The depths of winter is a gardener’s favorite time, where we curl up under a lap throw and delve into seed catalogs. Each new variety or old friend is weighed and considered for inclusion in the upcoming garden; the shopping list grows along with the gardener’s contentment.
Perusing my stack of brightly colored, glossy catalogs helped nurse me through a bout of flu, distracting me from feeling sorry for myself and ensuring I didn’t drive my spouse crazy with pathetic cries for aspirin, juice, or more tissue. I thumbed the pages with vegetables to try, such as Mexican sour gherkins (tiny, one-inch fruits with sweet cucumber flavor and an almost-pickled sour tang), Lows Champion dry bean for making a sweet pot of baked beans in winter, and the stunning, conical, deep mauve-colored Kalibos cabbage.
Deep into my shopping, a new lettuce variety stopped me short. The chartreuse and maroon romaine Ruby Glow looked gorgeous and sounded delicious, yet I stopped, not because I would move mountains to have it, but because the price was astounding: $6.95 for one packet of seed. I thought it was a flu-induced hallucination.
Shock turned to anger as I turned the pages, finding more and more examples of pricey seed packets. When did the basics of gardening get so expensive? It’s not like we’re ordering a half-caff, skinny dipped, two pumps of classic, soy-based mocha latte. These are seeds, the building basics of every garden.
And when gardeners buy seeds, we buy them like it’s an addiction. We become hunter-gatherers, ordering varieties from different companies, consulting with friends, cobbling together the perfect, unique combination of crops that fit us like a glove. I used to think we really can’t help ourselves, until this catalog arrived.
The price halted me. It got me thinking, which is never a good thing. We aren’t known for calculating the cost of seed to table, but if we did, we’d find truth in William Alexander’s the $64 Tomato book (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $10.93). Yet I started calculating.
For that price, I could order two packets from other sources and have two different types of crops. Variety is the spice of gardening. I also know that, caught up in the frenzy of shopping at somewhat low prices, I don’t pay much attention to how many packets I’m purchasing, which is a very good marketing strategy for companies to have. Adding in shipping costs magnified the grumbling in my mind.
I continued to flip pages, not-so-silently judging the company’s pricing. In other catalogs there are pricey packets, but in general, the companies keep prices reasonable. Local companies also have sales in garden centers; we can pick up our packets from them and avoid shipping costs.