The holidays are over, and it is time to start looking at gardening catalogs. They started arriving well before Christmas, with retailers hoping people will buy some items as gifts. But I never look at them until after Christmas, and only looked at them before New Year’s because I was stuck inside with nothing to do until it stopped snowing.

One item that jumped out at me was some soybeans in the Fedco catalog. Fedco ( has its warehouses in Clinton but a mailing address in Waterville.

Nancy and I have never grown soybeans, because we never purposely eat them. I took notice, though, when one of the items in the catalog was called “Beer Friend,” and my other column topic is beer.

“Steam these up and crack open a bottle of Old Engine Oil,” the catalog advises. They reportedly size up more quickly and grow larger pods than the other tested soybean varieties, and since they ripen in August, are said to be a good complement to sweet corn and new potatoes. 

I like to try at least one new thing every year, and this will be it. The vines are only 2½ to 3 feet tall, so they should be easy to grow, and it will be good to expand my horizons.

I also want to try spaghetti squash again. We tried it years ago as a vegetable and did not like it much. But Nancy has a friend who uses it as a replacement for pasta, and that sounded like a decent idea. A variety new to Fedco, Squisito, sounds good.

Fedco has a March 22 mail-order deadline, but will take orders at for seed packets — but not seed potatoes or onion sets — all year long. The deadline for Fedco trees is even earlier, March 8, and you get a discount if you order by Jan. 18.

We have been ordering onion plants — rather than sets — from Dixondale Farms in Texas for about five years now, and have been quite happy with our onion production. We have been getting larger onions than ever, and we like the flavor. And Dixondale is celebrating its centennial this year.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds ( in central Maine may lure me away, however. Dixondale offered what it called a white keeper onion, Sterling, that I tried last year, and it did not keep more than a month. The Copra yellow and Redwing red keepers have done well, however.

Johnny’s is offering Patterson, which the catalog says has the same firmness and storage qualities as Copra, but with a larger size and better yield. Johnny’s also offers Redwing, but does not offer a red keeper.

Johnny’s also is offering Lunchbox sweet peppers, which have sort of a short banana/pepper shape in yellow, red and orange, and are great for snacking. They are supposed to ripen to full color in 75 to 83 days, depending on the color, and they sounded good to me.

It wasn’t seeds that jumped out in the Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog. More people, it seems, want to grow vegetables, but don’t want an in-the-ground garden.

Pinetree ( has a Stack-a-Pot System that can be hung from a chain or stacked and will let apartment dwellers grow a bit of food. At $32.95, it is not inexpensive, but it looks like it could work.

Pinetree also has a vegetable planter bag that has four containers in a 2-by-2 square format that looks like it might work better than the bag with three segments I tried last year. And Pinetree’s catalog has been reconfigured, making it easier to use.

The Cook’s Garden (, whose catalog often has interesting offerings, has a new asparagus bean that is red-podded. The catalog says the beans will grow up to 24 inches long, but they taste better at 12 inches. Even if you don’t like beans, the long red pods on a tall vine with bright-green foliage would make for a stunning ornamental.

Renee’s Garden seeds ( offers a wide variety of good-quality seeds, and for the coming year has begun an organic line. It also offers several packets of seeds — carrots and peppers, for example — with several different-colored vegetables so cooks can get a mix without buying several different packets.

We tried their mixed-color carrots last year — purple, orange and white carrots in one seed packet (called Circus Circus) — and while they had a typical carrot flavor, they were conversation starters at the dinner table.

Burpee (, one of the grand old names in vegetable seeds, has a sweet corn called On-Deck Hybrid for growing in pots. I’m not sure that would work, but if it did, it would be intriguing. Maybe if you put the pot close enough to the house, you could get the corn before the raccoons did.

All of this comes from just skimming the catalogs. And I haven’t even considered flowers yet. But I will have several weeks of reading and dreaming ahead of me. Gardening in Maine is always easiest in January and February — before we meet reality.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

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