Headfirst into the new year

It’s time to dive into catalogs!  I’ve been staring at the growing stack of them on the potting shed table for nearly 2 weeks now, waiting for Gail to return from vacation, and resisting the urge to begin the browse.  (We shop as a team.)  But there are a couple of catalogs that I just can’t keep myself from flipping through and others that I’m inclined to recycle without a glance because of where my head is this year.  Over the summer I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
by Barbara and Camille Kingsolver and Stephen L. Hopp; last month I read In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan and right now I’m in the middle of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, also by M. Pollan.  These three books have me thinking differently not only about food but about ordering seeds.  Call me naive, but this time last year I didn’t know that most of the seed companies we order from are either owned by Monsanto (the largest producer of genetically engineered seeds and the largest seed company in the world) or buy seeds from them.  I also didn’t know that

…in 1981 there were approximately 5,000 vegetable seed varieties available in U.S. catalogs. Today there are less than 500, a 90 percent reduction.

-from The gardening game By Jerri Cook Wisconsin

Gail and I will be shopping primarily for ornamentals – mostly flowers, some veggies (Super Volunteer Dick orders seeds for the vegetable bed) – and we’ll still order from our usual array of companies (including Johnny’s, Territorial, Stokes, Burpee, Thompson & Morgan, Seeds of Change, Jung, and Pinetree) because they do carry seeds for some of the plants we love to grow and I’m all for encouraging those sources to keep providing our favorites.  But I’m really looking forward to placing big orders (maybe larger than usual) with Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds because that’s where my head is.  These companies (Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit membership organization) sell open pollinated seeds even though (and because) it means we might save seed (we do!) and not have to buy the same thing from them again.  They sell heirloom varieties that our grandparents might have grown.  The cool thing is that, like me, more and more people are interested in these varieties and the selection grows every year.

Have you read any of the books I mentioned?  (Have they changed your life?)  If you’re in the area and have read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – or want to, it happens to be the selection for the very first “Book Worms” Book Club meeting on February 23rd hosted by Blithewold and the Norman Bird Sanctuary.  Please join us!

Do you have favorite seed catalogs?  Do you make a point of ordering heirloom varieties?  Do you save seed?

4 thoughts on “Headfirst into the new year

  1. Talk about parallel lives again :) I’m in the middle of “Omnivore’s Dilemma” now and have “Animal, Vegatable…” waiting (a Christmas gift from LAST year!). Reading the book has me at once hyper-aware of what we’re eating and more glum than ever about where industry has taken us, the animals, the land. But with so many people becoming more aware of these issues, there is hope for change! I have never had a big veggie garden, or any other garden, so never ordered seed before, but this will be my first year! My neighbor and I are talking about ordering together to make the most of some of the bigger seed packs that neither of us could use on our own. One of my garden goals is to make the veg garden a lot more varied and productive (we don’t need 16 tomato plants), and another is to make the most of natives in our ornamental plantings. I’m saving plastic gallon jugs so as to cold stratify some seeds I collected and that were given to me–a measly 6 or 7 varieties but a good start :) Also, I’m hoping to find some interesting things in the NARGS seed exchange. Our ACNARGS group is doing Stage 2 of the seed exchange, so I’ll get to participate on the ground in a vibrant community of seed savers and starters! Psyched!

    Lynn, it sounds like you are totally set! It’s a great idea to share seeds with a neighbor and it’ll make choosing varieties a lot easier and more fun too. And if the natives take off in your garden (no reason why they wouldn’t) you’ll have some very happy wildlife too! There’s hope indeed. -kris

  2. Happy New Year! Don’t you just love catalog season? I haven’t had much success with seeds, but I do save Columbine seeds. I’m trying to limit myself to ordering seeds that can be direct-sown in the garden. Those seem to work best. I’m going to get hybrid Zinnias because I want a mildew-resistant variety.

    MMD, Some of the hybrid zinnias are such perfect plants… We’ve been using them so much (like crutches) that we’re going to try to wean ourselves off them this year. We love the Profusions and Z. angustifolia ‘White Star’ for low color (12″ or so) and the Benary’s for tall (they’re perfect for cutting…) Direct-sown seeds are very gratifying and don’t need to be babied like the starts. Happy seed shopping! -kris

  3. Kris: Love both of those books and it might be time to read them again. Put Michael Pollan’s ‘Botany of Desire’ on your list as it is also a great read. ‘In Defense of Food’ is on the shelf waiting to be read. Barbara K’s book was inspiration but, at the same time, exhausting as I would never have time to live that way…well, maybe when I retire. She had lots of great plant tips also didn’t she. I am loving the Baker’s Creek catalog and did order some seeds from them last year. Genetic diversity can save the world! Great post.

    Thanks, Layanee – I think I might be ready to try ‘Botany of Desire’ again (I made it only partway through the last time – but now I’m on a Pollan jag) and I agree with your assessment of the Kingsolvers’/Hopp’s endeavor. It would be a full-time job and if you already have one of those (or even a part-time) it would be tough to do what they did. But even just growing some food and patronizing local farmers markets would be good for us and the world. Happy seed ordering! -kris

  4. Hi kris,
    Just getting a chance to look at the blog…yes, a new catalog arrives every day, and i sit with it and my espresso at breakfast…do you get The fragrant path catalog from Nebraska? Every year I have that fantasy of having LARGE plots of land(that someone else has prepared),planting scads of seeds,and having gardens full of every plant that i don’t yet know., is a funny color, or just plain strange,,,Norma

    Norma, I’m going to have to look for Fragrant Path – that’s not one we get – and it sounds like we might need it if it has just plain strange things! -kris

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