As we coast into our third year here at the Raspberry Cabin, I find myself amidst piles of seed catalogs, spreadsheets, and old seed packets. I’ve accumulated ten years worth of experimental varieties of every shape, color, size, and flavor. If it can grow this far north, I’ve probably tried it by now. As I sift through my seeds I am reminded of my past successes, my many failures, and my hopes for the future.

Artichoke seeds make me sigh – I tried them two years ago and as soon as I planted them out mid-July we dipped into the 40’s and every plant wilted away to nothing. Green Arrow shelling peas give me a warm feeling, just imagining the fresh, green flavor of summer and sunshine when I bite into a warm pod straight off the vine. Cauliflower seeds make me purse my lips in determination. One of these years I WILL grow a beautiful head of cauliflower. The Habanero packets get my mouth watering, thinking of pineapple-habanero sauce poured thickly over grilled chicken legs.

Do you go through your seed collection in January and get these feelings too?

The onion seeds are first on the spreadsheet. This will be my third year growing from seed, and I’m still learning how to get the biggest, most flavorful onions this way. Sets are easy – you just stick them in the ground and wait a while. Boom! Onions. But seeds? Seeds you have to plant, thin, replant, trim, replant, support, then finally plant out. This year I am only doing two seed varieties of onion, and I’ll continue to get two set varieties as well. I’m also introducing a new kid on the block – shallots. After watching some youtubers grow them out, I’m confident I can do it too. I’ve never bought shallots because they’re so expensive in the stores, but at $2 for a thick packet of seed I figured it’s worth a shot. If I don’t like them, I can either sell them or give them to the chickens. Chickens LOVE onions. Have you tried shallots?

After the onions come some herbs, peppers, and flowers. Then the tomatoes, melons, and squash. I’m sticking with a few oldies-but-goodies, and branching out even more. I love trying new things, don’t you? When I go to the supermarket, there are three tomatoes to choose from: cherry, roma, or slicing. They’re all red. They all have the same lackluster, watery taste. When I go into my garden, I have all different sizes, shapes, colors, and flavors to choose from. If I want a smoky, robust flavor I pick a Paul Robeson. If I want a super sweet snack, I pick a rainbow of cherry tomato varieties. If I’m making sauce, I have several paste types in white, yellow, orange, and red so my sauces aren’t always the typical red you find in the store. Fresh salsa? I toss in whatever is prettiest – purples, reds, golds… and I use colored peppers to match. It’s a fiesta for my eyes as well as my mouth.

I’m stoked about the garden this year. Last year I harvested so much I didn’t even have time to post about it on my blog. I was able to fill the freezer with around 35 pounds of diced peppers, 20 pounds of shredded zucchini, and 10 pounds of diced onions. I canned up dozens of jars of diced tomatoes, sauce, pickles of every type, and carrots. Last year was a bumper year for carrots. I had THOUSANDS. Every  year I struggle to get anything larger than my pinky finger from the carrots, so I decided it was time to empty my seed stock. I planted several varieties in several 20′ rows. Of course, since I wasn’t expecting anything from all that old seed, every damn one went gangbusters on me. I pulled so many I ended up feeding a majority of them to the chickens and deer this winter. I’ve a sneaking suspicion the carrots all over the yard and orchard are the reason we have so many new rabbit tracks this year. Thankfully they haven’t discovered the garden yet. We might be having some bunny stew if I notice any tracks in there.

I plan to have a lot more flowers this year. Last year I skipped sunflowers. This year I want sunflowers, nasturtiums, sweet peas, asters, and marigolds everywhere! I’ll also be finishing up the corner raised bed, getting it filled, and planting some perennials like hardy kiwi, morning glory, and daisies in it. I’ll finish digging out the small pond by hand, get it lined, build up the edges, and stock it with some experimental fish. If I can get them to survive through the winter, I might try my hand at some koi. I ordered some asparagus roots since my experiment with asparagus seed only yielded three stalks to speak of. They’ll get their own raised bed, too, which will probably receive a good chunk of chicken manure since they’re heavy feeders.

I really wanted to tone it down with my tomatoes since 100 plants were a lot to tend, but these damn seed catalogs got me all drooly and craving new flavors. I’m going to really try to reel it back to around 50 plants. Cross your fingers for me, okay? Peppers, though… oh, peppers! I had over 200 pepper plants last year and that wasn’t enough to satisfy my obsession. Have I told you how much I love fresh peppers? I love them frozen, too. And fried, stewed, baked, grilled, stuffed… I’m like Bubba on Forrest Gump, except with peppers instead of shrimp.

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My seed collection grows every year. I took this picture before I even broke into my new seed orders. Yep. I’m out of control when it comes to gardening! I found quite a few varieties that I didn’t want anymore. For anyone interested, I am giving them away in four groups over the next month. You can find the giveaway on my Secular Homesteaders group on facebook. Just leave a comment on that post and you’ll be entered to win the seeds shown. The first group are all nightshades – tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. Here’s a preview of what I’ll be giving away, if you’re curious.

Four lucky winners will help me pare down my crazy seed stash. I’ll pay shipping anywhere in the US. I should mention that I have had no trouble germinating any of these seeds. Why don’t I want these varieties, you ask? Some of them require a longer growing season than I enjoy here in northern Wisconsin. Some I didn’t care for. Some I don’t have room for, despite my garden being roughly 8x the square footage of our house. And some were freebies or doubles that I wasn’t really interested in. All good seeds from great companies, and all of them kept in the dark, cool basement between seasons to keep them viable.

My next post will be more about the specific varieties I’ll be growing this year, as well as planting times and what you can expect from my stand at the farmer’s market this spring. As always, if you have any specific requests for plants, you’re welcome to leave a comment here or email me. I already have a request for fushimi, marconi, and jalapeno peppers, and I’m fulfilling some others from shoppers at the market last year. Bhut jolokia, anyone? 😉

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season! Happy New Year!

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