Eat This

The Cheap Date

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I’d really like to have a nice greenhouse, or a handmade iron fence around the front yard, or a swimming pool. But Santa’s taking the collapse of Wall Street hard, so none of that stuff arrived this year.

Fortunately, if you are a vegetable gardener, an insane kind of Christmas morning excitement is available for a mere $2.35 a seed packet. 

A broccoli with leaves that resemble an artichoke’s? Prehistoric-looking gourds reported to be delicious in curries? Seeds for a caper bush that you can apparently grow in a pot and bring in the house in winter? I don’t know that a $10,000 greenhouse would really make me any happier.

This year, I discovered the joys of ordering seed from foreign sources. Seeds From Italy imports its merchandise from a Bergamo-based seed company named Franchi Sementi. Stumbling across this site was very exciting, since I’ve been searching for an Italian variety of chard for fifteen years as if it were the holy grail. This particular chard seed was brought by a friend from Italy. It made beautiful, big, fountain-shaped plants with a thin white rib. You could keep cutting the leaves and they would keep growing back. It never went to seed in the heat of summer. It stood a long time in the frost of fall. It was delicious any way you cooked it. After about three years, the packet was bare–and none of the varieties offered in American seed catalogs was ever as good. Now, I’ve ordered two promising varieties from Seeds Of Italy and will report back next summer for the chard-obsessed.

Possibly even more exciting, given my Madhur Jaffrey-inspired conviction that India has one of the world’s great cuisines, is Seeds Of India. The bare-bones site doesn’t explain whether the seeds are domestic or imported. But they do have loads of unfamiliar vegetables, particularly in my beloved cucurbit family. A few years ago, I had a rather inspiring conversation with a woman from Bangladesh who gardens in the famous community garden in the Fenway in Boston. She was telling me what she grew, and I kept having to say, "Pardon me?" All vegetables I had never heard of–snake gourd, hairy melon, squashes whose leaves and shoots could be chopped into curries early in the season. She told me it was not easy to find seeds. She often had to beg friends traveling to her part of the world to bring them back for her. In turn, her Boston neighbors would beg her to share these exotic vegetables. Thanks to Seeds Of India, I look forward to next August, when my neighbors will be begging me to share.

And if some of this Italian or Indian seed takes one good look at my boggy Zone 4 vegetable garden and says, "No thanks. I’m not growing here"? Well, so little will have been ventured on my part. And whatever does thrive will more than make up for what fails. That’s the beauty of the vegetable garden.

In many other areas of life, experimentation is not so cost-free. Moving your firm into new kinds of derivatives contracts sounds great, until you wipe out 20 years of profits in a single year. Cheating on your spouse is fraught with peril, or so I’ve learned from literature. New stuffing recipes often prove problematic. But deciding to plant weird gourds? I say, this is one area of life where everybody ought to just go crazy.

Posted by on December 26, 2008 at 8:46 am, in the category Eat This.
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11 responses to “The Cheap Date”

  1. I have never really done veggies except for herbs but those two seed sources sound really tempting. We have a restaurant (actually a 3-restaurant dynasty) run by a family from Nepal; a local Pakistani woman has written a stunningly good cookbook and I keep intending to do more with these cuisines. I like the idea of seeds being an entree. (We’re also a big Slow Food town with lots of interaction with Italy on this topic).

  2. Michele, you are such a temptress. You make my ordinary return to vegetable gardening seem pass’e.

  3. I have been /drooling over my veggie seeds, resisting the urge to buy more… I will definitely buy some more tomato seeds, since I planted all mine last year, I require (this is a requirement at Wolfdancer Creek, not a Wish) Sun Gold tomatoes, Celebrities, and Goliaths, and a couple of the larger Heritage, like Abe Lincoln, and Mortgage Lifter.. :~)

    >^,,^<

  4. Becca says:

    You have a fantastic talent with words. I am so easily turned on by talk of vegetable seeds it is ridiculous! Here we are covered in ice and snow and all I can dream about is my spring garden!!! Please hurry the next 3 months away!!!

  5. Martha says:

    Last year I ordered from Seeds of Italy for the first time.
    The seeds had good germination rates and many actually produced edibles.

    I can’t recommend the Italian flat beans too highly – even I could get a few meals worth out of the vines that survived.

    The owner of Seeds of Italy is helpful on the phone and quite knowledgeable, too.

    Give them a try.

    Now, I can’t wait to find out more about that Indian provider.

  6. Charlotte says:

    I love Seeds of Italy! I’ve been growing their veggies for 4 years now — the arugula is particlarly fabulous, as is the Cavolo Nero — everything grows like mad and the guy who runs the site is really nice.

  7. greg draiss says:

    Seeds from Italy are wonerful. Poughkeepsie, NY has many ethnic communities from the old world. The look on customers faces when they see seed packs in Italian!

    Smiles light up the seed department like a Christmas tree! many comment they have not been able to find certain kinds of veggie seeds since coming to America.

    The TROLL

  8. tibs says:

    Seeds from Italy and India? Just another reason why I need to branch out from the usual tomatos, peppers, onions and leaf lettuce. I am giving up on the pole beans and want to try something new in the available space. I have a really cool heirloom bean, called Lazy Housewife, so called because they are semi-stringless and thus less work. (they have just enough string to disgust the teen daughter). Unfortunately they are a japanese beetle favorite. There is no reason for me to plant peppers of any kind. They seem to be a manly vegetable in my parts, and dh’s gardening friends are always dropping off bags of peppers of all types in exchange for his homemade wine.

    I am thinking of trying potatos and maybe something from Italy or India. Son will be home this summer and he is a fan of Indian Cusine.

  9. Michele Owens says:

    Tibs, potatoes are a fantastic crop–one of my favorites.

  10. Hey, Michele. Seeds from Italy is awesome. I’ve been growing their broccoli rape for a few years now and it’s fabulous. Calabrese peppers and little onions, too. I’m going to give Seeds from India a try next. I love growing stuff you can eat — and I love straying from the norm. Happy new year!

  11. chuck b. says:

    This post gets a gold star from me because I am always, ALWAYS interested in learning about new places to shop for seeds. I feel like there is never enough seed blogging (or seed Ranting) or seed shopping. Some people shop for bulbs, for me it’s seeds. If anyone is ever considering a blog post about seeds, but not sure, please, by all means, just do it. I for one will be happy.

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