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Homeyer: Seedling Dreams

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http://www.vpr.net/audio/programs/56/2013/01/HOME-011613.mp3

(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and educator, who's currently dreaming over this year's crop of seed catalogs - those glossy harbingers of spring.

(Homeyer) We gardeners are dreamers. We don't just plant seeds to save money on our grocery bill orto have pink cosmos and big yellow sunflowers to grace our table in a vase - though we garden for those reasons, too.

The truth is - we gardeners believe in the magic of seeds, which are really tangible metaphors for life. Some will grow and thrive, others will not. But all have the potential to make a good day better. And we are needed to help them along their journey.

Seed catalogs are wishes and dreams on glossy colorful pages. They come at a time when not much is happening in the garden, and they help to bolster my lagging spirits on raw, dark winter days. Their words and pictures encourage dreaming about good food and lovely flowers in summer - and all I have to do is place an order. And an operator is waiting to take my call!

Right now, I'm dreaming about tomatoes. I'm always interested in trying new ones: earlier varieties, bigger ones, tastier ones. I grow about 2 dozen kinds of tomatoes each year, including several new kinds. Some seed companies offer hundreds of different tomatoes, so choosing new ones can be a lengthy process.

I'm also dreaming about kohlrabi this year. It's not a common vegetable, but I had great success with it last summer, and I still have some - green and crisp in my fridge. The variety I grew was called Kossack, named after those fierce Russian soldiers, I suppose, but it's spelled with a K instead of a C. The Kossack variety will store well in a cool location for up to 4 months.

Kohlrabi are in the same family as broccoli and cabbage. The part we eat grows as a fat, round stem just above the surface of the ground, with leaves sprouting out of it. Some kohlrabi are purple, some are green. All taste a bit like a cucumber crossed with a radish, and when sliced make a wonderful addition to a winter salad made with carrots, apples, nuts and a vinaigrette sauce. So I'm dreaming of growing more next spring. They're fast growing, and can become as big as softballs in 8 weeks. I'm studying the catalogs to see what other varieties I should try.

I recently had some really tasty sweet potatoes, so I'm dreaming about growing them, too. I tried growing them once long ago, but didn't get good production. I've since learned that they need lots of moisture, so a soaker hose under a layer of black plastic is generally recommended. They're not sold as seeds, but as slips, or little plants, and only a few seed companies sell them.

Nurturing seedlings indoors for 8 to 16 weeks is not for everyone. It requires daily attention. But I find that placing my seed order in January, then starting onions and artichokes in February, peppers in March and tomatoes in April gives me ahead start on the garden and lets me dream of spring when the mud is still deep on the back roads.