Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What's it Worth to ya??

Odds are, one of the first seed catalogs you received this winter was Burpee's. It was the earliest release of the catalog in the company's 136 year history. Smart move, they want to be the first in your hands, the first to get your garden mojo going. They also want to make the catalog available to southern gardeners who get their growing season going so much earlier than northern gardeners. I was surprised to get the catalog before Christmas, but I put it away until the holidays were over. 
Now that the last of the lights are tossed in a box, I have 4 seconds every day to sit and look at the seed catalogs. 
Some of my opinions are based on the fact that I'm a home gardener. 
But I have also had a much deeper interest in what is in catalogs because I serve as a Sales Rep for a nursery. This nursery is a sizable one, I won't give the name, but with over 1,000,000 square feet devoted to greenhouse, the grower is ranked as one of the top 50 in the U.S.
I study the catalogs and prepare for the growing season by becoming familiar with the new varieties, trying to guess what the consumers will ask for. I spend a lot of time in the garden centers we serve and I take pride in answering questions, helping my customers with their problems and plant questions. 
I take pride in being knowledgeable and being able to guide the customer to the "right plant in the right place", even if it means sending them across the street and losing the sale. 

Many of my more senior customers come in knowing exactly what they want. My friend Lyle has been faithful to the farm and barn garden center for years. His list is old and yellowed, he keeps it in his wallet as it never changes. The tomatoes: Rutgers, Celebrity, Roma, Beefsteak, and Yellow Pear, (some how, people believe the Yellow Pear is lower in acid. Not true, but they sell. I am not a fan and find them tasteless). The peppers: California Wonder and maybe a jalapeno. Maybe a four pack of leeks or brussel sprouts and always some marigolds. Lyle is convinced that marigolds keep the rabbits away. I told Lyle that rabbits are not offended by the scent of marigolds, but he says he has never lost a single plant to rabbits and he has always planted marigolds! Lyle has a big yellow Lab named Daisy, but "she ain't never chased no rabbit", he reports....
Nearly all the shoppers know the variety they want to grow. Some have grown the same tomatoes and peppers for 50 years or more and are resistant to try something new. 
When I opened the Burpee catalog, I was interested to see that they were doing something new. Not just a little new-but their new "Boost" line of veggies is radically new and different. The Boost line is advertised as being nutritionally superior. The cherry tomato, 'Cherry Punch' is a hybrid that is advertised as having 30% more Vitamin C and 40% more lycopene than the "average tomato". It is, of course, a hybrid. The lettuce mix, 'Healing Hands' is gonna fix you right up, they say.
'Healing Hands' is a mix of 4 varieties, chosen for their high nutrition: 20% more lutein and 30% more beta-carotene than the average salad mix. 
This is a photo of the miraculous bucket of greens from Burpee's website. 
It looks like an average bucket of spring mix, to me. It looks good, but really? It will replace my daily vitamin? 
Burpee sells the nutritionally superior seeds under the "Boost" line. Burpee promises that the company neither buys nor sells Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs. Burpee says that the seeds were chosen from hybridized seed for their nutritional content. 
As I turned page after page, my thoughts went to Lyle. I wonder how Lyle would react to the veggies? After all, the Rutgers tomato was specifically hybridized for Campbell's tomato soup. Now, the Rutgers Tomato is considered an heirloom and was, at one point, the most planted tomato variety in the United States.
Do you choose one food over another for high vitamin content? I do. For example, I never ever purchase or grow iceburg lettuce. It is almost all water! In contrast, the red leaf lettuce is buttery and full of fiber and vitamins. I never purchase white bread anymore. The whole grain bread is so much better and so much better for us. When choosing grains, we choose brown, not white rice or pasta. 
The question still remains, would I choose to grow specific varieties for higher vitamin content? I'm unsure. The jury is still out on this one, I'm afraid. At the bottom of the Burpee page, there is the famous asterisk:
*Based on the average mix of selected varieties. Healing Hands Salad Mix is grown under our trial conditions and harvested when ready to eat. Actual harvest results may vary.

My biggest problem with this Boost is the price!! The lettuce seed is pelleted, I'm not sure what it is pelleted with, but a packet of the Healing Hand pelleted seed is $5.95. That is a lot of money for a packet of lettuce seeds. By comparison, I can buy 600 Black Seeded Simpson Organic, Open Pollinated seeds for $2.95 with free shipping. The Cherry Punch tomato seeds are $5.95 for 20 seeds. I can buy 20 Big Cherry Open Pollinated Organic Seeds for $2.95. 
The Boost line might be a breakthrough for vitamins, but it is a bust for the wallet. I do know how Lyle feels about the price of plants. 
One spring, I was surprised to see Lyle return after he'd been in for his annual purchase. I asked him what brought him in and he said he'd lost his marigolds to a late killing frost, he needed another 4 pack. We went over to the marigold section and he was not shy in letting me know that $1.79 for a 4 pack of marigolds was outrageous. He even thought his dear ol' grandad was rollin' in his grave at the thought of spending that much for 4 of these stinky flowers. 
Grandad would have something to say about $6.00 lettuce seeds, I'm sure!
Tell me....is it worth it to ya?


  1. It looks wonderful. I love to grow my fresh lettuce. It seems like a lot of $$, but really, we pay $3+ for a bag of salad at the grocery that has who knows what in it? I'm game!

  2. Great post. I don't think I've grown anything from seed except for hollyhocks. I'm interested to find out what you end up by buying.

  3. I do the exact same thing with the catalogs when they come (totally tomatoes is my first arrival in Dec). I go through them, reading what's new, studying for the questions the customers are going to ask! As for my veggies~
    I try to stick to the old tried and true heirlooms. I'm very leery of things that have been "tampered" with. Is more of something really better? Not always. And yes, I grow the healthier leaf lettuces over the iceberg (Iceberg lettuce has been compared to having the same nutritional value as a plastic house plant!) My favorite lettuce is oak leaf- good flavor- heat resistant too and comes in green or red tinted.
    Food luck with your garden this year! I ordered you seeds today by the way!

    Happy gardening!

  4. Argh! I meant "Good" Luck!

  5. I have a list of vegetables I grow every year--tried and true ones that I grow simply for the taste. I also like to throw in a few "new-to-me" things...but I've noticed I rarely grow them a second time! Taste is first in importance for me.

  6. Sounds like Burpee has a new marketing team! I probably wouldn't pay that much for seed even with the supposed boost of vitamins. The way I look at, fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and green beans are bound to be more nutritious fresh from my garden anyway that veggies that have spent a week on a truck and then another week on the supermarket shelf.

    I think it's neat that you actually talk to customers in the garden center to see what varieties they're looking for. Last year I told the two biggest garden centers here that I was looking for 'Wendy's Wish' salvia, which one of them carried the year before. I hope they listened to me and I can find it this year!

  7. I'm hoping to start a garden this year so I'll most certainly be reading for some tips! :)
    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

    Live a FabuLESS Life

  8. Congratulations! I awarded you the Versatile blog award! Check it out at http://thetruth8624.blogspot.com/2012/01/i-received-award.html


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