Exploring the encyclopedia of garden vegetables

Right after I removed the pile of doggy doo my neighbor’s dog had thoughtfully deposited on my morning paper, I recognized something in the air I hadn’t noticed for the past five months; the air had the smell of spring.

It was still cold and dark, but it was the first time in months I could actually smell the dirt. Immediately, I came to the realization it was time to start thinking about my garden.

Jim Fabiano

Jim Fabiano

This year my neighbor, not the neighbor who uses my property as a dog toilet, suggested I grow my vegetable plants from seed. He has a large picture window in his house and gets many hours of heat and sun during the early spring. I took him up on his offer and organized my little part of his nursery. At 71, I had become a tenement 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 I could order the exact seeds I needed. I thought this would be easy.

I wonder how many people know there are 24 different types of beans. I always thought there were only two – green and yellow. Looking through the 103-page seed catalog I found Kentucky King Bush beans that were a favorite for freezing and canning.

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Since I grow a garden to have fresh vegetables, I could not understand why anyone would want a specific type of bean to freeze. I always thought you could find them all year-round at Hannaford for far less trouble. Other types of beans included Blue Lake that were virtually fiber-free for those who didn’t want fiber in their diet; Tender Pick green beans that were supposed to be flavor packed with curved edges, (Are there sharp-edged beans?); Triumph De Farcy beans that are said to be the classic filet bean. (I didn’t know beans had bones either).

There were even dual-purpose beans that could be used like regular green beans or lima beans. I know of no one who likes lima beans.

I was also wrong about beans only coming in two colors. As well as green beans and yellow beans there were white beans, and purple beans.

The catalog tried to convince me that the Sequoia Purple bean was especially attractive. I thought it looked dead.

After giving myself a headache reading about all these different types of beans, I turned the page only 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 whatever happened to the Nantes Full Length or the Toudo I?

There was even a yellow carrot that had the name Sweet Sunshine. The book said it was all-new and sweet and crunchy like celery. I doubt I could eat a yellow-colored piece of celery because of my belief that when celery becomes that color it is time to throw it away.

Did you know there was a red and purple-colored corn? I am not talking about a pale or pastel color here. I am talking about a Red Ruby Queen corn that that retains its gorgeous color boiled, steamed or even microwaved.

The Dwarf Blue Jade corn had sapphire blue kernels that turn jade green when cooked. The catalog also had Silver Queen corn that was white in color. I wondered idly if I should show my patriotism this year by growing a red, white, and blue garden then turned the page and found an ad for a red, white, and blue corn collection.

Cucumbers were something I could never grow in the past. But, with 20 different varieties that ranged from 12 inch long Big Burpless to two-inch-long Picklebush cucumbers, I was sure to find something that would fit in somewhere 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 the Armenians were so famous for the length of their cucumbers. The catalog also displayed a Palace King variety that was oriental and tolerant of powdery mildew. I had no idea you could get mildew on your cucumber.

And did you know there were 22 different varieties of lettuce?

It was just in the last few years that I got used to the idea that there were Iceberg, Romaine, green leaf and red leaf lettuce but the catalog had pictures of lettuce that looked more like seaweed. There was Mesclun lettuce that was said to be the French approach to salad greens. The description went on to state that the lettuce was pre-mixed. How does one pre-mix a head of lettuce? The oddest-looking lettuce was a variety called Frizz E. It looked like something that grew on old meat and should be thrown away as soon as possible. This was also a fine French endive. My suspicions of anything French grew to odd proportions.

I spent almost the whole weekend reading about the different kinds of vegetables that one had to choose from to produce the perfect garden. Did you know there were 15 varieties of pea and 35 varieties of pepper that range in color from a translucent white to a deep chocolate black?

I got my biggest shock when I turned the page and saw how many different types of tomatoes they carried. There were 53 varieties of tomato for me to choose from. I am happy to state that most of them were red but there were a few that were orange and one that stayed deliberately green. How would you know when the green tomatoes were ripe?

There was also one extremely odd tomato called the Big Rainbow which looked like a big round piece of cheese. The catalog stated that it produced bright yellow fruit with scarlet stripes. By this time, I was a little surprised that they hadn’t learned how to grow a variety that came in red, white, and blue. By the time I had read the catalog cover to cover I didn’t have any time left to order anything, so I guess I’ll have to leave that for another weekend.

The next morning, after I snatched my morning paper away from the latest offering by my neighbor’s dog, I noticed on the front page they had a picture of a newer, bigger and better, genetically engineered tomato. If they could do that, I why couldn’t they come up with something useful, like a dog repelling tomato?

Now there’s something I’d buy.

Jim Fabiano is a retired teacher and writer living in York, Maine. Email Jim at [email protected].

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Column: Exploring the encyclopedia of garden vegetables

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