I have pretty much given up making New Year’s resolutions. I’m not very good at keeping them, so I wind up feeling guilty and inadequate, which sort of defeats the purpose.
But the annual garden resolution is different. That opportunity announces itself each February with the arrival in my mailbox of the dreamy new seed catalog from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. This year’s edition is a real beauty: 242 glossy, colorful pages of seeds, tools, equipment, books and know-how, enough to whet the appetite and jump-start the ambitions of every market farmer and home gardener on the planet.
Open to any page at random — I’m looking right now at “hot specialty peppers” on pp. 96-97 — and feel your thumbs twitch with eagerness to get out into the warm dirt. Look at those sweet little Capperino peppers, “good for stuffing and pickling,” nestled in their summer foliage. And the Golden Ghost “super-hots,” artfully arranged on a rough barn-board background, or the fiery little Thai chili peppers — red, yellow, orange — spilling out of their split ash berry basket. Yes, please, whisper my thumbs, twitching, let’s order one of everything.
I’ve been doing business with Johnny’s, which is headquartered in Winslow, ever since it started up in the early 1970s, about the time I settled in Maine. Back then, as I recall, the modest catalog was printed in black and white on newsprint — a far cry from the voluptuous tome that’s been on my kitchen table for the past week or so, already well thumbed and bookmarked with sticky-notes.
You might think that all those years of gardening would make me something of an expert. You would be wrong. I’m an overambitious gardening dilettante, and if I’m not careful, I’ll order a ridiculous quantity and variety of seeds I have no business planting. Then after a few warm, sunny days of rapturous digging and sowing, I’ll get distracted by the loveliness of the Maine summer and lose interest in the hard part of gardening — the daily weeding and watering, the thinning and pest control and eventual harvesting that makes a vegetable garden worth having.
That’s where the resolution comes in. Over time, I have learned to take a hard line against my cold-weather garden fantasies. I know better than to order the seeds for those gorgeous hot peppers, for example, because the truth is that I rarely cook with spicy peppers and for the few times I do — I make a mean chicken tikka masala — dried pepper works fine, or a couple of fresh jalapenos from the market. And if I really, really wanted to grow my own hot peppers, one or two plants would provide all I need.
Maine’s short growing season is a factor, too. Tomatoes, for example, need to be started in a greenhouse environment weeks before they’re planted outside if they’re going to have time to mature, set and ripen fruit before the weather turns cold again in September. So, since I don’t have or want a greenhouse, buying a whole packet of seeds for Sunrise Bumble Bee or Pink Berkeley Tie Dye is a complete waste, no matter how enticing the photos or enchanting the names.
No. I know I’m better off buying or begging a few small, healthy seedlings for my tomatoes. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, eggplant and green peppers, too, will grow better and produce a stronger crop if I bring plants home from the hardware store or a local farmstand. The seeds I allow myself to order are those I know will grow without a lot of fuss — green beans, kale, lettuce, chard. That’s part of my resolution each year — keep it simple, have a plan, be realistic.
This year, I am also, again, resolved to be more diligent in cultivating my garden. That means keeping to a schedule for succession planting so we have a steady supply of the vegetables we use the most. It means heartlessly thinning the rows of lettuce and kale as they come in, which goes against all my nurturing instincts. It means finding a few minutes every day to pull weeds, apply mulch, stake the tomatoes and pick off marauding insects. And, at last, it means harvesting and washing and eating the bounty of the garden as it presents itself, like magic, throughout the days of the growing season.
Since I have more garden space now than I really need, I am resolved to grow some extra produce this year for the local food pantry, and some flowers, too. Cosmos and sunflowers are easy.
I’ll let you know how it goes.