search engine for seeds
A search engine for seeds? How cool!
April 30, 2008
By ANN LOVEJOY
SPECIAL TO THE P-I
As the soil warms up and the days grow longer, a gardener's thoughts turn
to vegetable love. Who can resist the idea of growing delicious vegetables
and fruits? Our springtime enthusiasm often turns into summer despair when
we realize that we can't possibly use or give away all we have sown.
The good news is that many gardenless folks would appreciate a little of
your garden's abundance. Every year, food banks run dry just as gardens
start to overflow with edibles. So go ahead, plant big and reap plenty.
Just remember that when the harvesting gets tough, your local food bank
will happily receive your extras.
The wonderful feeling that nothing will be wasted gives us permission to
grow all the delectable things we can't find in the local grocery store.
However, it can be challenging to locate seeds and starts of favorite
foods. I often get reader requests for help in finding favorite tomatoes,
old-fashioned beans and heirloom asparagus that aren't sold at the average
Mother Earth can help. This year, editors at the venerable Mother Earth
News worked with Google to create a new search engine that searches only
current plant and seed catalogs. When cruising the Web for uncommon
foodstuffs, an ordinary search is more apt to turn up a Wikipedia article
on virtual vegetables than a place to buy actual seeds.
Since Mother Earth's search engine is speed-reading through about 150
catalogs, the odds of finding what you want are pretty darn good. All the
big commercial catalogs are included, but so are dozens of small ones that
specialize in uncommon edibles and ornamentals.
To test drive this new tool, I asked this modified search engine to look
for Tuscan kale, a plant many readers have had trouble finding. And no
wonder! Though 10 pages of sources appeared, almost every catalog lists
this classic Italian vegetable a little differently. The Grow Italian
catalog sells it as cavolo nero (black cabbage), while Nichols Garden
Nursery lists it under kale Tuscan organic. Others call it black dragon,
laciniato, dinosaur, black palm tree kale and lots of other variants.
Luckily, most catalogs mention variations on names, and the search engine
cross-references fast. A previously frustrating search became a breeze with
one click of my mouse. How cool!
Catalog entries often include cultural information, growing tips and even
planting combinations. For instance, the Kitchen Garden Seeds catalog
suggests filling a container with Tuscan kale and edible peach melba
nasturtiums, which makes a pretty and tasty combination. (I'd add chives as
well, and perhaps some spicy oregano.)
Next, I found rainbow carrots, an especially tasty, beautiful and
nutritious mixture. Like their wild ancestors, these back-bred carrots come
in a range of colors, from orange to yellow, cream, green, coral, rose, red
and purple. Gorgeous in salads and stir-fries, all are crisp and sweet and
each offers a slightly different blend of phytonutrients.
Easter egg radishes were my next hit, a colorful and crisply delicious
blend of French breakfast types. Tender even when quite large, these come
in pretty tints from red, rose and pink to lavender, purple and white. Many
catalogs also carried watermelon radishes (also called roseheart), an
heirloom Chinese variety that is sweet-hot and beautiful. Thin slices,
attractively fanned, make a memorable garnish for anything from appetizers
and soups to salads and sides.
Online sources abound for my favorite hand tool, a serrated farmer's knife
called a hori-hori. That means "chop chop" in Japanese, and this heavy iron
or steel tool is great for chopping, prying and demolishing weeds. It's
also terrific for planting and transplanting anything up to a gallon in
Mother Earth News has been around (off and on) since 1970, and today, both
the magazine and the Web site offer self-sufficiency guidance.
You'll find articles on everything from energy efficiency to green
remodeling or raising chickens and goats, and regular online columns such
as Garden Know-how and Eat in Season.
There's also a free online Food and Gardening newsletter and a blog that
offers regional planting advice.
If you (like me) prefer to read a printed newspaper or magazine, you can
subscribe online to receive the Mother Earth News magazine for half-price
(six bimonthly issues for $10).
Mother Earth news -- motherearthnews.com
Mother Earth News Seed and Plant Finder -- goto.seattlepi.com/r1372
Ann Lovejoy is the author of many gardening books. She can be reached via
mail at: 8959 Battlepoint Drive N.E., Bainbridge Island, WA 98110.