Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Siren Song of Seed Catalogs

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This year, seed catalogs began arriving before Christmas. I used to wait until January for their green presence in our snowy mailbox, but these have arrived early, harbingers of a season that seems distant in the shadow of my Christmas tree. I put them aside in a stack with a sense of anticipation, looking forward to having time to go through them once the holidays are over.

I love reading seed catalogs. The wind can be blowing snow sideways across my window, and icicles can be hanging from the eaves, but when I'm reading seed catalogs, I've taken a mini vacation to summer. There are juicy tomatoes, deep purple eggplants, and jaunty cabbages. I'm imagining my garden, and where I'll put the beans and the beets, the tomatoes and the tomatilloes.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, "Aside from the garden of Eden, man's great temptation took place when he first received his seed catalog."


My favorite catalog cover so far this year--Shumway's.
Every year, I start out resolute, thinking, "Just the basic stuff this year. Last year I tried too many varieties." And so I pick up a catalog, pen in hand, and begin my list in earnest. And I start out choosing just one pole bean variety, and then a dry bean. But by the time I reach the C's I read prose like, "a rare variety worth trying" or "perfect for pickling" or "no garden should be without..."

I'm lost. I've gone from a well-ordered list to madly scribbling in margins of the catalog, making little stars or symbols to remind me that this tomato is one I really want to try. I have lost all practical, rational sense, and am thinking about trying corn. Again. (I've tried corn, and it wasn't pretty. I cross it off.) But maybe this will be the year I hit my stride with cantaloupe. My resolute self reminds me that I have a small yard, and no room for the space hogs. A crazy gardener pops onto my shoulder, waves her pitchfork enthusiastically and says, "Yes, but what if you tried growing the cantaloupe on a trellis! Vertically! Think what else you could fit in that space!" I banish resolute self and add cantaloupe with a flourish.

It does not help that I also find myself thinking things like... "The chickens really love blueberries. Maybe I need to plant blueberries." Or... "I wonder if they'd like beet greens?" Suddenly, I'm taking my chickens' interests into account when choosing varieties.

This is not the direction I intended to go. I sit back and look at my list of seeds. Too long by half. There are still four catalogs sitting there, waiting. I'll go through them all, eventually, along with the others that are yet to arrive. My list will shrink and grow several more times before I settle on 2012's varieties.

In the meantime, we'll have snows and thaws, the chickens (even the new girls) will all be laying, and my moisture-laden garden soil will begin to warm. Garden catalog surfing will have carried me through January and February into a restless March, when instead of seed catalogs folded into my mailbox, I'll be greeted by the more tangible promise of seed packets. It'll be like Christmas all over again.

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