Getting that great garden every time

By Rick Houser – 

Have you ever walked out to your garden and all you can see are row after row of the biggest produce you’ve ever grown? I know I have. I see tomatoes so big it takes both hands to hold one. Green beans that measure a foot long. Irish potatoes sized over two pounds each and more than a few per hill. Then I look at the rows of sugar corn with ears of corn longer than a foot, with huge kernels.
The part that I must tell you is that I raise this crop in January and February. Yes, you heard me correctly. Almost every year at this time I receive the Burpee’s Seed Catalog and as I move through the pages my mind grows crops with the biggest yields that can ever be imagined. Just look at the photos of the crops grown from their seeds and you are positive that with them there is no way you could ever raise anything but record-breaking vegetables.
This life-saving catalog arrives none too soon in the dead of winter when the world is not only below freezing, but the fields are brown and the trees are bare of any leaves. The entire world has that desolate look, but when you open this book to bright red tomatoes and ripe watermelons and variety after variety of flowers that fill your eyes and your mind with color, the world becomes anything but bleak. The mind jumps into warp drive of your imagination and the first steps of planning your real garden, if you are a real gardener. But even if you just like to turn the pages and think of what might be or what causes your mouth to water, just enjoy the catalog.
It is a fact that with a Burpee’s Seed Catalog not one vegetable or fruit will be left out of the catalog. Why the book goes from artichokes to zucchini and everything in between! Vegetables will be there for you to look at and if you are so inclined, there is a price right below the picture. It is a true farmer’s friend, to say the least.
I don’t know when or where I saw the first issue of the catalog but I do know it was after I had moved away from the farm. When I was growing up and for years after, my wife and I would stop at the Farm Bureau in Felicity, or the hardware store, or even at Bishops’ Hardware in Bethel to buy our seeds first-hand. These days I stop at Kibler Lumber in Mt. Orab and shop there. It can be fun choosing your own seeds, but one thing I have noticed is I scoop out way too many seeds and almost always end up with far more seed than I have garden space, yet I tell myself each year that next year I will be much more careful in how much I scoop into the bags. (I mean, I really do promise.)
I recall that my cousin Tom Houser might have been the first to show me a Burpee’s catalog, since Tom was a very good gardener and was careful not to be wasteful in filling his orders, the idea makes sense. Burpee has been at this for awhile to say the least. They began in 1881. Even though I might seem that old to some of you, I was not around in their beginning. It seems like folks these days might order from the catalog more often because it is easy and convenient to do in the evenings as you are watching television in these days when our time can be pretty scarce.
Up until the last year or so I have gardened on a small scale but gardened none the less. I have been able to convince my daughter and son to raise nice size gardens and they have had some pretty good success. I tell people that I garden a little bit just to keep me in touch with the soil. (If you have ever farmed, you have to keep some dirt in your shoes to stay in touch.)
To pick a few ears of fresh sugar corn and eat it right away is a taste experience everyone should have. To reach onto a pepper plant and pull off a couple of fresh bell peppers brings satisfaction. Above all is to pick that first ripe tomato and as you hold it in your hands and inspect what you just grew is a feeling that I can’t even begin to explain. But do it one time and you will understand what I mean. I don’t really like a tomato that much but I love to hold that first one for sure.
If you don’t really have a good spot for a garden, but you have a fence line or a space here and there, Burpee will supply you with blueberries or grapevines, or maybe an apple or peach tree. There is no rule that you an only raise vegetables and there is no rule that you can’t grow plants from your parcel of ground. You might want to try it and see just how a person can become so attached to a plant.
I know that at our house we try to grow a patch of green beans that will produce close to a bushel of beans. I break the beans and my wife cooks a huge pot with a generous amount of chopped up ham to add more flavor and then she makes a good serving of corn bread to go with the beans and maybe adds a potato or two in the pot. With that all in a bowl, it is impossible to bypass that meal. I know my kids will stop in if they know the pot is on the stove and for at least a day we all know that it tastes far better than that bumper crop I imagined back in January. The thing is that without that catalog to jump start me, it is very doubtful that any of this could have happened.. So look through that catalog at least once- you will be glad you did!

Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He can be reached if you wish him to speak to a group. He may be reached at