There is no doubt in my mind that seed catalogs are the most wonderful pornography in the world. Even people who generally enjoy the regular kind of pornography know that they don’t really want the depicted persons in their lives. But the pictures in seed catalogs? Ah, that’s a different story. Those tempting, enticing, dewy vegetables are impossible not to want. Even beets, which I don’t particularly like, look improbably appealing in the catalog photos. They look so good, in fact, that I begin convincing myself that I will find some way to cook them that I really, really like. As Ambrose Bierce said about second marriages, it’s the triumph of optimism over experience.
But what I want to talk about today is not how seed catalogs can lead you down the primrose path (they can, and they will,) but what things grow really well and should be ordered.
Let’s start with arugula. It is this simple: you need arugula. It grows beautifully, resists drought and pests, is highly nutritious, and utterly delicious. Yes, you will have to supply it with some water. In our area of the Southwest, you have to supply anything with some water. But arugula takes less than most of the choice greens. Furthermore, you can plant it as soon as you get the seeds and get that chore out of the way. Have an area of bed well prepared, broadcast the seeds and rake them in or cover them, and keep the area watered a bit until they germinate later in the spring. Then, step up the water somewhat. They will grow pretty cleanly because they are planted close together and help hold each other up. Harvest by a sort of clear-cutting technique. Wash (repeatedly) and eat. They are deliciously flavorful unless you let them get too old in the spring (they get hot then,) and they make a very good bedding for roasted meats etc. on the plate. You will probably want to plant a few successive small beds of them, because they are a great resource to have in the salad crisper in your fridge.I like the Astro variety, which has flat tender leaves that are a little milder than average, but not much.
You are going to want broccoli if you have the space to grow it, and it is a wonderfully productive vegetable, giving you a large central head in early summer and side shoots until fall if tended well. Variety is key. For our hot dry area I recommend Packman or Green Magic. Plan to start your own plants if you want these varieties. Both withstand our summers as long as you keep the water coming. If you are going to grow it at all, plan to give it the room that it needs, a minimum of 18 inches each way between plants, and 24 inches is better. I give it 24 inches, and top up the soil between plants with fresh compost as it grows. It is one of the most nutritious things in your garden, so plan to feed it will so that it can feed you well.
If you can make room for pole beans to climb, they are very space-efficient, and the variety called Rattlesnake does especially well in the Southwest. Tastes delicious, too.
Lettuce is a must for your own lovely light crisp spring salads, and I suggest carefully perusing the varieties at Wild Garden Seeds. They grow in a hot dry area, and have many lettuces that are especially suited to the kind of conditions that we can offer them. Again, you’re going to have to fertilize the lettuce area well and water as they grow, but you will get incomparably fresh lettuce in return. Pay attention to their notes about flavor, which are reliable.
Other seed companies that I can recommend wholeheartedly are Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Territorial Seeds, and Bountiful Gardens. I have ordered repeatedly from them as well as from Wild Garden Seeds, and have never had a bad experience. I strongly advise against seed rack seeds if you have other options, and when choosing a company to order from, try to find one that sells in commercial grower quantities as well as home garden quantities. Commercial growers know what works, and they do not tolerate bad seeds.
Naturally, when you are curled up by the woodstove on a cold windy evening, you will order a lot more varieties than you really need. This is not just about survival, it is about pleasure and joy and abundance. Go for it.