~ Val Van Meier

Lettuce starts soon to be planted in the hoop house.

Spring fever hits me early. Longer days, with my chickens going into the coop later, and the arrival of seed catalogs start the process in January. In February I start my onions and leeks and come March, spring fever is in full force. Seed racks appear in stores, gardening articles and CSA advertisements show up in the Shopper News, feeding dreams of future veggies and flowers. Wait a minute, hold that thought, not at the Nelson Library!

No seeds for sale there – they are free! You’ll find the seed catalog upon entering the library. It’s chock-full of seeds waiting for patrons to check out. Our friendly librarians, Kris and Jeff, are happy to point you in the direction of gardening books, discuss seeds, and share their gardening experiences. Your neighbors in town on the Agricultural Commission are happy to share their knowledge. Just drop us an email (nelsonnhagcom@nullgmail.com) or call Val (603-313-7160). Information on when to start seeds in Nelson and links on how to grow seeds are at your fingertips on the Ag Com page on the Nelson in Common website.

For many years we have had a seed catalog at the library, relying on donations from seed companies and local gardeners willing to share seed. This year, three seed companies, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Fedco Seeds, and Johnny’s Select Seeds, responded to our request for donated seeds. That was a very pleasant surprise. So generous were two of the seed companies that we held back some of the seed for next year! Don’t worry; if those varieties run out early, we’ll replenish the supply. We have a grand total of 133 varieties of vegetable, herb, and flower seed available for you to borrow!

We are asking you to borrow seed, just like you borrow books and bring them back. We know many people don’t have experience saving seed, so just choose one variety to save seed from, and return a small amount in the fall to share with your neighbors. Beans, peas, lettuce, tomato, and squash are easiest. You may remember my experiment with pea seed that I started last year. I plan on growing the peas that had the highest number of peas in a pod. If you are curious, here is a link to that article.

Checking the seed list, you will see seeds both familiar and new. You can find the list of available seed here.

One is a seed I’ve grown for quite a few years without knowing its name. It is a lettuce that was part of an open sourced organic lettuce mix that matured and went to seed. Being a thrifty New Englander, I saved the seed and have done so ever since. The donated seed is known as ‘Elf Ears’ oak leaf lettuce. It is more heat tolerant than other lettuces and even when it starts to bolt, it tends not to go bitter right away. But if it gets a foot tall, you might as well let it flower and set seed. Those late leaves give the plant energy for its seed production!

Beans are easy to grow and to save seed. We are lucky enough to have a variety of bean seed that was given to Fedco by the son of the developer. Fedco named this gem ‘Saturday Night Special’ after New England’s Saturday night baked bean dinners. This bean can be eaten fresh, but is best dried. So, grow enough to dry for baking and to save seed! Checking the Fedco catalog, they have sold out of this variety for 2022. We are lucky to have received this seed!

We also have some okra seed. My one and only experience eating okra was a disaster, but I’ve been told okra is delicious. Many years ago on a trip to the now former Heifer International Farm in Rutland, MA, I saw a curiously beautiful plant, and upon closer inspection it was okra. It had beautiful flowers and upright growth. Searching the internet, I discovered how nutritious it is and an easy way to cook okra: grill or roast the pods.

Glancing through the donated seeds I came across Shiso and was curious. What in the world is it? Red Shiso is in the mint family, and fortunately in our environment it’s an annual, so we don’t have to worry about it taking over the garden. It is a Japanese herb and medicinal plant with a flavor similar to mint. One website says its flavor has a hint of cilantro and spices like cinnamon and anise with a bitter finish. This beautiful plant resembles purple basil and goes well in Asian dishes. Or, for a delicious summer drink, try this red shiso juice. Direct sow in early spring, as the seeds like to go through a series of freeze/thaw cycles. Just remember where you tossed the seeds in the garden!

I think of seeds sitting on the shelf in the library as familiar friends and new acquaintances. I hope you will enjoy exploring this year’s library seed catalog and have fun planning your summer garden.


Onions, started & photo taken in March 2014 Note: 2014 was the year I learned it was too difficult to separate tiny onion plants, notice the 2022 onions are in their own individual cells!

2022 lettuce started in February to be planted in our hoop house

Tomatoes, started & photo taken in March 2014

My 2022 onions started in February

Lettuce starts soon to be planted in the hoop house.

Elf Ears