I’ve got seeds and catalogs on the brain – what gardener doesn’t at this time of year?

And when my Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog arrived in the mail, here’s what I noticed: The employee-owned company will not be selling Sugar Snap peas this season.

“Over the years, we have noticed a deterioration of the commercially available strains of ‘Sugar Snap,’ with most seed lots containing some shell or snow peas,” the catalog says in a box next to the listing that the popular variety won’t be available.

I had noticed some oddly shaped pods, which I had thought were sports or mutations, among our Sugar Snap crop for the past couple of years. I’d eaten a couple of the pods raw in the field, discovered they were fibrous and not tasty, and tossed them into the compost. No big deal, I thought.

For a catalog company serious about its reputation, it is a big deal.

The staff at Johnny’s, based in Winslow, will be working with Rod Lamborn, whose father, Calvin, bred the original “Sugar Snap Pea,” the catalog says, and hopes to re-list Sugar Snaps in future catalogs. But it could take years. The Sugar Snap is a cross between an English pea and a snow pea. While the “Sugar Snap” cultivar is among the first and definitely most popular of sweet peas with edible pods, many other varieties have been introduced. In general conversation, the other varieties often get lumped in with the original Sugar Snap Pea and end up referred to under the same name.

Now my wife Nancy and I, as well as the friends and family who occasionally share our table, need Sugar Snaps. They are a versatile vegetable. Our younger grandchildren will pick them off the vine and eat them straightaway in the garden. Our own children and older grandchildren used to do the same but now seldom venture into the patch of growing vegetables, though they still like to eat them at the table. Sugar Snaps are eaten raw, often with dip, or lightly steamed or sauteed as a vegetable with dinner. Nancy also sometimes uses the smaller ones as a substitution for snow peas in recipes. Late in the season, I shell the larger ones as I would sweet (or English) peas.

There are alternatives, of course. We have grown Sugar Ann (also not available at Johnny’s this year) and the purple Sugar Magnolia in the past, but we don’t like either as much as the original Sugar Snap. Johnny’s offers “Super Sugar Snap,” but admits it is not as sweet as the original variety, and it has a shorter harvest period, too. PLS 141, another variety, has shorter vines and larger pods.

Fedco is offering an Amish Snap Pea, which the catalog says was available before Sugar Snap was introduced in 1952, and we have ordered some as an experiment. But not as our main-crop variety.

I will buy the original Sugar Snap from Fedco or Allen, Sterling & Lothrop in Falmouth, which will have it. I will continue to compost the ones that don’t look like they should, at least until Johnny’s “reselects” the original Sugar Snap.

Snap a winner

Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester (which does not list the original “Sugar Snap”) is celebrating its 40th anniversary and advertising a monthly photo contest in this year’s catalog to celebrate the milestone.

It’s easy to enter – go to superseeds.com and upload your garden photo, along with the reason you garden. The winners will get seeds, gift certificates, gear or other items. The first photo contest, with a prize of a $100 gift card, ends Jan. 31, so it probably will have to be a houseplant or a photo you took during a previous gardening season.

The catalog also includes brief articles, with pictures, of people involved in the company.

Dick Meiners, who a few years ago passed the company along to his stepdaughter Melissa Emerson, said a couple of things that struck home. Meiners formed the company with idea of selling packets with fewer seeds, to let people experiment with a variety of crops at a low cost. I have always liked that idea.

Also, there is his favorite thing to plant: “Pinetree Lettuce Mix because leaf lettuce is the first thing I plant in any garden and a month later ‘voila’ – salads!” I wholeheartedly second that. There is nothing like the first harvest of the season.

The inside of the back cover include Operations Manager Lorrie Miklovich’s picks of the new offerings for 2019. My favorite is the Green Twister echinacea, which is advertised to flower in the first year. “The petals on each flower have alternating shades of lime mingled with shades of pink creating a unique array of colors.” Like most coneflowers, it will blossom from midsummer to fall.

Status update

Fedco, I was pleased to note, keeps the same lighthearted writing style and puns in its plant descriptions that it has long been known for although founder CR Lawn has retired. The list of new plants includes: “Emerald Archer pea: Hits the bullseye for flavor” and “Plum Regal Tomato: In case Harry and Meghan come to dinner!”

The catalog, as always, is a pleasure to read; this year, it includes some tributes to Lawn.

One thing I noticed – and it might not be the first time it has appeared – is that Fedco, in addition to organic and conventional seed, has a status called ECO. That rating is for seeds that are grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers but have not gone through the expense of being organically certified. It is an interesting distinction.

A flight of potatoes

Wood Prairie Farm always has some interesting options, especially in their specialty area – potatoes. One I especially like is the Organic Certified Potato Experimenter’s Special. You get to pick four types of potato you want to try, and they send you what you need to plant three hills of each. Just enough so you know which one you want to grow as a main crop next year, following (intentionally or not) the model created by Pinetree.

I have a lot of out-of-state catalogs that I will be perusing over the next few months, too. But mostly, we will be buying local.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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