Archive for Wednesday, January 7, 1998

DREAMS OF SUMMER TASTE SENSATIONS BEGIN ARRIVING IN THE MAIL

January 7, 1998

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Kitchen and Garden

With the holidays behind me, I'm looking toward spring. I've been encouraged in this direction by the 50-degree temperatures we had last week, as well as by the continuing arrival of 1998 seed catalogs.

These harbingers of the gardening season have given me a craving for sliced, garden-ripened tomatoes, which bear only a passing resemblance to the imports and hot-house products available in the grocery stores now. The tomato of my dreams is the real thing, but for the next several months the only tangible evidence that it exists will be found in seductive catalog photos of smooth-skinned, ruby red fruits.

The competition for my mail-order dollars started a few days before Thanksgiving, about a week earlier than previous years. Territorial Seed Co. was the first vendor to land a catalog in my box, and since then I've piled 18 more catalogs on top of it. I am confident that more catalogs are on the way, because a couple I don't have yet are from companies that count on me to pay a good portion of their overhead.

Needless to say, my annual seed-shopping ritual generates lively discussion among members of my household who do not share the passion.

The skeptics do make one valuable point, however. Without first developing a garden plan, even the most prudent gardener is likely to over-buy. Although I've leafed through the catalogs that have arrived, I won't begin shopping in earnest until I've made a list of the seeds I have left over from last year and have drawn a theoretical garden on graph paper, showing what I want to plant and how much space I have available.

Sitting inside by the fire in January, it's easy to fall for the catalog come-ons, which consist of largely meaningless, interchangeable boilerplate. Who wouldn't want a tomato that's "big, beefy and dependable," as well as one with "heavenly flavor" and several others that are "juicy and high-yielding"? Before you know it, you've ordered them all -- whether you have room to grow them or not.

If I'm looking to plant mainstream varieties of vegetables, I can buy my seeds at local garden stores, which saves shipping costs and keeps my money in the local economy. Some local garden stores even stock the most popular seeds of such catalog vendors as Burpee and Shepherds.

Where catalogs have the edge is in variety, particularly of esoteric or international vegetables and herbs. In addition, many seed vendors also have put their names on their vegetables -- for example, the Park Whopper tomato, bell pepper, zuke and cuke -- and sell them exclusively through their catalogs.

Each year I get calls from readers who want to receive seed catalogs. Although I welcome the calls, I thought a list of some of the most popular vegetable seed catalogs, along with phone numbers, e-mail addresses where available and a description of their seed mix, might be useful.

  • Shumway's, 1-803-663-9771, features a basic selection of vegetables but is the exclusive seed source for such tomatoes as the Ponderosa Gold and Abraham Lincoln.
  • Park Seeds, 1-800-845-3369 and info

//www.shepherdseeds.com

  • Seeds of Change, 1-888-762-7333 and gardener

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