View from the Garden: Seeding the Hopes and Dreams of Summer


The snow on the ground is heavier than I remember it being in many years but it’s nonetheless time to settle down to the business of seed and vegetable plant ordering. I have selected about six catalogues from the gazillion that have come this season. As they arrive, there are some I throw away and some I keep to look through just in case they have something that looks interesting, leaving about six—two of which that I use regularly.

I have also found a few sites online for specialty plants…usually tomatoes, hot peppers and eggplants. These varieties could be grown in a greenhouse from seeds, but I don’t have one. They could be started on a windowsill, or under grow lights, but I find these methods unreliable. The sure way to have these plants for your garden is to order them. I have ordered many kinds of plants online and, almost without fail, found it successful.

I have used Johnny’s Selected Seeds for many years as my main source for seeds. Every year it gets better with more varieties, more information and more garden tools. Every category: beans, peas, beets etc. begins with nutrition information and continues with growing instructions, seed spacing, potential disease and insect threats and their suggested treatment and harvest information.

Then each specific variety in that category lists types of seed: open pollinated or hybrid. Open pollinated seeds, when saved and replanted, will become plants exactly like the plants from which the seed came. Heirloom plants are open pollinated seeds and have traveled though time in this manner. A gardener plants the seed from a plant that has done well or that has qualities the gardener likes. He grows the plant to maturity, collects the seed and replants it the next year. Some varieties have been kept for centuries this way.

Johnnie’s hybrid seeds are F1 hybrids. These are plants that have been created by physically crossing two unrelated types to glean specific desirable characteristics from each plant. Seeds from F1 hybrids will not produce plants like their parent. The physical cross must be made again and again to produce a consistent plant. Most of our popular vegetables are F1 hybrids.

Heirloom vegetables are very popular right now and, indeed, offer many flavors, colors, shapes and sizes. We can taste again those tomatoes from our childhood—as well as vegetables from other countries. Given that these varieties were saved by a person, or in a specific region, the plant will, over the years, have adapted to that place so it is good to grow heirlooms as experiments. Grow several varieties. Don’t depend on a bountiful crop and keep records of the successes. There are successes I plant each year. I also plant some experiments—but I plant hybrids as the main crop.

Back to the catalogue. Each specific variety under the general description has its own description and lists days to maturity. It will say if the plant is a vine or bush, how long or tall it will be, and when to pick the fruit.

One of my favorite things that Johnny’s offers are pelleted seeds of lettuce, carrots and beets. Seeds of lettuce and carrots are very small. Beet seeds are often several seeds in one. Using pelleted seeds, one can plant a single seed at a time…no thinning needed…making a beautiful row and saving time and seed. I love that!

The catalogue also offers berry plants, cover crop seeds, growing supplies, disease and insect controls (nothing dreadful) soil enhancements, a good tool section and other goodies.

When planning a vegetable garden one can’t have too much information. I actually study catalogues and that has been the foundation of vegetable gardening for me.

FYI: The Hallockville Museum Farm outside Riverhead has some very interesting programs for March and April including chutney-making, marmalade-making, a quilting class, a horseradish festival and more. They also have community garden plots available. Check it out…

For more info, visit

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