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O Spring, I Await Thee

Beyond my kitchen windows the wind, ice and snow help drop the wind chill to temperatures beyond 10 degrees below zero. A stacked stone wall stands patiently along the garden, a crust of snow forming its top layer, warming slightly in the low sun of the day, rising to nowhere near the freezing point. I nudge two crystals hanging down into the light passing through the double panes of window glass and watch streaks of rainbows swing about the kitchen, soon settling into a stationary pattern. With the outside world immobilized in a deep freeze, I begin my annual fantasy of fertility and fruitfulness guided by some enticing publications delivered through the mail.

For the last month I have been receiving dozens of seed catalogues, providing rich fodder for spring fantasies. Each year the catalogues start arriving a couple of weeks before the winter solstice and keep landing in my mailbox until about the second week in January. I keep them in a pile, and around this time of year start to flip through their pages to see what potential wonders may rise forth from my future spring garden.

As I kept the stove in my fireplace hot with red embers and a constant feed of seasoned wood, I pulled out my current stack of colorful catalogues. Sitting in front of the hot stove, I began my annual journey into fantasies of colorful gardens heavy with fruiting vegetables and blossoming flowers. In the coldest days of the year, these fantasies provide me with a mental getaway from the aging ice and blustering cold of the outdoors. I begin my 2004 garden plans with a simple mix of hope, perseverance, and faith that the thawed earth of spring will come.

Planning involves thinking ahead, trying to foresee what might be and how to transform fantasy into reality. With the raised beds of my garden frozen and topped with a layer of crusty snow, itís a little difficult to even remember those past warm days of green leaves and fresh edibles. In order to insure a rich garden bounty in the coming year, figuring out what to plant means thinking about seeds.

Seeds have always amazed me. That so much can so quickly rise out of so little certainly seems miraculous and worthy of awe. The ability of plants to transform dirt, water, air and sunlight into fruits, herbs and vegetables is real alchemy. That a tomato seed weighing in at about four-thousandths of a gram can, in a few short months, produce a rambling vine loaded with fruit weighing more than 10 pounds is truly wondrous.

While wandering through the possibilities of seed catalogues, it is important to keep in mind the dimensions of the planting space youíll have in the spring. In my small patch of rich dirt, I prefer to grow leafy vegetables, cherry tomatoes, snow peas and chili peppers. My intensive planting methods allow my modest plot to produce a substantial harvest beyond the bounds of the local growing season.

I prefer to use organic seeds and to plant heirloom varieties. Large multinational corporations like Monsanto and Pioneer are trying to control the seed market with genetically engineered seeds that will reduce plant diversity and not produce viable seeds. Because of the efforts of these large corporate interests, my preference for organic and heirloom varieties is now also a struggle to support genetic diversity as well as to produce nutritious and tasty food. Growing your own can also substantially reduce the energy and chemical inputs associated with produce in comparison with supermarket offerings. It gives you more control over what goes into your food. Gardening also has well documented benefits for both oneís physical and mental health.

Before cruising the seed catalogues, I take a quick survey of the seeds I have from prior years. Many of these are still viable and donít require replacement. I save empty seed packets from the previous growing season to know what needs replenishing. I keep my seed packets in a recycled wooden box that once held clementine tangerines. I added a few dividers that allow the seed packets to stand upright, which makes them easier to sort through.

From my 2004 pile of catalogues, I highly recommend three. All three have Web sites that provide additional offerings and useful gardening tips. Each is dedicated to sustaining plant genetic diversity and supports organic agriculture. They also carry organically produced seeds, foster the perpetuation of heirloom vegetables and eschew genetically engineered varieties. All three also make available gardening tools, soil enhancements and other products related to the garden.

Seeds of Change (P.O. Box 15700 Santa Fe, NM 87592-1500, 888 762-7333, www.seeds sells only certified organic seeds, offering over 600 varieties. They maintain a research farm just north of Santa Fe where they cultivate over a thousand organic varieties. Their listings include background information on varieties, their hardiness, drought tolerance and the number of seeds to expect in a packet, most of which cost $2.49. A discount is available with Internet orders.

Fedco (P.O. Box 520 Waterville, ME 04903-0520, 207 873-7333, is a 26-year old cooperative that offers organic and non-organic seeds with an ordering deadline of April 2. They support sustainable agriculture, maintain many heirloom varieties and make available a good selection of soil enhancements and organic fertilizers. They clearly indicate organic varieties, often include interesting historical information in listings and indicate the number of seeds per packet which cost from $0.80 to $1.00.

Johnnyís Selected Seeds (955 Benton Ave. Winslow, ME 04901-2601, 207 861-3901, has been offering organic and non-organic seeds for over thirty years. They operate a certified organic farm in Albion, Maine and have a program to make seed contributions to charitable organizations involved in gardening projects. Organic varieties are clearly marked, with seed packets ranging in cost from $2 to $4.

So, as the cold winds of winter blow, I think forward toward the spring to come.

óTom Nattell

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