by Amy Scheuerman
For me it all started on a cold January night with a bottle of red wine, a crackling fire, and my boyfriend. Oh, and a seed catalog. You see, this conception was not of a human but, rather, of a garden.
I’ve always loved growing things, and last winter I finally moved into a house with a real yard that I could dig up and cultivate. However, you can still garden in the Boston area even if you aren’t lucky enough to have a yard. Community gardens abound. Somerville alone has eight, but they tend to fill up fast, so contact them as soon as possible. You can get more information from the City of Somerville, the Somerville Community Growing Center, or Groundworks Somerville.
Another option is sharing a plot with a friend who has a yard. Most gardens grow plenty of food, so sharing is a very real option that can keep you from being overwhelmed with squash or cucumbers.
But before you can start turning the earth you need a plan. What to plant? Where to plant it? When to plant it? These are all things that require research.
This month we’ll tackle what to plant.
To seek out what I should plant, I went online to the Seed Savers Exchange and ordered their 2010 Seed Catalogue. Sure, I could have found the information online, but there’s something far more appealing about holding the physical catalog flipping through the pages, and seeing those beautiful photographs that inspires me in a way the internet cannot. I didn’t look for anything in particular, I just started on page one and moved forward, making a list of every plant that seemed good. And so many seemed good! How could I choose between arugula, mezuna, deer tongue lettuce, Boston bib, mascara, and romaine? I wanted them all, but in the end I managed to narrow it down:
Leafy greens always taste better straight from the garden. With this in mind, I picked out several varieties including deer tongue lettuce, red kale, and Swiss chard. The lettuce is bright green with a crisp texture and a bit of bite to the flavor, which I thought would be nice for salads. The kale and chard are hearty and can last into the colder months when most of the garden will be long gone.
Bush beans are low maintenance because you don’t have to stake them the way you do pole beans. This combined with the ease of harvest led me to choose some standard green bush beans as well as the intriguingly named purple dragon beans. I also decided to include some early red radishes because they’ll remind me of why I’m doing so much work when everything else is still months or weeks away from fruition.
Next I went with cucumbers and tomatoes. I love pickles and tomato sauce and there’s something incredibly satisfying about knowing that the foods in your pantry are of your own creation. For $2.50 per seed packet and a fair amount of labor I could have enough preserved pickles and sauce to last me all winter. I chose the French pickling cucumbers because they can be eaten raw in a salad or pickled whole in brine. I then picked one of each of my three favorite types of tomatoes: one cherry tomato, the yellow pear; one plum tomato, the Russian plum known for growing in the cold and blooming early in the season; and one slicing tomato, the red brandywine. Between the three I’ll be able to satisfy any tomato craving that hits.
Finally, I picked out herbs. Fresh herbs elevate any home-cooked meal from basic to fantastic and require minimal effort to grow. I generally grow mine in pots near the kitchen door so they are easy to harvest when I feel that my dinner requires a little something extra. This also keeps the over eager herbs from taking over the entire garden and choking out my vegetables. My basic herb collection includes: purple sage, Greek oregano, Genovese basil, old fashion thyme, feathery dill, garlic chives (these are absolutely delicious in any dish you would put standard chives in), French tarragon, and cilantro.
These were my personal choices, but there are many, many others. If you’re interested in starting your own garden this year, check out these websites for inspiration. There’s nothing like picking out heirloom vegetables for your summer garden to help beat the winter blues!
Heirloom seed sites:
- Organica Seed (http://www.organicaseed.com/?gclid=CMqo5aGwpJ8CFZZ75QoddRVlMw)
- Heirloom Seeds (http://www.heirloomseeds.com/)
- Seed Savers Exchange (http://www.seedsavers.org/)
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (http://rareseeds.com/)
- Victory Seeds (http://www.victoryseeds.com/)