been involved as a member, I've appreciated their work and I recommend Seed Saver's Exchange to anyone who seems interested.

So, during seed catalog time, I wouldn't be surprised if your mind is wandering and wondering if you can make room in your garden for heirloom vegetables and fruits. Of course you can.

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