Green Heron Tools Blog

The most wonderful time of the year

seed catalogs 2016

a few of our favorite catalogs

It’s Jan. 31, 2016, and our seed orders are in! We’re busier than ever, yet we beat last year’s seed-ordering date by a good three weeks. How come? Let’s just say we needed it! As every gardener or grower knows, poring through seed catalogs & finding new & exciting varieties is one of the highlights of the year. Harvesting & tasting them, of course, is yet another (at least we hope so :-) So while Green Heron Tools keeps us very busy, planning for our 2016 garden reminds us of why we started the business in the first place. Our garden/farm tool company grew out of our love for gardening/farming. And when we’re feeling stressed or overworked, what better way to put things in their proper perspective than to page through catalogs, imagining the sun on our backs, the dirt under our fingernails, and the unparalleled taste of just-picked produce on our tables?

This year, though, I was determined to be reasonable. In fact, my plan was to reduce the number of tomato plants we plant (22 last year, only a fraction of the 60+ when we were market growers). So maybe, just maybe, I’d try one new variety this year.

HA! Twenty-four hours later, I’ve got no fewer than six new tomato varieties on order — all heirlooms, several of them rare . . .like Carol Chyko’s Big Paste, for example. “Family heirloom from Carol Chyko’s family in Hazleton, PA,” reads the description on Gary Ibsen’s TomatoFest website. “Seeds first introduced by Bill Ellis in 1988. Very large 1-3 lbs., blunt, heart-shaped, crimson red, meaty tomato with delicious flavors and very few seeds. Too much juice to really be considered a paste tomato. Better for slicing into sandwiches than a sauce tomato, though because of the good flavors and the big crops I have made wonderful sauces from this variety. WINNER of large tomato contests. Rare.” How could I resist? Especially because Hazleton is less than an hour north of here.

A little weird to be buying the seed from California, though, isn’t it?

And how had I found Gary Ibsen’s? Carbon, one of our very favorite tomatoes, was on back-order at Baker Creek. So I Googled Carbon seeds, and ended up at Gary’s. Turns out he has a $15 minimum order. Who ever heard of THAT? Yet who can resist perusing a website billing itself as “A Celebration of Heirloom Tomato Varieties from Around the World”? Not I, obviously. I satisfied the $15 minimum painlessly, ordering Long Tom, another heirloom paste variety I’d never heard of, as well as Jaune Flamme, a French heirloom that’s one of our favorites & that we needed to reorder anyway. Also Italian Heirloom, a variety we usually purchase from Seed Savers Exchange. (Sorry, Seed Savers — though don’t worry, we bought some seeds from you, too!)

Then there were two other new varieties, both from Fedco Seeds, a Maine co-op from which we purchase the majority of our seeds each year: Opalka, a paste tomato from Poland, and Weisnichts Ukrainian, described as a rare & extremely tasty heirloom. And True Black Brandywine, sold by Baker Creek, sent there by famed seed collector and food writer William Woys Weaver, who’s an hour or so south of us in Pennsylvania and whom we had the great pleasure of meeting a number of years ago. The TBB seed was passed down to him from his Quaker grandfather’s collection dating back to the 1920s.

Finally, there’s Goldmans’ Italian-American, named for tomato writer Amy Goldman. Finding it required another circuitous journey. One of our very favorite tomatoes is Prue, a rare variety whose seed we initially acquired 15 or so years ago from tomato

Sliced Prue -- yum yum!

Sliced Prue — yum yum!

guru Carolyn Male. (There’s a delectable pale yellow cherry tomato — Dr. Carolyn — named after her, available through Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Highly recommended!) Previously available only through the Seed Savers Exchange yearbook, which facilitates the sale of a truly mind-boggling array of varieties by seed savers everywhere, Prue is the one and only variety for which we’ve saved our own seed. But making tiny bags out of insect barrier to use to cover the blossoms (cross-pollination prevention), hoping the covered blossoms bear fruit etc. can be a little tedious. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Prue were available commercially?

Low and behold, I discovered that it is! A quick internet search revealed three relatively small U.S. seed companies that sell Prue, only one of which I’d previously heard of. I’d bet a bushel of organic heirlooms that a search for commercial sources of Prue even two years ago would have turned up nothing — to me, another sign of the exciting growth in the market for open-pollinated, heirloom seeds. I chose to buy from Amishland Heirloom Seeds – a small, previously-unknown-to-us company in nearby Lancaster County, started by a woman who’s a Penn State Master Gardener. I’ll plant some of her Prue and some of our own this year. Oh, and some of her Goldmans Italian-American, too.

Were there other things I should have done today, instead of writing on and on in this blog? You bet! But just like perusing the seed catalogs — and wandering around the internet in search of tomatoes — made me happy, so too did writing about it. :-)

May your own journey toward spring be equally circuitous, with no end to the wondrous seeds discovered along the way!