“Though an old man, I am but a young gardener.”
— Thomas Jefferson
When it comes to choosing the best carrot variety to grow in your garden, the last place a first-year gardener needs to go is a seed catalog — or at least most of them.
Let’s say you want to grow two varieties, one that will provide fresh carrots through the summer from multiple sowings, and one that will mature in late summer from a single sowing and hold up well in winter storage. Both will have to hold up well during the warm days of summer.
You can read catalog copy until your eyes cross and your mind becomes boggled by all the choices. There are orange carrots, purple carrots, yellow carrots and white carrots. There are ball-shaped carrots and carrots that grow long and tapered. There are carrot varieties that “excelled in our trial gardens” — in Oregon or South Carolina. Every variety is the “best” in one way or another.
First-time gardeners in Maine are lucky to have a home-based seed company, Johnny’s Selected Seeds of Winslow producing a catalog that is truly a useful decision-making tool. On the two pages devoted to carrots, they recommend two early varieties for novice gardeners, Mokum and Nelson, and a single variety, Bolero, for storage.
If you are lucky enough to have an experienced gardener as mentor, you have the best of all possible resources. Someone with years of experience growing carrots in Maine will mention Mokum and Bolero during one of your over-the-fence conversations. These are relationships worth cultivating.
So why the tall stack of seed catalogs on the floor by my fireside chair? Because they open the door to possibilities, to experimentation.
I found two cucumber varieties to play with this summer, both in Abundant Life Seeds catalog. Boothby’s Blonde is an heirloom cuke introduced by the Boothby family of Livermore, Maine. The catalog copy promises a heavy yield of creamy-yellow fruits, crisp and sweet. Lemon, an heirloom from Russia, is “great for gardeners with cooler growing seasons.” Its fruits, ripening on semi-bush type plants, are apple-shaped with lemon-colored skins and mild, sweet flesh.
Abundant Life Seeds (Oregon) and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Missouri) share a common mission, the protection of genetic diversity of rare and endangered vegetable varieties. Both offer heirloom lettuce varieties that are fun to grow and both sell edamame (soy) bean seed. Last year’s attempt at growing edamame beans failed because of the cool wet season, so I’ll try again this year.
Baker Creek’s 2010 catalog contains 15 pages of heirloom tomatoes, none of which stood a chance of success last year, caught between the blight and nights too cool for fertilization. So, try again! And this year’s catalog promises Sungold Select II to be even sweeter than the original Sungold cherry tomato. I suppose there is only one way to know for sure.
And so, first-year gardeners, do not be daunted by catalog copy of dozens of varieties, whether carrots, peas, or tomatoes. Rely on local resources, including Johnny’s catalog and veteran gardeners, to guide you. Then order as many seed catalogs as you can to feed your imagination. Try something new every year.
For more recommendations, download a copy of the UMaine Extension publication, “Vegetable Varieties for Maine Gardens” (Bulletin #2190), available at http://www.umext.maine.edu/onlinepubs/htmpubs/2190.htm.
You can connect with the seed companies mentioned above at their Web sites: Abundant Life Seeds, abundantlifeseeds.com; Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, www.rareseeds.com; Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Johnnyseeds.com.
Send queries to Gardening Questions, P.O. Box 418, Ellsworth 04605, or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include name, address and telephone number.