Category Archives: Gardening

Seed Catalogs

‘Tis the time of year for seed catalogs. In my opinion, seed catalogs are like the cocaine of gardening world – sheer escapist fantasy in which one has infinite time, energy, and garden space, a world in which weeds, pests, diseases, and aching backs do not exist. In the world of seed catalogs, each variety is better than the next. Take, for instance, the choices of basil in Fedco’s catalog:

"Basil leaves" by Paul Goyette. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Basil leaves” by Paul Goyette. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Genovese Basil (70 days) The choice of many connoisseurs for making pesto.  (Ah ha! Well, if it’s the choice of connoisseurs, this is clearly the right type of basil.) Also called Perfumed Basil. (Oh good. I love the smell of basil. But wait, what’s this?…)

Anise Basil Originally from Persia. (Persia?? Oh, exotic!! Bellydancing. Wild animals. Lawrence of Arabia. This must be good.) Vigorous mulberry-tinted basil with anise fragrance makes highly decorative tall bushy plant. (Anise!? Yum. Pretty AND smells good AND exotic.) Slow to bolt. (Excellent. Because bolted basil is bad basil.) Great in Italian tomato sauces. (Perfect!) Also used in Thai and various Mediterranean cuisines. (Excellent! I can use it for everything. This is clearly the right kind of basil! But wait….)

Sacred Basil OG Ocimum tenuiflorum (100 days) Native to India and used in Indian as well as Thai cuisine. (Sacred basil! Wow, what does that mean?) Spicier than other basils and quicker to go to seed, but still usable when covered with purple flowers. (Hmm.) Used in Ayurvedic medicine as a poultice on acne, ringworm, eczema and insect bites. (Whoa! Ok, I don’t have acne, ringwork, or eczema. I’m sure I’ll have insect bites, though.)  Strengthens the immune system and increases oxygen uptake in the brain. (Well, I could definitely use more oxygen in the brain.) Stands a bit more cold than other basils. (Excellent! Because it’s cold around here.) OT-certified. (Whatever that means.) (Sacred basil! I read somewhere that Indians put in their window sills to ward off evil. Millions of Indians can’t be wrong! I have to get this one. But wait. I meant to get some lemon basil and some Thai basil…)

"Thai basil with flowers" by Risacher. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Thai basil with flowers” by Risacher. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

And so it goes. And this is just basil!! I haven’t even gotten to the tomatoes, or the carrots or the green beans. I’d better not open the corn section, since I don’t have enough room for corn. A few sunflowers would be nice, though….

On the demise of Organic Gardening magazine

I have been a devoted reader of Organic Gardening magazine for a number of years, ever since ordering my first trial issue via an advertisement printed on an aluminum foil Stonyfield Yogurt lid (!). However, I recently discovered that Organic Gardening is being “re-branded” as Organic Life magazine. For the past several days, I have been mentally composing a distressed letter to the decision-makers. It goes something like this:

Dear Organic Gardening decision-makers,

I am shocked and saddened to hear of the “rebranding” of Organic Gardening magazine into something called Organic Life. Organic Gardening was a unique, 70+ year old magazine; Organic Life is neither. More disturbing, this change clearly signifies a shift in target audience from the producer to the consumer. Just what the world needs – more consumers! Although almost anyone with even the tiniest plot of land (including a rooftop or an abandoned parking lot) can be an organic gardener, not everyone can have an “organic life”. In fact, as the owner of one small New Hampshire beef farm said, “I can’t afford to eat my own meat.”

Your old audience was willing to stand in the mid-afternoon sun, sweat pouring off their foreheads, backs aching and covered in dirt, pulling carrots out of carefully prepared soil. Your new target audience, I fear, is big-city foodies who are more interested in how pretty that carrot looks on a plate than in how it got there. Though Organic Life promises a gardening component, this shift in emphasis feels, to me, like a betrayal of your roots at every level. If you felt like something was wrong with your decision, this is it: Organic Life will join the ranks of a number of magazines of similar ilk (I can think of five or six off the top of my head), while simultaneously leaving farmers and gardeners, literally, in the dirt. The recent explosion of the localvore and food justice movements (including a proliferation of community gardens, CSAs, school gardens, farmer’s markets, farm-to-school endeavors, veterans’ farms, inner city gardens and farms, etc.) calls for support and guidance, not abandonment.

Your recently published Organic Gardening Special Collector’s Issue, which I assume will be the last, profiles J. I. and Bob Rodale, both highly politicized, radical pioneers of the organic food movement. Though this issue purports to pay homage to these highly respected farmers and activists, I find it more likely that both of these men, unfortunately, are rolling in their graves. Unless my predictions prove wrong (in which case I apologize), I will, with great sorrow, be canceling not only my own subscription, but my gift subscriptions as well.


What do you think?