Weekend essay: Sowing the new year

Weekend essay: Sowing the new year

The 2018 seed catalogs have begun to arrive en masse. And for gardeners, it truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Territorial Seed Company’s 160-page catalog was first to arrive in my mailbox a few days before Christmas. Oh, boy, oh, boy, oh, boy – the possibilities!

Indeed, there are dozens of new varieties of the staples to consider, from tomatoes and cucumbers, to green beans and peppers. Then there are the lettuces and other greens from which to choose –  an incredible 11 pages in all.

But one of the great things about seed catalogs is the chance to choose totally new things to grow. Or at least dream as much. Any gardener worth his mulch always tries to sets aside at least some space to boldly go where he has not gone before.

One crop that definitely will be given some space this year is a very interesting variety of Romanesco known as “Veronica.” It’s described as “a somewhat nuttier cross between broccoli and cauliflower.”

A bit too odd? A bit too prehistoric-looking to eat? Perhaps. But something new for the new year should be an adventure.

Then there’s the “Red Samurai” carrot that is supposed to add “panache to salads and even retains its distinctive color when steamed.”

Who would disavow salad “panache”? And isn’t finding bold colors in “plating” an art unto itself?

Unique shallots anyone? One French variety is touted as having been “considered sacred by Persians and Egyptians” and is valued by “gourmets for the smooth, rich onion flavor they possess.”

Sounds enticing. But at $21.50 a pound, well, that’s just a tad pricey. Alas, other, more economical, options will be considered – no doubt more highly valued by my wallet.

Back to those lettuces. Why go with the same-old, same-old when scores of alternatives, some curiously named, abound?

Such as the heat-tolerant 50-day “Green Deer
Tongue.” Or the 55-day “Italienischer.” And, believe it or not, there’s even a 55-day butterhead variety dubbed the “Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed.”

The catalog’s writers declined to “hypothesize where the ‘drunken woman’ part of the name” came from. ‘Twas a wise show of discretion in these overtly sensitive times, one can only assume.

That said, a romaine variety called “Flashy Trout’s Back,” another 55-day green, might be the safer choice when talking seed prospects in mixed company.  Ahem.

Alas, it’s just about time to start preparing that seed order — to think about what to plant, where and when. How to sow the new year, so to speak, is a particularly nice thought as the bitter cold of winter barks and bites ever deeper.

A garden writer once reminded that the gardening season officially ends on Dec. 31 and begins on Jan. 1. So here’s to the end of one season and the beginning of another – all packed rather conveniently into two consecutive days.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).