2014 Seed Orders

Seed Packets 2014

My 2014 seed orders have arrived and I’ve interfiled these crisp, unopened packets with the tattered and taped, partially full or nearly empty envelopes of seeds I’m carrying over from past years. It’s a perfect rainy day task, alphabetizing seed packets, moving from arugula to beans, beets, broccoli and Brussels sprouts and on through to tomatoes and zucchini, thinking about what varieties worked well last year, what I’m not likely to plant again and what I’m looking forward to trying this year for the first time.

Beans: I rarely grow bush green beans, preferring the flavor and growth habit of pole green beans, but last spring my friend Carol gave me a handful of Maxibel bush beans seeds and persuaded me to try them.  They were delicious and productive so I ordered some more from Fedco. Pole filet beans like Fortex are still my favorite but these Maxibels give us a welcome taste of beans earlier in the summer.

Eggplant: Last year I tried two “mini eggplant,” Fairy Tale and Hansel from Johnny’s. Fairy Tale was too mini and not very tasty but Hansel was bigger and good enough to try again.  I still prefer full-size eggplants like Galine, Diamond or Rosa Bianca sliced into thick rounds and grilled with other summer vegetables or cut into inch-size chunks for caponata but smaller Hansel is handy to have for quick sautés and careful grilling.

Kale: Last year’s new White Russian Kale, a relative of Red Russian, was just as tasty raw or braised as its cousin and stood up even better to the deep cold that hit the winter kitchen garden several times this season.  It’s also a pretty addition to the kale bed so I’ll be sure to grow more of this Territorial Seed offering this year.

Leeks: I tried Bandit and Lexton from Johnny’s this year in hopes of finding a leek that is resistant to leek rust.  A few spots of rust did appear on the green spears of these leeks but was no where near so aggressive as rust has been in recent years on varieties like King Sieg or Bleu de Solaize.  I’ll try Bandit as well as Lexton again and hope for continued rust resistance.  Their flavor is a bit more delicate than that of other leeks I’ve grown but they are just as cold hardy.

Mustard: last year, my sister Sarah gave me seeds of Scarlet Frills mustard, a dark red, deeply cut salad leaf with a spicy flavor similar to that of my favorite Large Red Mustard. I planted it in late August and we are still enjoying it in February salads.  It’s also great tucked into a sandwich.  The winter cold knocked it back a bit but it has rebounded with strong new growth.  I’ve ordered my own packet of seeds from Johnny’s.

Peppers: last year I tried two new yellow horn-shaped peppers, Superette Sweet Banana and Golden Treasure.  Both were OK but this year I was tempted by Gilboa, an orange bell pepper with an “engaging fruity flavor,” and Golden Star, a “sweet and crispy” yellow bell, both from Fedco. I’m looking forward to some taste-offs with my old favorites orange Gourmet and yellow Flavorburst.

Radicchios:  I like both the round “Chiogiia” type and the tall “Treviso” type radicchios and this year I’m adding a “sugarloaf” type, Pan di Zucchero from Fedco.  This member of the chicory family has light-green leaves and looks like a tightly wrapped head of romaine lettuce.  I’m anticipating using it both raw and grilled and hoping that it is as tasty as Belgian endive but easier to grow.

Radishes:  after discovering this year how tasty Red Meat winter radishes are, I’ve ordered seeds of Green Meat and Black Spanish from Fedco for more winter radish treats.  Red Meat is more sweet than spicy, Green Meat is likely the same but Black Spanish is billed as very spicy.

Squash: I love all sorts of winter squash but I’ve never grown butternut squash.  Delicata seemed to fill the slot for a small one or two person squash.  This year, though, I’m trying Burpee’s Butterbush, a variety the Fedco catalog says provides “a perfect one-person serving chock full of deep, reddish-orange flesh ‘as sweet as the best sweet potatoes.’”  I’ll plant just one hill and see how they turn out.

Tomatoes: I had both losers and winners in my tomato experiments last year.  The big disappointment was Velvet Red, a cherry tomato that did have pretty, silvery foliage but also fuzzy skin and not much flavor.  Ukrainian Purple, a small plum type, was also disappointing because it didn’t have the rich flavor of other dark tomatoes like my favorite Cherokee Purple.  Winners more than made up for the losers though.  Dester, a pink beefsteak, was productive and close to Brandywine in flavor and Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye was almost as good as Cherokee Purple, close enough to grow again.  And for a new tomato this year, I’m going for stripes and trying Pineapple, a favorite of my friend Carol and said by Fedco to be best of the striped genre.

Tomatillos and Ground Cherries:  This past summer, friends shared so many bowls of wonderful tomatillo salsa that I’m inspired to grow some of these papery-husked green globes myself.  I’ve never grown them before and am looking forward to the salsa adventure.  From the same Physalis family, I ordered some seeds of Ground Cherries, the fruity berry relative of tomatillos.  Last spring during a trip to England, we enjoyed many desserts garnished with a cluster of these sweet fruits.  I’m hoping they’ll be a permanent addition to our fruit crops. Both seeds are from Territorial.

Now that I’ve merged my new and old seeds alphabetically the next step is reorganize them by planting date.  Years ago a friend told me that she organized her seeds by her planting calendar.  I tried it and have organized them this way ever since.  I have one box for seeds I start indoors and another box for seeds to start outdoors and file the packets by planting week or month.  When I’ve planted a crop I either move the seeds to a storage box for next year or move them further along in the calendar boxes for a second or even third planting.  Organizing the seeds this way certainly makes it easier to find seed packets on the days I want to plant and reminds me of what else I can plant, but now, on a cold and rainy February day, it also lets me indulge in daydreams of the garden year ahead.

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Parsnips and Pork

This winter’s kitchen garden has offered a steady supply of parsnips beginning when the deep cold of early December transformed these sturdy roots from starchy to sweet and continuing on through more freezes and thaws.  There’s one more row left to take us to spring so still opportunities to experiment with parsnips in the kitchen.  Lately I’ve discovered how tasty parsnips are with pork.  Roast pork with potatoes and parsnips is lovely but sausages and parsnips are really good too.

Parsnips and pork

One recent evening I had some leftover roasted parsnips, some spicy pork sausage meat and dinner to make.  A quick Google search turned up a recipe for Orecchiette with Sausage, Chard, and Parsnips that confirmed my sense that sweet, caramelized parsnips and crispy fried sausage would be a great combination on pasta.  There was more red mustard than chard in the kitchen garden so I sautéed that in some of the fat left from frying the sausage, returned the sausage to the skillet, added roasted parsnips, heating for a few minutes until both were warm, then added the cooked orecchiette and served this delicious combination with lots of grated Parmesan.  I think the red mustard was actually a better choice than the chard.  Chard’s sweetness would have matched the parsnips’ while mustard’s spiciness joined with the sausage for a stronger sweet/spicy contrast.  My only regret is that I didn’t get a photo before we started eating.

With the memory of this delicious meal still in my mind and plans to experiment further with parsnips, pork and pasta, I was delighted to find Melissa Clark’s recipe for pasta and parsnips in the next morning’s New York Times.  She combined roasted parsnips, bacon and leeks with heavy cream, grated Parmesan and chopped parsley and served this rich sauce on bell-shaped campanelle pasta.  I substituted sausage for bacon, orecchiette for campanelle, red onion for leeks, and added fava beans for some green but totally followed her advice for reducing the cream until it thickened to a sauce around the sausage and vegetables.  This creamy version probably isn’t quite so healthy as the red mustard one but very comforting all the same.  I’ll make both again and will even follow Clark’s recipe exactly next time.  And I’ll try to remember photos.

Parnips, sausage, fava pasta

There’s one more parsnip and sausage recipe I want to try, this one from Nigel Slater’s Tender, A Cook and his Vegetable Patch (2009) p. 353.  He simply browns then bakes parsnips and sausages together with a little onion and stock.  It sounds wonderfully satisfying and a perfect meal for our lingering winter.

Parsnips on counter

Another Supper of Young Parsnips and Sausage

4 medium onions


3 tbsp oil


1 pound parsnips


6 thick sausages


A few sprigs of thyme


2 cups stock

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Peel the onions and slice them in half from root to tip, then cut each half into six or eight pieces. Soften them slowly in the oil in a flameproof baking dish or roasting tin over a moderate heat.

While they are softening, peel the parsnips and cut them into short, thick chunks, about the length of a wine cork. Add them to the onions and leave to color, turning up the heat a little if needs be. Remove the onions and parsnips from the pan.

Cut each sausage into three, put them in the pan, adding a little more oil if it appears dry, and let them color. Return the onions and parsnips to the pan. It is important everything is a good color before you proceed. Strip the leaves from the thyme and stir them in, together with the stock. Bring to the boil briefly, then put in the oven to bake for 35-40 minutes, until the sausages are cooked right through, the parsnips are tender and the stock has reduced a little.