It’s the time of year that we who are garden starved pour over the mail order seed catalogs and yearn to get our hands into the dirt. No matter that it’s cold and icy and wet and stormy and the soil would hate being disturbed! Oh, except my lucky friends in the south planting zones. I’d envy you the length of your growing season except you guys have more bugs. I hope I have to say may resonate with you as well.

One of the first reactions I hear when I mention genetic modification as a tool in the agricultural kit bag is ‘oh my God, what about plant diversity?’ Now that is not an illegitimate question and is well worthy of science and research based discussion but all too often when aimed at me it comes from the mouth of a person who has never grown a tomato. That’s my mental shorthand for those folks who get a lot of their food/plant/gardening information from un-science based sources and haven’t done much, if any, growing of food. Even worse is when these concerns are voiced by people who along with no gardening experience also do not actually cook (or not very much).

That being said what I intend ranting on today is the joy and delight of discovering the multitude of vegetable varieties available out there for the enthusiastic home gardener from an amazing number of sources. Beginning in late December each year and building through March of the next I receive as many as 25 catalogs from garden seed houses all over the country. [There are well over 700 seed vendors in the United States alone.] As of this writing I have received fourteen catalogs. All my years of gardening have managed to get me on a great many mailing lists.

Some of these vendors stress that they emphasize heirloom varieties or only organic or non-modified vegetable garden seeds. Seed Savers Exchange is a good example. Others sell seeds to the general public with no particular emphasis. Gurney, Henry Field and RH Shumway fit that bill. Some specialize in certain vegetables. Totally Tomatoes out of Wisconsin and Tomato Growers Supply Company in Florida are two examples.

Over the years I’ve bought at least one packet of seed from all of them so years later I still am on the mailing lists. What attracts me to a new variety or brings me back to an old variety is seeing a particular vegetable variety that sounds interesting (growing habit, size, early/mid/late season) or has produced well in my gardens in the past. I don’t care whether the seed might be ‘organic’ or touted as non-GMO. For me because I rarely buy vegetables my garden does need to produce enough to can or freeze for later use, to be productive into the fall and early winter and also to produce enough to share within my family of four households.

So here by my simple hand count are selected veggies in six of the catalogs stacked on my desk. I hope seeing such variety available to the home gardener will help moderate the idea that we are losing diversity available for our gardens. Yes, there is some variety overlap in the catalogs and I’m not discussing commercial field or orchard crops but if you want to grow a fabulously diverse home garden the access is at your fingertips!

Gurney’s; 14 sweet corn, 9 carrot, 15 beans, summer squash 10

R.H. Shumway; 54 types of beans including green, bush, Lima, yellow, shell, drying, and runner

Henry Fields; 16 beans, 6 beets, 8 carrots, 15 corn including sweet, dent, popcorn, 13 cucumbers, 14 lettuce, 14 onion/leek, 11 peas, 20 peppers both sweet and hot, 14 heirloom tomatoes

Johnny’s Selected Seeds; 54 peppers both sweet and hot, 17 potatoes, an astounding 82 lettuces of the Oakleaf, Bibb, Butterhead, and Romaine/Cos types

Seed Savers Exchange – heirloom, untreated, non hy-bred, non-gmo: 74 tomatoes, 48 sweet and hot peppers, 38 lettuce, 40 beans – shell, dry, fresh, 23 cucumbers, 11 garlic, 10 radish, 16 watermelon, 34 squash – summer and winter

Tomato Growers Supply Company: 17 early season, 50 mid-season, 10 late season, 9 oxheart, 40 beefsteak, 17 paste, 29 small fruited, 18 bi-colored, 15 black, 9 green, 9 orange, 7 white, 8 artisan, 7 indigo, 20 yellow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Surely one can find a tomato that will thrill you in that list!! Oh yes, also 48 sweet peppers, 70 hot peppers and (drum roll, please) 24 kinds of eggplant.

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