Eight heirloom seed packs: Spotted Trout Lettuce, Cilantro, Basil Bouquet, Ragged Jack Kale, Velvet Queen Sunflower, Cocozelle Zucchini, Homemade Pickles Cucumber and Mammoth Long Island Dill. Grown or packed in Accord, New York. (
A hundred years ago spotted lettuces, maroon sunflowers, flowery zucchini and sweet broccoli lined the furrows of New England gardens. They’re reminiscent of familiar industrial vegetables, but unlike the predictable, unvarying varieties piled high in misted supermarket produce aisles, these exotic cousins have some taste tricks up their sleeve.
The Hudson Valley Seed Library grows or gathers (from other neighboring organic seed producers) a catalog of hardy, affordable seeds that are rooted in the history and soils of New York. Further on the theme of Northeast pride, Ken Green and Doug Miller, the men behind the Library, enlist local artists to design frame-worthy seed packs.
Ragged Jack Kale: Slightly unkempt around the edges but still dapper, ragged Jack has tender, bluish-green leaves and pinkish-red veins. Succulent, amazing with garlic and very nutritious.
Cilantro: An easy-to-grow, refreshing herb deemed indispensable by cultures the world over. Don’t let he genetically-hobbled cilantro-haters dissuade you, cilantro is handy for Mexican, Vietnamese, Moroccan, Indian and whatever other food you happen to invent.
Basil Bouquet: Different basils do different things. Hardy Genovese is good for pounding into pesto, and aromatic Thais don’t give up their flavor in a frying pan. Sow the seeds and experiment with the different fragrant leaves that turn up.
Spotted Trout Lettuce: Crisp romaine lettuce, flecked with festive dark violet. These leaves are softer and more tender than plain romaine. Easy to grow and can be sown directly into the ground every 2–3 weeks for a continuous salad supply through the summer and into Fall.
Velvet Queen Sunflower: Regal maroon petals with a deep velvet luster. These flowers turn and nod towards the sun, with tall, thick stalks that climbing flowers can cling to, like bean poles.
Cocozelle Zucchini: Also called Cocozelle di Napoli, this is a bush type squash with alternating pale green-yellow and dark green stripes. Cocozelle has very firm greenish-cream colored flesh. The blooms can be beer battered and fried, or baked on a pizza pie with ricotta.
Mammoth Long Island Dill: The bright yellow flowers will add a cheerful burst of color to your garden, while the flavorful leaves and seeds are optimal as a pickling spice. The leaves may also be used to garnish or flavor omelettes, fish dishes and salads. The leaves can be dried for future use.
Homemade Pickles Cucumber: Especially bred for home pickling, these green and white cucumbers boast a solid, crisp flesh with a toothsome bite. The abovementioned Mammoth Long Island Dill will combine well with these cucumbers to create a batch of pickles. The vines are bountiful, and can be supported on a trellis or allowed to crawl directly on the ground.
Note that date suggestions for seed sowing reflect the early- to mid-May last frost date in New York's Hudson Valley, so you'll need to adjust according to your climate.
Spotted Trout Lettuce: Sow seeds indoors anytime from March onwards, or direct sow from early April until summer heat sets in. Harvest spring sowings promptly to prevent bolting. Resume sowing seeds from early August through September for lovely, long-standing fall crops. Lettuce likes steady (but not excessive) moisture and can become prematurely bitter during dry spells; keep irrigated.
Ragged Jack Kale: Sown in early March and transplanted in mid-April, you can begin harvesting delicate frilly leaves in late May. Sow seeds again in late June or early July for a fall crop, which will provide leaves that turn ambrosial when sautéed with garlic and doused lightly with apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper. Kale likes to be transplanted - even the summer sowing - and it wastes less garden space to do so. It also gives the seedlings a head start against the flea beetles, which will happily munch on kale seedlings if eggplants and mustards aren't around. Give the plants highly fertile soil and a spacing of 12 to 18 inches.
Cilantro: Direct sow in succession every two weeks from about a month before last frost until early fall. Succession seed-sowing is all-important with cilantro; it bolts after only a couple of weeks of harvest. Not picky about soil and quite tolerant to a range of conditions, tough leaves grow low to the ground and are purple-hued in cold weather (they remain tasty and edible, though). Harvest confidently lest plants bolt before you get your share.
Basil Bouquet: Direct sow after frost, or start indoors up to one month before last frost date. To stay in fresh basil the whole season, start in succession at one-month intervals. Pinch off tallest growth in order to keep basil from flowering; flavor intensifies once in bloom. Good seed for garden or container plantings.
Velvet Queen Sunflower: Direct sow after frost in a spot where you'd like a tall plant with dramatic impact. This queen casts shade, so consider this when planting. Sow in clumps of two to three seeds, with the clumps spaced 12 to 18 inches apart; thin to one seedling per clump. To save seeds, cover ripe flower heads with paper bags; this will keep the birds off.
Cocozelle Zucchini: Start indoors two to three weeks before last frost or sow outdoors after last frost. Sow two to three more times at monthly intervals for fruit all season. Zucchini tolerates moderate soil fertility and dry conditions. Plants grow to three feet high and three feet across. Harvest fruits often at young stage for best eating and highest yields.
Mammoth Long Island Dill: Direct sow around last frost, or indoors before last frost and then transplant fairly quickly. Sow every three to four weeks for highest quality fresh dill leaves all season. For use as a dry herb, harvest before the umbel (Latin for umbrella) flowers form.
Homemade Pickles Cucumber: Start indoors three weeks before last frost and transplant to indicated spacing after threat of frost has passed; or direct sow seeds spaced four inches apart as soon after last frost, then thin to indicated spacing once seedlings put on their first true leaves. Plant in moderately fertile soil and water regularly. Cucumbers can be trellised or allowed to grow on the ground. Harvest when cucumbers are green and white and the skin begins to smooth out, but before they become shiny and yellow.
Every year, Ken Green and Doug Miller, the duo behind the Seed Library, grow organic heirloom seeds on their two-acre farm in the Hudson Valley of New York. They also collect seeds from neighboring farms - string beans and rutabagas, for example, from dedicated people who have been growing them in obscurity for decades.
Behind it all is Ken and Doug's desire to increase the biodiversity of New York plants, a project that has strengthened current stocks and led to discoveries (or rediscoveries) of hardier and handsomer varieties.
- A Seed Library for Heirloom Plants Thrives in the Hudson Valley, New York Times
- Start here for a rabbit-hole of links about how to grow from seed: Grow Your Own: It Starts With A (Small) Seed Order, A Way To Garden
- Heirloom Tomatoes, Kaufmann Mercantile References
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