Explore the garden vegetable encyclopedia
Right after removing the pile of doggy doos that my neighbor’s dog had thoughtfully placed on my morning paper, I recognized something in the air that I hadn’t noticed in five months; the air smelled of spring.
It was still cold and dark, but it was the first time in months that I could actually smell dirt. Immediately I realized it was time to start thinking about my garden.
This year my neighbor, not the neighbor who uses my property as a dog toilet, suggested that I grow my vegetable plants from seed. He has a large bay window in his house and receives many hours of warmth and sunshine in early spring. I accepted his offer and organized my little part of his nursery. At 71, I had become a farmer.
The next thing I borrowed was a 2022 Burpee Seed book. At I told him I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to grow, but he told me to look at this year’s catalog so that I could order the exact seeds I needed. I thought it would be easy.
I wonder how many people know that there are 24 different types of beans. I always thought there were only two – green and yellow. Browsing through the 103-page seed catalog, I found Kentucky King Bush Beans which were a favorite for freezing and canning.
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Since I’m growing a garden to have fresh vegetables, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want a specific type of bean to freeze. I always thought you could find them year round in Hannaford for a lot less hassle. Other types of beans include Blue Lake, which was virtually fiber-free for those who didn’t want fiber in their diet; Tender Pick green beans that were supposed to be tasty with curved edges (are there beans with sharp edges?); Triumph De Farcy beans said to be the classic filet bean. (I also didn’t know that beans had bones).
There were even dual-purpose beans that could be used as regular green beans or lima beans. I don’t know anyone who likes lima beans.
I was also wrong that the beans were only available in two colors. In addition to green beans and yellow beans, there were white beans and purple beans.
The catalog tried to convince me that the Sequoia Purple bean was particularly attractive. I thought he looked dead.
After giving myself a headache reading about all these different types of beans, I turned the page to see that there were ten types of carrots. These had names like Sweet Treat, Sweet Rocket, Viva La France, Orange Rocket, the Nantes Half Long and the Toudo II. I wonder what happened to Nantes Full Length or Toudo I?
There was even a yellow carrot named Sweet Sunshine. The book said it was brand new, sweet and crunchy like celery. I doubt I could eat a piece of yellow-colored celery because I believe when celery turns that color, it’s time to throw it away.
Did you know there was a red and purple corn? I’m not talking about a pale or pastel color here. I’m talking about a Red Ruby Queen corn that retains its beautiful color boiled, steamed or even microwaved.
Dwarf Blue Jade corn had sapphire blue kernels that turn jade green when cooked. The catalog also contained Silver Queen corn in white color. I lazily wondered if I should show my patriotism this year by growing a red, white, and blue garden, then I turned the page and found an ad for a collection of red, white, and blue corn.
Cucumbers were something I could never grow in the past. But, with 20 different varieties ranging from 12-inch-long Big Burpless cucumbers to 2-inch-long Picklebush cucumbers, I was sure to find something somewhere in between those lengths. The Armenian cucumber was the oddest in that it was heavily ribbed and best eaten when it was 24 inches long. I had no idea Armenians were so famous for the length of their cucumbers. The catalog also featured an oriental, powdery mildew-tolerant Palace King variety. I had no idea you could have mold on your cucumber.
And did you know that there are 22 different varieties of lettuce?
It’s only in the past few years that I’ve gotten used to the idea that there’s Iceberg, Romaine, Green, and Red lettuce, but the catalog had pictures of lettuce that looked more like seaweed. Had the Mesclun lettuce which was said to be the French approach to green salads. The description went on to state that the lettuce was pre-mixed. How to pre-mix a head of lettuce? The weirdest lettuce was a variety called Frizz E. It looked like something that grew on old meat and needed to be thrown away ASAP. It was also a beautiful French endive. My suspicions about anything French took on strange proportions.
I spent most of the weekend reading about the different types of vegetables to choose from to produce the perfect garden. Did you know there are 15 varieties of peas and 35 varieties of pepper ranging in color from translucent white to deep chocolate black?
I got my biggest shock when I turned the page and saw how many different types of tomatoes they were carrying. There were 53 varieties of tomatoes to choose from. I’m happy to say that most of them were red, but there were a few that were orange and one that deliberately stayed green. How do you know when green tomatoes are ripe?
There was also an extremely strange tomato called Big Rainbow which looked like a large round piece of cheese. The catalog said it produced bright yellow fruit with scarlet stripes. At that time, I was a bit surprised that they hadn’t learned how to grow a variety available in red, white, and blue. By the time I read the catalog cover to cover, I had no time to order anything, so I guess I’ll have to leave that for another weekend.
The next morning, after tearing out my morning paper at the latest offer from my neighbor’s dog, I noticed on the front page that they had a picture of a newer, bigger, better genetically modified tomato. If they could do that, why couldn’t they find something useful, like a dog that repels tomatoes?
Now there is something I would buy.
Jim Fabiano is a retired teacher and writer living in York, Maine. Email Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org.