Editor's note: organic gardener's advice for variety choices from seed catalogues.

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by Mort Mather

If you buy seeds from a catalogue, the chances are you are either buying favorite varieties you have grown before or you have been influenced by the description in the catalogue. If the latter, keep the catalogue handy to remind yourself why you chose the varieties.

Last year I was pushing the garden up toward the peak years when we were raising most of our own vegetables. I suppose I was influenced by the fact that I am writing regularly for Mother Earth News and they want pictures. I was trying to make the garden impressive.

In the pea department there is no one's opinion I respect more than CR Lawn at Fedco Seeds. He has been growing peas commercially for over twenty years. So when he said that the dwarf varieties of sugarsnap peas were inferior in taste to the original seven foot tall variety, I believed him. Besides, seven foot pea vines would look good towering over me. He was right.

When the first sugarsnap was introduced I grew it first in the home garden to test it and the next year in the market garden where it was a big hit with my customers. I think I was led down a garden path by the seed companies who told me I could get the same quality or better on shorter vines. Certainly shorter vines are easier to grow. Then I became disenchanted with the flavor thinking that I had been excited by them initially because they were new and my taste buds were just responding to a fad that later faded. I'm now convinced it wasn't my taste buds. The flavor of the shorter varieties came up short. I've got the seven foot vines going again this year and am enjoying the flavor fresh in the garden or lightly cooked.

I also followed Cr's lead on a couple of other varieties. I duly noted where each was planted. One variety, Coral, kind of mystified me when it came in. I thought it was a snow pea but it didn't really taste all that great as a snow pea though not too bad. Then I thought maybe it was a snap pea. It didn't really pass muster eating the whole pods when mature either.

The plant was small and the pods were also fairly small, about five peas to a pod. I was sure I wouldn't have planted it as a regular popping pea. I have been growing Lincoln and/or Green Arrow peas for twenty-some years. We determined early on that these varieties were our favorite popping pea and we bought whichever was least expensive each year. We also usually grow some snow peas (edible pod) and for several years after they were first introduced we grew snap peas.

I don't know why I didn't look the variety up in the catalogue—probably couldn't find it. Last winter when we were looking at the catalogues I figured out why I had ordered Coral. "makes harvesting peas before July 4th a cinch, even in cold pockets. The best quality early pea we've found…" It was a shell pean and I ordered it because CR said it was great tasting and earliest.

I had some seeds left over from the year before so we planted them this year. As advertised, they were earliest and they are a very good tasting pea. Better than Green Arrow or Lincoln? Not to my taste buds. They are small plants, small pods and not a great yield. If I were selling peas, I might grow them just to get the income started a week earlier. For the home garden, though, I'll just anticipate the wonderful flavor of the first Lincoln or Green Arrow for another week. I'm also keeping the catalogue handy throughout the summer and checking on the descriptions of varieties that are not old favorites. 

July 12, 1998

Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. You can eat his organic produce at his son's southern Maine restaurant. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.

Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate.



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