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Seed ordering for the growing season

Andrew Cummings

Around this time for the past several years, Elspeth’s talked with a local farmer or gardener about what seed varieties they’re ordering for the upcoming growing season. This year, she talks with an avid home gardener from Wellfleet.

Andrew Cummings has a relatively small garden. But what he lacks in space, he makes up for with meticulous organization. During the growing season Andrew keeps a journal documenting what varieties do well, and in the spring, he takes a look back through his notes and decides what seeds to order for the coming season.

"Basically what I do is I look at my seeds into three different categories one is the real providers things that are tried and true that I really trust, depend on, then I always get some stuff that I want to experiment with whether it’s a different variety of something that I’ve liked a lot of times that’s how I’ll find some of my most productive stuff."

Finally, Andrew looks for alternative suppliers for seeds he’s had some success with — varieties that did okay that he wants to try again from a different source. His favorite suppliers are Fedco in Maine and Territorial Seed Company in Oregon, but he picks and chooses from at least a dozen catalogs. Looking at the spread of seed packets in front of us, one variety jumps out at me: the green meat radish?

"It’s a huge Asian radish and the foliage on it is very big and rigid it almost grows like a kale the greens but the radish itself is huge it’s about the size of an avocado and it’s chartreuse when you cut into it it’s this bright, bright green and it’s got this it’s got a radish taste but there’s more it’s more complex and it’s really, really neat to grind and mix with mashed potatoes or other root vegetables."

Andrew says the Green Meat Radish grows well all season, and he eats the leaves as well as the roots. Another plant he likes for both what’s above and below ground is the beet. The only trouble is, he can’t get most varieties to grow well in his soil.

"I do horrible with em I can’t grow a beet, except for this one, which is called a Lutz Green Leaf. And it’s the only beet I’ll plant now," he explained.

"It’s—the plant itself isn’t as ornate or pretty it’s just green, it’s an excellent eating green but the beet is it’s your standard generic looking beet, it’s nothing special, it’s an excellent tasting beet."

The Lutz Green Leaf is an heirloom variety from Europe. In addition to its sweet flavor, it’s known for storing well, and in some catalogs it’s called “winter keeper.” Another root vegetable Andrew likes for it’s ability to tolerate cold weather is a Japanese-style carrot called SHIN KER OH DAH.

"That is an excellent late season carrot that winters over really well, it tends to grow much quicker in the cooler weather than it does in the warmer weather it’s a massive carrot but it’s sweet, so it’s a great cooking carrot but it’s also great raw."

I then asked about peppermint swiss chard.

"Peppermint Swiss chard is typically you get the real Bright Lights chards, and then the real green chards. The Peppermint is just a very pale, pale pink stem the past few years it’s done way better than the other chards. I don’t know if it’s climate dependent or not. The bugs don’t seem to eat it as much as the other stuff I really like it, it’s a beautiful plant, as all chards are, but that’s the chard I’m growing now specifically I’m not growing any others."

Andrew’s also a big fan of mustard greens, in particular two varieties called Green Wave and Pink Lettucy Mustard. He says they do best in cool weather, and the flavor gets more intense as the summer heats up. As an experiment this year, he’s trying out a variety of winter squash called OOO CHEE KEE CURRY.

"It’s a red squash that’s incredibly bright I guess photographs don’t do it justice but it’s almost like a fluorescent orange but the meat is the same color it’s super hardy it’s really sweet it’s a great baking squash or just you know treat it like a root vegetable but it’s really good in pies and other things so I’m trying that this year."

Andrew Cummings is also excited about trying out an Amish cucumber that looks like a potato, and a variety of tomatillos that taste like pineapples.

This piece first aired in 2014.

An avid locavore, Elspeth lives in Wellfleet and writes a blog about food. Elspeth is constantly exploring the Cape, Islands, and South Coast and all our farmer's markets to find out what's good, what's growing and what to do with it. Her Local Food Report airs Thursdays at 8:30 on Morning Edition and 5:45pm on All Things Considered, as well as Saturday mornings at 9:30.