Agriculture & Livestock: Poring over spring seed catalogs

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Diane Prather

Seed catalogs start arriving in the mail each year just before Christmas, some with discount coupons for orders sent in before the spring rush begins.

Poring over seed catalogs can cause the senses to trigger memories of warm April/May planting days, the once-a-year odor of richly tilled soils that are “coming alive,” and the feel of garden soil on the hands.

So, after the hustle and bustle of the holidays are over, many gardeners like to take out the seed catalogs and pass long winter nights by deciding what to plant in that summer’s garden.

Not so with others, however.

“Shame on you for doing this to us (writing about seed catalogs) in January,” Craig resident Lorrae Moon said.

Moon chuckled.

“Don’t look at the catalogs,” she said. “Put them aside. If you start reading them, your heart rate will go up, there’s an increased chance of divorce (because you’ll think of things that have to get done), and it will be an ‘ugly thing’ until it gets close to spring.”

However, if you do decide to study the catalogs, notice how many new varieties of seeds and started plants they offer this year. Is it a good idea to try these new hybrids?

Moon said she plants some of them.

“They’re fun,” she said. “Why not have some fun in your garden?”

“I look for the maturity dates in the garden seed descriptions. If there’s a new variety that will make the growing season in our hardiness zone, I’ll give it a try.”

And new varieties there are.

For example, some of this year’s catalogs offer a hybrid pumpkin seed that produces jack-‘o-lanterns with wart-like bumps on their skins. What a hit they would be on Halloween. Another variety of seed produces a pink pumpkin with bumps that resemble peanuts, and they completely cover the skin.

There are lots of little pumpkins, too, with names like “Jack Be Little,” “Baby Boo,” and “Wee-Be-Little.”

The mini “Baby Boo” pumpkins are white, thus the name.

Gardeners can also buy seed that will grow larger white pumpkins, and larger pumpkins can be grown that are gray-blue, mottled pink and blue, red-orange, and peach. And that’s not all — imagine a pumpkin with red-orange “veins” running over a white background. This variety of pumpkin is described in the catalog as resembling “bloodshot eyeballs.”

Gourds in a wide variety of colors and shapes are used in fall decorating. Gourds resemble birdhouses, snakes, and swans. They have wings, thorn-like projections, and “fingers.”

Most of the time people are used to cooking potatoes with red and white skins. However, there are purple-skinned potatoes, such as the Purple Viking and Purple Majesty.

Moon said these purple-skinned potatoes are good. The cooked potato has a little purple tint.

Moon said there is also a Yukon Gold variety of potato that has a butter-creamy texture. She said that perhaps this variety is a little more desirable for mashing.

Other unusual colors in garden plants include a round radish that is white with a green topping but a pink flesh when sliced. Gardeners can buy yellow raspberry and purple asparagus plants.

There are seed varieties that grow watermelon fruit with dark-green skins covered with yellow speckles, a Moon and Stars Watermelon, with a flesh that we usually expect. A type of maize with yellow, pink, green, and white-striped leaves is unusual, indeed. So is a tomato that has a chocolate to blackish shading.

Moon has some suggestions if you choose to plant new varieties of seeds. She suggests you share seeds with neighbors who also garden. That way you can keep costs down. If you have seeds leftover, save them for another year. Store them in a cool, dry place that’s out of the sunlight.

Also, Moon suggests keeping a journal of what you plant.

Since gardeners sometimes receive more than one catalog, one of them can be cut up, removing the pictures and descriptions of the seeds you ordered. Paste them in your journal to remind yourself of the maturity dates and other information about the plants.

Moon, who often exhibits vegetables at the county fair, sometimes puts a copy of the seed description on the plate with the exhibit.

And perhaps most importantly, Moon said not to get discouraged when trying new varieties of seeds and plants.

Keep in mind that a hybrid might be more susceptible to bugs and fungi until the “bugs are worked out” by the suppliers. If the seeds aren’t offered in the next year’s catalog, they probably didn’t work out.

Enjoy the spring seed catalogs, no matter when you pore over them.

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