Sunday, March 16, 2008

Gentlemen, start your seedlings!!!

While it is still a tad early to plant all but the earliest of the spring veggies, it is just about the perfect time to plant others. I have received the last of my spring seed orders so we are busy putting them in the ground. Now I get to start on summer seed orders.
Some of the other lettuces I have this year are imported heirlooms. Many of them are Italian because of the great diversity of heirlooms available from two of the oldest Italian seed companies, Bavicchi Sememti (since 1896)and Franchi Sementi (since 1783). Obviously, these two companies have been around a LONG time. I believe that Franchi Sementi may be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, seed suppliers in the world, so I guess it is an heirloom, too. Another very old seed company is Vilmorin in France and while many of the heirlooms you see in the marketplace today were originally introduced by them, they are a very modern company and produce many modern varieties as well.

While, there is not quite so much clamor to come up with new hybrids in other countries, seeking to improve varieties is something all seedsmen worldwide try to do. In other places in the world, the approach to the seed trade is a little different than here in the U.S. Lots of older varieties have been continuously offered by these companies since they opened their doors. Also, I think it is kind of thrilling to have the original strains of heirlooms from the location where they originated. Sometimes heirlooms are "improved" strains of these oldsters and so even though they may be old enough to be considered true heirlooms, I want the "granny" strains if I can get them.

Some of the lettuces we are planting this year have marvelously descriptive names. For example, there is one lettuce that has long slender leaves that grow in a rosette and resemble ribbons. The name of this lettuce is "Cocarde" which is a spelling of the French word for "the ribbons adorning a woman's hat". And if you stretch your imagination, you picture why this lettuce was so named. It grows a about 12-14" or higher and it probably does resemble ribbons that might be fluttering atop a ladie's hat.

Our lettuce selection this year contains Batavian, Bibb, Butterhead, Cos (Romaine) and Leaf lettuces. Most of these types are never seen in supermarkets because they do not ship well and need to be eaten as freshly picked as possible. These lettuces make that wimpy iceberg lettuce pale in comparison, in flavor, texture and nutrition. More about that in a later blog. I keep falling off the subject of seeds today for some reason.

One thing that is different this year is the number of onions we are planting. Last year, we planted around 2000 sets and most of them made small onions. With the drought, we simply could not provide them with the 30+ inches of water that is recommended over their long growing season. We ate the last of them in January but they were starting to sprout a little....
Anyway, this year, we decided to plant alot more onions, since we are going to be able to water them regularly.

So instead of ordering 2000, we ordered 5400. That is a whole bunch of onions. But the kicker is that we got the wrong ones. Two cases were the right ones and the third case was a different type of onion and we are not sure that they will grow in this area (onions are finicky about where they are grown. Has to do with the # of daylight hours, etc.). When I called to company, they were very apologetic and said that kind of mistake doesn't occur very often but it is their busiest time of year and stuff happens.

The grower then very kindly sent us a case of the proper onions, "gratis and sorry we goofed up" so now we have 7200 to plant. Oh! my aching back, one more time. We hand plant the little buggers, so each one has to have a hole punched in the dirt, the onion "set" into the hole and then the hole filled in and tamped down. Big onion growers have crews and machinery to do this job which is why supermarket onions are so cheap. You plant them once, irrigate them and then pull them up a couple of months later. Not much labor after the initial planting. We have to hand plant, hand weed, hill up, hand harvest, then dry, sort and store the harvest. Big difference. But the ones we grow taste so much better!

The sugar snap peas that were planted several weeks ago have already sprouted and are coming up. We should start harvesting those in early May. These are succession planted, which means every 2-3 weeks, we plant a few more rows, so that the harvest will be extended over a longer period.

The eggplant and tomato seeds have been planted in flats and are coming up now. In 4-6 weeks, we will have strong healthy seedlings, ready to plant at the proper time, which is late April. Hot weather varieties can't be put out until the last chance for a hard freeze is definitely over, so we wait about a week past our last average frost date, which is April 14th. We generally have at least grape tomatoes by the last of June but usually the first real tomato comes off the vine around the Fourth of July.

Some of the early season varieties might come in a week earlier, but they are usually the mealy, pithy, tasteless red globs that pass for tomatoes in the supermarket. Heirlooms make these imposters pale in compairson, so it is definitely worth the wait. Once our own homegrown tomatoes are done for the year, I usually don't eat another tomato until we have our own again. Call me silly, but tomatoes are my absolute favorite veggie and I have zero tolerance for those horrible "shipping tomatoes" that supermarkets try to pawn off on us. Yick!!!Blechk!PTooey!!!

The eggplants are going to be widely varied again this year. As usual, we will have the big old "Black Beauty", which is of course an heirloom and a classic Italian variety. There will be several other colors, shapes, sizes and origins. The peppers will abound this year, with almost 15 varieties in the running. Some of them have names like "Ram's Horn" and "Sheep's Nose" and come in colors like "rosso" and "giallo", in addition to "verde". Some are sweet as an apple and some are hot as a volcano! I can hardly wait to make my first batch of salsa!!!