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Wintertime - CG Catalogue reading time.

  • Subject: [cg] Wintertime - CG Catalogue reading time.
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Mon, 3 Jan 2005 20:03:01 EST


It's community garden catalogue reading time - Here's a sweet article by a 
Philly writer who, writes of, "Tatum Kaiser of Wyndmoor will be planting 
...pinkeye purplehulls plant in a community garden operated by the Chestnut Hill 
Community Association at Morris Arboretum. They'll almost certainly be the only 
pinkeye purplehulls growing there...." 

Adam Honigman
Clinton Community Garden

"My Backyard | Catalogs can sow all sorts of seeds

By Denise Cowie

Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer

When a catalog from the Vermont Bean Seed Co. arrived in her mailbox 
recently, Melinda Tatum Kaiser didn't even wait to sit down before she started 
flipping through it.

Not that she expected to find what she was looking for, as she'd leafed 
through many a catalog in the past without success. But this time, there it was - 
Cowpea Pinkeye Purplehull.

She ordered some, of course. Come spring, Tatum Kaiser of Wyndmoor will plant 
the seeds in a community garden operated by the Chestnut Hill Community 
Association at Morris Arboretum. They'll almost certainly be the only pinkeye 
purplehulls growing there.

The thrill of finding something different or unexpected in a gardening 
catalog helps to make January bearable for many a winter-weary gardener; it's around 
this time of year that mountains of plant and seed catalogs begin arriving in 
the mail. (January isn't "National Mailorder Gardening Month" for nothing.)

Almost every cover flaunts something "New!" or "Exclusive!" - whether it's a 
fat red tomato from Burpee specially designed for sandwiches, or a coneflower 
of a different color (this year, some brilliant new orange and yellow hues 
have been added to the usual pinks) from Wayside Gardens.

For some restive, housebound gardeners, the glossy publications are 
curl-up-by-the-fire wishbooks that offer a comforting promise of spring.

"The winter is so dreary, and it's fun to say 'Oh, next season I want to grow 
this and try that,' " says Pam Davidson of Flourtown.

Every winter, as the catalogs come pouring in, Davidson throws them into a 
basket to peruse at her leisure. "I have one whole bookcase that is dedicated to 
gardening books and gardening catalogs," she says.

For others, the publications are an educational tool.

"I love looking at them, but not just for entertainment," says Diane Mattis 
of Havertown. "I use them as resources... . I have White Flower Farm catalogs 
that go back at least five years. They give you the botanical names and the 
pronunciations, and they also give you ideas."

And occasionally, gardening catalogs offer something more.

For Tatum Kaiser, the pinkeye purplehull cowpeas aren't just the main 
ingredient in a favorite side dish; they're a link to her past.

For decades, her grandfather, Harrison Scott, grew this same variety on the 
family farm in Marietta, on the outskirts of Atlanta, not far from where Tatum 
Kaiser grew up. And at the age of 94 (he celebrated a birthday this month), 
he's still growing them.

"When I was a kid, we just called them Scott peas, because we didn't know 
anyone else who grew them or ate them," says Tatum Kaiser, who lives in Wyndmoor 
with her husband, Jay, and their 8-year-old son, Harrison. Her grandfather 
grew the cowpeas from seeds he'd found on the farm, saving enough from each 
year's harvest for the following year's planting.

"When I was in college, they cross-pollinated with a crowder pea that he was 
also growing," Tatum Kaiser recalls, "so the peas the next year were hybrids, 
and not as tasty.

"That's when I started to look for the seeds in catalogs, and realized how 
hard it was to find them."

Now, whenever she finds a source for the cowpeas, she orders some to mix in 
with the seeds she, too, saves from year to year, to add genetic diversity.

For Tatum Kaiser, who grew up to be a choreographer and is now cosponsor of 
the Drama Club at Upper Dublin High School in Fort Washington, that pinkeye 
purplehull seed she found in the Vermont Bean Seed catalog brought back memories 
of childhood days in Georgia; trailing along in the garden with her 
grandfather, she inherited his urge to grow.

Although, as an adult, Harrison Scott took a job in a machine shop in Atlanta 
to support his family, he went back evenings and weekends to work on the farm 
where he was born, and he returned to the property for good when he retired 
23 years ago. Back when he was a boy, says Tatum Kaiser, the farm was in the 
country, but it has long since been enveloped by the city's sprawl.

"He tells me stories about taking the wagon with the mules into market on 
Saturday mornings to sell their produce," she says. "They would leave way before 
dawn, and get to the Atlanta farmers' market at 9 or 10 a.m. Now, it's about a 
45-minute drive."

Scott still gardens on several acres that were once part of the farm, tending 
wild muscadine and scupadine grapes, and watermelons he sells by the 
roadside. A couple of summers ago, he made enough money to pay for any food he had to 
buy that winter.

"He mostly eats what he grows," says Tatum Kaiser. "He sort of amazes me." 
Her grandparents were her baby-sitters when she was a child, she adds, and as a 
result, "I think gardening seeped into my pores somehow.

"As a teenager I tried to deny that," she admits. "I didn't want anything to 
do with gardening at that age. But as an adult, it became something I had to 
do. It's not like you have to garden these days - you can buy everything you 
want to eat in the grocery store. But I find that I need to do it."

At the Morris Arboretum plot, she says, "We grow lettuce, tomatoes, spinach 
and peppers, but also peas and corn and pumpkins and watermelons." Big plants 
make gardening more appealing for her son, Harrison, his great-grandfather's 

"One year we decided to grow our own pumpkins for Halloween, and it was 
perfect. We carved three of them, and made pumpkin pies out of the other two. It 
was really fun."


It's that kind of delight in growing things that makes Megan Gerritsen's work 
a pleasure. Gerritsen and her husband, Jim, are on the other end of the 
catalog business. They operate Wood Prairie Farm, an organic family farm in Maine 
that specializes in unusual potatoes for cooks and seed potatoes for gardeners; 
they send out thousands of copies of the Maine Potato Catalog each year.

Jim Gerritsen moved to Maine to start farming in 1976, selling produce at 
farmers' markets and natural food stores, and through community-supported 
agriculture. The couple started their mail-order business in the late '80s, adding 
seed potatoes for gardeners to the line.

"We fell in love with that because it entails marketing to gardeners, and I 
love gardeners," says Megan Gerritsen, who has four children ranging in age 
from 14 to nearly 2. "They are just so enthusiastic... . Mail-order is direct 
marketing, so we get to talk to our customers, and that is my favorite part of 
the job - solving people's problems, figuring out what bug it was that chewed 
the leaves, you know."

The customers are very much on their minds when they plan the catalog, too.

"Our catalog is aimed at people who want good food," she says, and laughs. 
"You know, flavor... . One of our business goals is to allow people to get back 
to simple food, family ties, the whole slow-food-movement thing.

"People ask me what is my favorite way to cook potatoes, expecting some 
nine-step recipe, and I say, 'Oh, bake them.' [Add a little] real butter, real sour 
cream, and people will be fighting their way to the table."

Contact gardening writer Denise Cowie at 215-848-4810 or 
dcowie@phillynews.com. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/denisecowie.

For information on Vermont Bean Seed Co., visit www.vermontbean.

com; for the Maine Potato Catalog, visit www.woodprairie.com; details on 
other gardening catalogs are at www.mailordergardening.com."

The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org

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