Let the winds howl! Can spring be that far away?
Let icicles hang on the wall and the winds of winter howl 'round the eaves. Who really cares? The bite and bitterness of the season won't last forever. The calendar promises us that much, at least; and then there are all those seed catalogs which surround all gardeners at this time of year, each of them painting a picture of bounty and beauty that hopefully will be ours come harvest time.
To be sure, weeds may ultimately get ahead of us and there may be a failure or two in some corner of the garden by summer's end. But the successes far outnumber the failures in most gardens and, for a growing number, the full-color pictures in the catalogs are no gross exaggeration at all.
In our garden, for example, we battled slugs more than usual last year (perhaps because of an unusually wet spring) and the peas failed for the first time.
Just when the peas appeared in their prime, they suddenly drooped over and wilted. Perhaps they had been planted too frequently in the same spot, something of a problem in small gardens.
Even so, the broccoli was prolific and the Gypsy peppers magnificent. We didn't lack for cabbage, either, and we're still eating our own onions and may well do so clear through to spring. We'll have to go some, too, if we want to finish the carrots before the warm weather starts them sprouting in storage.
We lifted the last of the carrots a week before Christmas and last of the leeks on Dec. 26. There is something particularly satisfying about that leek harvest; we are still enjoying them while I prepare to start the seeds indoors that will produce next fall's delectable harvest.
In addition to the enjoyment and sense of satisfaction that comes from working the soil, there is also a financial advantage to raising your own vegetables. We didn't keep a close check on the purse value of last year's crops , but it seems to me that for most of the summer and on into fall my wife visited the fresh-produce counter only for oranges and mushrooms.
How much is a bushel of onions, potatoes, peppers, and twice that many carrots worth? We had all the greens we could eat (including too many Chinese cabbage, according to my wife), but not enough turnips and beets. The green-bean crop was adequate during summer, but with better planning there would have been more in the freezer right now.
At this writing we still have winter squash in storage, but less of it than we would like. I can't believe my wife now buys zucchini for some of her stir-fry dishes. At the height of summer, her comments on this particular vegetable were sometimes less than kind. For similar reasons her love for kohlrabi faded toward the end of the season.
The lesson for the home gardener, I suppose, is that overabundance is only marginally better than too little.
Of course, not everything grown in the garden can be equated with money in the bank. The strawberry patch produced a fraction over $50 worth of berries at the going rate for quart baskets at our local supermarket. There is no way in the world that we would ever shell out that much money in one season for fresh berries if we had to buy them. In this sense, then, the garden did not save us money, but for a brief period it boosted our standard of living to quite luxurious levels.
Speaking of strawberries, plant breeders have scored another triumph with their genetic engineering: a true strawberry (not an Alpine type) from seed in one season. It is being offered for the first time this year.
The new strawberry is called Sweetheart, an everbearer that produces medium-size sweet berries 140 days from sowing. You get a jump on the season by starting them indoors in flats. Like true strawberries, the mature plants also send out runners. A number of mail-order seed houses list the seeds in their 1983 catalogs.
Also in the new-for-this-year fruit line is Muscateer, a Goldsmith cantaloupe that Comstock, Ferre & Co. is offering. It produces fruit in 90 days on vines so compact that it can be grown in containers. Burpee Seeds is listing Honeybush cantaloupe, another compact vine that produces 21/2- to 3-pound fruits in about 82 days.
Thompson & Morgan's latest contribution to summer sweetness is Sugar Jade, a watermelon plant that spreads out over an area a mere 4 feet in diameter, yet produces 16-pound fruits.
Few crops are more basic or more valuable to the home gardener than the bean. For decades two of the more popular pole beans have been Romano and Kentucky Wonder. Now these two favorites have been combined, and turned into a bush variety as well.
The new bean is called Jumbo, an apt name for pods that grow to 10 inches in length while still retaining their crispness. The taste is superior to that of the famous parents, according to those who grew the beans in pre-release trials last year. Start picking when the pods are about 8 inches long. Jumbo is being offered by many seedmen this year.
Other new releases of note for 1983 include:
Basil: Green Bouquet, a small-leaf bush basil that forms an attractive 12 -inch-tall hedge when grown in a row. It is a Burpee Seeds offering.
Broccoli: Green Surf produces medium-to-large blue-green heads that stay tightly budded over a longer-than-usual period. It is a Harris Seeds offering that matures in 58 days.
Carrots: Parisian Rondo, a bite-size ''finger food'' carrot released by Agway. Long established as a seed supplier through its farm-supply stores, the company has recently moved into mail-order sales as well.
Corn: Tom Thumb, a dwarf popcorn being offered by Johnny's Selected Seeds that matures 3- to 4-inch ears on 3-foot stalks. Its rapid maturity (85 days) makes it suitable for short growing seasons. Double Delight from Comstock, Ferre is a bicolor corn with a markedly sugary taste previously available only in the single-color varieties. Produces 9-inch ears, each with 16 rows of kernels, in 76 days.
Cucumbers: Sweet Success, an All America Selections winner, is being offered by most seed companies. It is completely seedless, producing long (14-inch), slender, thin-skinned fruits in about 54 days.
Two new pickling varieties of note are also making it to market this year: Picarow, a heavy yielder over a long period from Agway, and Pickle-riffic (from Henry Field Nurseries), which produces quantities of 4-inch cukes 50 days from sowing.
Lettuce: Geo. W. Park has introduced Mission, a crisp-heading, iceberg-type lettuce that is remarkably heat-tolerant. It makes possible the production of head lettuce in areas where the time span between cold springs and hot summers is too short for conventional head lettuce to form.
Pumpkins: Atlantic Giant from Nichols Garden Nursery is the new variety that Canadian Howard Dill made headlines with when he produced one specimen weighing 493 pounds and another 469 pounds. Trick or Treat is an edible-seed variety in semi-bush form from Vermont Bean Seed Company.
Tomatoes: This is the vegetable clan that is almost overcrowded with winners, but a new one worth mentioning is Florida Petite, a sweet cherry, producing 11/2 -inch fruits in 55 days on 6- to 8-inch plants that will do nicely in a window box (Stokes Seeds).
Pine Tree Garden Seeds' catalog is another interesting one to arrive through the mail. It offers no varieties that are exclusively its own, but the company meets the needs of the small suburban gardener by offering smaller seed packets at roughly half the price of conventional offerings.
Here are the addresses of some of the seed companies:
Agway: Box 4741, Syracuse, N.Y. 13221; Burpee Seeds: Warminster, Pa. 18991; Comstock, Ferre: Weathersfield, Conn. 06109; Henry Field: Shenandoah, Iowa 51602 ; Johnny's Selected Seeds: Albion, Maine 04910; Joseph Harris: Moreton Farm, Rochester, N.Y. 14624; Nichols Nursery: Albany, Ore. 97321; Geo. W. Parks Seeds: Box 31, Greenwood, S.C. 29646; Pine Tree Seeds: Box 1399, Portland, Maine 04104; Stokes Seeds: Box 548, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240; Thompson & Morgan: Box 100, Farmingdale, N.J. 07727; and Vermont Bean Seed Company: Bomoseen, Vt. 05732.