One reason to do this is for the sheer pleasure of it; another, though, is the luxury of choice. Even as the transplant offerings have become much richer in recent years, the seed market will take you to a more varied and interesting universe.
You can, and should, start onions and leeks in February, along with kale, kohlrabi and perhaps a lovely cabbage such as
Mammoth Red Rock
. I’ve seen that other cabbage relative, cauliflower, fail too often in the erratic Washington spring to want to bother with it. I am still digging from the garden a variety of leek I started a year ago. Named
, it stays firm and blue, beautifully blue, through the cold months. This year, I am trying a hybrid named
, said to be tall but thick and resistant to bulbing at the base. We’ll see.
As for onions, you will never see in Washington the colossal five-pound cannonballs grown in northern places, but I like to cultivate lesser onions in my garden, not least for the ornament of the upright, tubular leaves. Among others, I grew Red Robin last season, pretty but on the small side. This year I’m going for an onion ensemble that includes Red Marble and a bunching spring onion named Guardsman.
The next wave of seed-starting should be given over to the pepper, which is slow to germinate and grow and should be sown before its cousin, the tomato. Peppers are the most handsome of the nightshade veggies, but I don’t like absurdly hot chili peppers and wouldn’t waste time and space growing them. I love bell peppers, but the yield is too low per plant and the wait too long for fully ripe and colorful specimens. This year, I am in search of something in the middle, an eye-catching, bushy plant with attractive fruit that a Celt such as myself can stomach.
This quest has drawn me to a number of varieties. Burpee is offering
Golden Baby Belle
, little orange peppers that look midway between a bell and something more tapered. The red Costa Rican Sweet resembles the classic heirloom Marconi, but stouter.
, by the way, is a fine heirloom. Joe Brunetti, who grows the Smithsonian’s Victory Garden on the Mall, loves the similar
Corno di Toro
(bull’s horn), productive for weeks and particularly sweet when allowed to ripen fully to red.
He also commends
, another sweet pepper that looks like a chili pepper. It is pretty, too, turning from yellow to orange to red. It sweetens as it darkens. Brunetti and his colleague Cindy Brown favor an antique variety named Jimmy Nardello. Slender, curved and red, it looks an especially hot devil but is mild and abundant.