designed for the way women work.

vaccinating a dog

“The Curious Gardener” February, 2012

Category: Presenting "The Curious Gardener"

In this issue:

Tips on Navigating Mail Order Seed Catalogs

Feeding the Hungry: Just Do It!

Gardeners Make Their Resolutions for 2011: The Winners Are…

Navigating Mail Order Seed Catalogs–

A seasoned mail order gardener will tell you that the gardening year begins in the dead of winter when seed catalogs start arriving, long before local garden centers open their doors for spring. 

I have finally joined the ranks of those who will be growing from seed this year – in the new greenhouse we built off the back of our house.  And I’m discovering just how companionable a good seed catalog can be on a cold day curled up in a comfortable chair by the fire.

Bountifulgardens_Mushroom_KitsAfter reading through my stack of catalogs and talking with a few seed companies, here are some tips for navigating the world of mail order seeds.  I plan to order seed packets from each of the companies mentioned.

  • If you are wondering about the differences between traditional, hybrid, heirloom, open-pollinated and organic plant breeding and seeds, the catalog produced by Bountiful Gardens in Willits, CA, provides the clearest explanation I found. (Some of these methods are not mutually exclusive.) Bountiful Gardens is a project of Ecology Action, which promotes the biointensive method of growing. Like most seed companies, Bountiful Gardens sells seeds purchased from seed suppliers all over the world, and some that are developed at their own organic research farm on a “steep, southwest-facing hillside at about 2400-feet elevation.” Of note, they also sell mushroom growing kits. This catalog is interesting to read, is full of educational information and it tells you which seeds were produced without chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Wasabi Arugula Seed Pack_ ReneesGardenIf you have an iPad you can curl up with the catalog produced by Renee’s Garden, because it’s digital-only. I have always admired Renee for building a successful business from scratch that has earned such a reputation for quality. She chooses varieties that grow well in different climates, and then tests them in 3 disparate regions of the country. She takes advantage of what the internet offers by letting you drill down to detailed growing and planting instructions, as well as photographs, for each plant.  Lovely hand watercolor illustrations and crisp copy that bespeaks a lifetime of gardening knowledge, accompanies each seed packet, also shown online.  When I spoke with Renee she was excited about the full time horticultural advisor they have on staff. “When considering what seed companies to buy from, be sure you can get someone on the phone if you need help,” says Renee.  She describes her mission as “to sell seeds that grow”.  I am going to try Wasabi Arugula and Edible Landscape Lettuce, two new seeds she is offering for 2012.
  • Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit, member supported network of plant collectors whose mission is to save and share heirloom seeds.  Many of their seeds are certified organic.  I think I am going to try their Parisian Pickling Cucumbers because I love cornichons. The Parisian Pickling Cucumbers are a French heirloom from the late 1800’s.  They also sell heirloom flower seeds.


  • The D. Landreth Seed Company of Philadelphia is the oldest seed ‘house’ in the country. It’s exhilarating to read the poster reproduced in their catalog from 1899, commemorating 115 years in business.  Yes, they were founded in 1784!  I ordered the catalog when I read on Facebook that they were facing extinction and needed to raise funds to produce a catalog this year.  I sent in my $5.  The catalog is beautiful, with lots of graphics reproduced from old seed packets and posters. My only complaint is that the type is so small I cannot read a lot of it.  Of note, they have an African American Heritage Collection.


  • I found a local seed company online, the Turtle Tree Seed Company in Copake, NY, about 40 miles north of where I live.  They practice organic, biodynamic gardening, which is a very particular system of growing (and not the same as biointensive, mentioned above). Their seeds are grown at their farm and other farms around the country that practice biodynamic gardening. They employ people with developmental disabilities to help grow, clean and pack the seeds. I like supporting local, but I was curious about whether it makes a difference where the seed comes from geographically.  Most seed companies, even small, local farms like Turtle Tree, don’t really say what breeders they get their seeds from, so it’s a moot point.  The important thing is that the seed companies have tested them in a climate similar to yours, to be sure they will grow where you live.  Look for this information in the catalog or website of any seed company you are considering.
  • Genetically Modified Seed (GMO’s)— I’m told that GMO’s, made by giants like Monsanto for crops such as corn, soy and cotton, are developed exclusively for the commercial market. No GMO’s have been developed for the home gardening market because it’s simply too small a market with no demand for it.  Nevertheless, to ward off confusion among consumers, many seed companies have signed the “Safe Seed Pledge” which promises they don’t buy or sell genetically modified seed.  All the seed companies mentioned in this article and the list below have signed The Pledge. One company noticeably absent from the “Safe Seed Pledge” list is Burpee. Like the other companies, Burpee promises they do not buy or sell GMO’s, but perhaps because they are the industry leader they feel their customers will take them at their word (you can read the Burpee president’s views on GMO’s if you click here).  Burpee does buy some (non-GMO) gardening seed from Seminis, a subsidiary of Monsanto.
  • Womanswork carries some supplies, such as plant labels for seedlings, in our online catalog. For help with planning your garden, see our flower Garden Wheels on the Gardeners Hub website, or our Vegetable Garden Wheel.Womanswork_vegetablegardenwheel

Feeding the Hungry: Just Do It!

If you want to help the hungry there are many ways to do it. I Googled ‘soup kitchens Dutchess County’ and found a program called The Lunch Box in Poughkeepsie that offers a free hot lunch everyday and dinner when they can find volunteers to host it. I made an appointment with Carol Beck, their coordinator of volunteers, and scheduled a time to meet with her and observe the program in action.  This program has grown in popularity to the point where they are able to serve dinner most weeknights. For many of their guests, this is their only hot meal of the day.Womanswork_Lunchbox

I have a loyal group of friends who rise to the occasion whenever I put out the call to do a Womanswork evening at “The Lunch Box.”  We split up the cooking and show up at the location (about 30 minutes from home) at 4:30 in the afternoon. We’re done by 7 pm.

A couple of weeks ago we served about 125 people baked ziti, tossed salad, bread and homemade chocolate chip cookies.  “The Lunch Box” provides coffee and other beverages. Last summer our friends Bart Louwagie and Linda Puiatti, who are very good at making crepes, joined us for a dinner and brought crepes, fresh fruit and Nutella chocolate spread, so that’s what we offered for dessert.  That was special.

There is a strong connection between gardening and food, and Womanswork has made a commitment as a company to help fight hunger, starting locally. Our contribution is small but if everyone (including small businesses) were to find some way to help the hungry it would make a big difference. Plenty of people are doing things. We would love to hear from our readers about what they are doing, and how they got started. Please let us know.

Dorian sprinkling parmesan cheese on the ziti

Gardeners Make Their Resolutions for 2012: And the Winner Is…

In last month’s “The Curious Gardener” eNewsletter I challenged my readers to come up with New Year’s Resolutions for gardening in 2012.  I started things off with 5 of my own and offered to give away Womanswork Rose Gauntlet Gloves for my favorites.

I was amazed as the comments poured in throughout the month of January (Jan. 31st was the deadline).  And because I listed 5 resolutions of my own, almost everyone who commented listed 5 of their own. That’s a lot of resolutions! It gave me a real feeling for who these women are,  and they all feel like kindred spirits.

The themes that run through a lot of the comments were things like resolving to take better care of tools, start a garden journal, plant plants in the ground instead of letting them languish in their pots, get control of the weeds earlier in the season, sit and enjoy the garden more often.  There were also some truly ambitious goals such as installing a stone walkway, finishing a Master Gardener program, digging a pond, practicing saying the Latin plant names aloud.Womanswork_gloves

My very favorite is from Myrene. This is what Myrene wrote.

For several years I have made 1 garden resolution – to spend 15 minutes per day gardening. I live in Indiana where we have winter weather. It is surprising what can be accomplished in the winter months. Spring is so much fun when a lot of the work preparing for the next season has been slowly finished over the winter months. Last week I was able to prune shrubs and edge garden beds. Many invasive plants are easier to remove during cold weather. Give 15 minutes of gardening per day, 365 days a year, a try. I think you will be pleased with the results.

Myrene’s resolution is inspirational and makes me want to go outside right now for my 15 minutes of gardening! Thank you Myrene.

The two runners up are Dianna K (”make some new gardening friends!” ) and Helene (Teach the deer to read the “deer resistant plant” list, and Train the squirrels to think my blueberries are inedible).

Dianna K, Helene and Myrene will each receive a pair of Womanswork Leather Rose Gauntlet Gloves.  Thank you to everyone who sent a comment. They were all inspirational!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ok ask black house