Sunday, January 27, 2008

Barker Creek Heirloom Seeds...Shipped!

I love it when I get a little email letting me know my seeds have been shipped. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds did just that today. Hooray!

Before I begin the review of my Baker Creek order, I have a confession to make. I did get a little carried away with looking at the photos in this catalog. But, the price per packet is such a deal with Baker Creek that I don't feel too guilty (plus they have a flat $3 rate for shipping and handling).

Nasturtium 'Alaska Mix' is a repeat from last year. It is a great performer and I was mean to it. Days without water, baking in the sun, this annual just kept going. Eldon requested this to use the variegated leaves as little dinner plates for our fancy Thanksgiving feast. Alas, we never used the leaves because we went to Tanzania instead (more stories and another blog to come). 'Alaska Mix' is not an aggressive climber, but is more of a trailing annual. I tried to train it. It didn't work so I just let it do its thing along the edge of the veggie bed. The flower colors run the range of traditional colors: hot oranges and reds to subdued peach and cream.

I chose the French Breakfast radish. I know I can grow radishes well. I just have to be on top of thinning them out. The French Breakfast radish has an elongated shape compared to the typical globe-shaped root you see in the grocery store. Yes, that's a root you're eating! Another veggie request from Eldon for when he makes "Chilled Asparagus with Vinaigrette and Eggs Mimosa" from Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook. I'm hoping the radishes are as bright as they are in the photos of the catalog.

I am a sucker for edible flowers. When I saw the 'Shungiku' edible chrysanthemum, I had to try it out. Who could resist these cute white daisies with yellow centers? They will be great in summer salads. The leaves are also said to be great in salads and stir fry. At $1.50 per packet it's worth a try.

I already admitted to my two "Zonal Denial" purchases: Pepino Melon and Thai Red Roselle. For those who are not familiar with "Zonal Denial," it's when you are in total denial of what climate, or zone, you live in. The USDA categorized the country into 11 Zones, and Sunset Western Garden uses 24. The Pepino Melon is from the Andes and grows well in New Zealand. Thai Red Roselle, as the name suggests is from Thailand. Yes, I'm taking my chances. But, I can't resist the challenge. I am still dreaming of the Pepino melon's taste and texture. And the Roselle is striking and has edible flowers--I'm sold!

*The seeds were received on Jan 30th. And they threw in a free packet of European Mesclun Salad. Yippee!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Seed Order...Done!

I filled out each garden catalog form extensively and realized that my eyes were bigger than my garden. I needed to narrow down my choices. I went through my seed catalogs one by one to whittle down my lists. But, all those wonderful pictures of red-ripe tomatoes and perfect eggplant made it way too difficult to choose. And don't even get me started on the flowers!

I remembered an article my husband, Eldon, pointed out to me on last year. Constance Casey gave free advice to the home gardener in "What to look for in gardening catalogs." After which, Eldon sent away for the catalog she said was her favorite: Kitchen Garden Seeds. Yay another one. Little did he know I had already ordered seeds for myself and friends by then, but I digress.

You'll get a glimpse of what I'm talking about just by looking at the cover of Burpee's catalog at the beginning of the article. Armfuls of tomatoes the size of grapefuits--very tempting! Constance says to go through the catalogs, fill out that order form and then tear it up.

I more or less did this. I put aside the order forms, and wrote down what I wanted to grow on a blank piece of paper.

I keep in mind these criteria as I make my wish list:

1. Can I find this in the market pretty easily and for a good price?
2. Is it aesthetically interesting?
3. Is it easy to grow?
4. How many days until harvest?

The ultimate, automatic criteria is whether Eldon requested it. Either that or he'll convert the garden into an apple orchard.

I then chose three seed companies I would go with. Kitchen Garden Seeds easily made the cut since I didn't get a chance to order from them last year. The other two were Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Cook's Garden because their seeds were good performers last year.

From Kitchen Garden Seeds I ordered Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights,' Fennel 'Fino,' Kale 'Tuscano Lacinato,' and Fava Beans 'Supersette.' Swiss Chard Bright Lights, meets all the criteria. It's pretty, easy to grow, and takes around 60 days to mature. Eldon requests this for his dried fig and squab dish he makes at Thanksgiving.

Some of you may cringe at my choice with fennel. Yes, it can be a weed, but I am hoping I can harvest the flowers for different dishes. If I harvest the flowers, it will never go to seed and I'll prevent a fennel forest from forming along my street. I also like the feathery look of fennel. I am growing it mostly for the bulb. I saw one at the store this week for $3.99. Granted it was organic, but c'mon!

'Tuscano Lacinato,' also known as Dinosaur Kale, is wonderfully sweet and nutty; not at all bitter. The dark green leaves have an rippled texture and striking light green veins. It will be a great alternative when we get burnt out on the Swiss Chard. Another crop that will take 60 days to harvest.

I know. I know. Fava beans take about 100 days to mature so I may not produce a crop. But, when they're $3.99/lb at the market, I'll pay $3.50 for 50 seeds and take my chances. The description boasts white and purple flowers yielding 7-9 beans per pod. Plus, how can you argue with when the cultivar is 'Supersette'!?

Stay tuned for when I review my orders for Baker Creek Heirloom Seed and Cook's Garden.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year, New Plants

Right on cue, seed catalogs are clogging my mailbox. Within a few days I have received Baker Creek Heirloom Seed, Burpee Seed (I don't remember signing up for this one), The Cook's Garden (who are now Burpee), Kitchen Garden Seed, Osbourne Seed (how did they get my name?), and Johnny's Seed.

My eyes get bigger and bigger as I browse each catalogue, pen in hand to mark the ones I can't live without. The glossy photos shout at me endless possibilities! Do I want repeats of good performers? Or should I through caution to the wind and try all new crops this year?

I decided to do a little of both. I will select those crops that have shorter days for maturation. Remember my Brussels sprouts? I learned just a couple weeks ago 'Falstaff' requires 100-150 days. I live in Seattle where summer can be a gamble. I may be jipped out of another summer and would rather not be disappointed again.

However, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds tempts me with their catalogue. They are in Missouri where it's more hot and humid than the Pacific Northwest. And, they collect seed from Thailand, Mexico, and other lovely warm places. One new crop I will try this year is Pepino Melon. I tried a slice from the salsa guy at the Columbia City Farmers' Market. It was so delicious! It was like eating a pear-flavored mango: the texture of mango but the flavor of pear. I asked Amando (of Tierra Bonita: Olympia's Salsa) to write down the scientific name for me: Solanum mauricatum. It's surprisingly related to tomato, eggplant, and potato--all memebers of the Nightshade family.

The other crop I will try this year is Thai Red Roselle. Techincally a hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa), it is recommended by the folks at Baker Creek for making cranberry-flavored beverages, jelly, and pie. The plant is strikingly red and they claim there are too many uses for them to list. Zonal denial has set in and I'm sold.

Over the next few weeks, I will keep you up-to-date with my wish list and from where I will be buying the seed to complete my veggie garden. I'm already dreaming of peppery radishes, purple eggplant, and ruby-red tomatoes.