By Barbara Pleasant, Calmful Living Garden Editor When you are a gardener, spring explodes with opportunities to plant things you have grown and loved, and to try new things that have caught your interest. It pays to be curious, because many veggies can be phenomenally successful when you find varieties that love your site and soil. Working with seeds is inexpensive and fun, and starting with seeds opens the door to a much bigger selection of varieties than you will have if you plant purchased seedlings. This spring I will again plant ‘Sugar Snap’ peas and ‘Red Russian’ kale—two of my “can’t do without them” crops—but I also have plans for five recent seed packet purchases that I’m itching to plant. Here they are, in seasonal order.
1. While it’s still cold outside, I will start sowing pinches of ‘Lettuce Mix’ from Turtle Tree Seeds in small containers to grow under lights, and then I will sow more of the seeds in the garden as the weather warms. Turtle Tree’s Lettuce Mix includes eight beautiful varieties, all raised and packaged by a special group of people using biodynamic methods. Turtle Tree is based at Camphill Village in rural New York, a busy community that provides vibrant, connected lives for special-needs adults. I have always been pleased with their seeds and the invaluable work that they do.
2. I love fresh cabbage, and for a long time I grew hybrid varieties because I thought my cabbage heads should be large and dense, like the ones in stores. But for several years now, I’ve been growing more old-fashioned cabbage varieties, which are so tender and leafy that I like them much better. Last year I grew and loved the almost buttery ‘Copenhagen Market’ variety; so this year I’m trying ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’, another time-tested heirloom. It’s never too early to start cabbage, so my seeds are germinating under lights while it’s still snowing outside.
3. Commercial celery is so sad. According to What'sOnMyFood.org, celery is tainted with more pesticides than any other vegetable. Also puzzling is the way garden celery grows differently from the way it does in factory farm fields. When set free in a garden, celery produces narrow, deeply flavorful stalks that can be pulled off as needed in the kitchen. This year I’m bringing back the coolest celery I have ever grown, red-stemmed ‘Redventure’. Patience is needed to grow the tiny seedlings, but then you get big, robust plants that produce crisp, red-blushed stalks all season long. Chopped red celery looks fabulous in cold summer salads, too.
4. I like to try a new-to-me tomato variety every year, and this season’s pick is ‘Opalka’, a thick-fleshed heirloom paste tomato from Poland. In addition to being a good tomato for canning and drying, I’ve heard that Opalka is juicy enough to use in salads and on sandwiches too. I think it will get along well with the cute little ‘Stupice’ and bigger ‘Ruth’s Perfect’ tomatoes we grow every year.
5.The crop I’m most excited about is peppers, because I’ve procured seeds of a promising spice pepper I’ve never grown before. Assuming things go well, I will smoke the ripe fruits from my ‘Hungarian Paprika Spice’ peppers in gentle wafts of apple wood smoke, and then dry them in the dehydrator. Some I will grind into fresh smoked paprika. Does this not sound like fun? Every new season should bring experiments with new things that might make gardening even more enjoyable and rewarding, and you get to pick your own adventures. So join me in splurging on those packets of seeds, and dig in. It’s going to be a great year.
Barbara Pleasant is not just an expert, she’s passionate about everything garden. She’s the author of four books, including Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens and is a contributing editor to Mother Earth News and the Herb Companion magazines. Her work has garnered her multiple awards.