Plant some seeds – you’ll be amazed at the results

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 29, 2011

The seed catalogues have arrived. And in the cold of January, now is the time to go over them, plan and dream. I save seed, and sometimes, I lose out and have to repurchase. Some seed are hard to save, and it is so much easier to just buy. And there is always the temptation to try a lot of new stuff. The local farm store or co-op is often a good place to buy seed cheaply, but the number of varieties is limited. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange ( is a great seed catalogue with lots of information and I like Pine Tree (, because it is the cheapest mail order source I have found.

Beans are easy to save for seed. I like the Rattlesnake green bean that I have been growing and I prefer pole beans. Bush beans come and are gone quicker. My Rattlesnake will produce until frost. I also like to grow yardlong beans to use in Oriental dishes and I have saved those seed as well. They need staking. They are kin to Southern peas so for seed saving, don’t plant near your Southern peas. And speaking of Southern peas, I like Pink-eyed Purple Hull, but the chipmunks have my seed from last year. I may stake the peas this year. That holds the pods up out of the chipmunks’ reach.

My Whippoorwill did well last year, and I may try Mississippi Silver as well this year. And thinking summer in the South, I have my Cow Horn okra seed. There is always a pod (no, always several) that escapes me and is too large to eat so I save it for seed. My peanuts have not done well in my clay soil. Tennessee Red Valencia says it is ‘easy to grow without hilling, even in clay soils.’

I let my squash plants mix last year and am going to reorder. I have been pleased with a British variety, Vegetable Marrow and an Italian zucchini, Cocozelle. I do like to do some winter squash. I think the small sugar pumpkin can answer for these very well but I plan to plant a couple others this year: Delicata and I am going to try a cushaw, Green Striped.

Cucumbers are a must. I have liked Boston Pickling and have seed. I eat them raw and seem not to get to the pickling. I also grow Boothby’s Blonde and may try West India Gherkin this year. Said to be a very old pickler with vines more like watermelons. I am also going to plant Suyo Long again this year – a Chinese variety “dependable in hot humid climates.”

Butter beans are a must, as well. I have saved seed of Speckled Calico. I like them since they are large. Shelling is a pain, so you get more for your effort.

And there are the seeds to be planted soon: English peas and edible podded peas, and for the summer garden, seeds for the tomato, pepper and eggplant. Must have some sugar snap peas and for the English peas I have saved Knight and am going to add Wando, “recommended especially for southern and coastal regions…the most productive pea for late sowings where heat is a problem.”

For tomatoes I am going again with Homestead, “developed for hot humid coastal areas, especially Florida,” and Old Virginia, “produces even in long hot summers.”

I have my saved seed for jalapeños, also a nice little hot gem called Lemon Drop, my favorite banana peppers, and I use a squat Alma Paprika for my sweet pepper.

I have had trouble with eggplants the last couple years. I am going with Listada de Gandia, a heirloom from France, ‘drought-tolerant, sets fruit well under high heat.”

I will need some lettuce seed. Romaine or Cos are the most nutritious type.

Loose-leaf is second in nutritional value. And I like Bibb or Butterhead lettuce and it is more heat tolerant. Jericho, “bred for desert heat” in Israel, will be my Cos. For loose-leaf, I am going with Oakleaf though Black Seeded Simpson was all we ate at home as a child.

Buttercrunch is my Bibb.

I got involved with beets last year, so there are beet seed needed. If you don’t like bleeding, try Golden or Chioggia with rings of reddish-pink and white. I like parsnips too and will plant Hollow Crown again this year. Remember the trend, “root vegetables are the new heirloom.”

I love arugula, and I have also been growing mache or cornsalat since my husband’s German secretary gave us some seed 30 years ago. Mache has such a sweet taste. It is often found in restaurant mixtures but I like it by itself with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, so I can appreciate it for itself.

For herbs, I must have basil for my tomatoes, and parsley and cilantro. There is dill, and I am going to try some cutting celery for those recipes that need a celery taste.

I saw this recipe for a parsley salad that I want to try in a recent Saveur.

Parsley and Pancetta salad

Make a mound of parsley (broad leaf) on the salad plate, grate Parmigiano-Reggiano liberally over the parsley, ladle hot crispy pancetta and pancetta fat over the salad. Eat.

Also in that issue of Saveur is a salad of ripe tomatoes with slivered red onion, salt and extra-virgin olive oil sprinkled with green coriander seeds. Cilantro is the green leaf and the dried seed is called coriander, which I use a lot in Indian cooking. I have never used the seed green. It is said to taste like a cross between the dried coriander seed and the fresh cilantro leaves.

That magazine issue also suggests another new salad – amaranth. So I am ordering some Red Amaranth seed and will try it.

They say amaranth has a distinctive flavor – nutty, pealike, slightly peppery. Use the young leaves in a salad or when more mature, stir-fry or braise them with onion, garlic, chicken stock and cumin.

Did I tell you all that I am planning? No. Will this all come to fruition? No. The planning is fun and if I don’t get too ambitious, we will eat well. I believe the healthiest vegetables are grown at home with no pesticides, and manure and wood ashes and compost for fertilizer. Someone said that the best fertilizer is the farmer’s foot so a daily visit to the garden can help a lot (pick off those worms!). Don’t have a lot of time, start small – some herbs, lettuce, maybe a few tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, some squash. These don’t take a lot of space and therefore less time. And in our hot, often dry summers don’t forget to water.