The Cape Cod Organic Gardeners are going to vote me off the island.
As the name implies, the CCOG is an organization of Cape Codders who garden organically. Kevin and I are Cape Codders who garden organically when it’s convenient and effective, but aren’t above resorting to non-organic products and methods when it’s easier or cheaper and doesn’t seem to put our planet in immediate peril.
In this case, the product in question is seeds. CCOG members carefully consider their garden many months in advance, and place orders with companies that specialize in organic seeds – companies like Fedco and Seeds of Change.
Our method stands in stark contrast. We didn’t even think of starting plants from seed until about February. Last year we grew everything from seedlings (necessarily, since we only bought the house in April), and we figured we’d do the same this year. But then we walked into Ocean State Job Lot, which is one of those stores that sells pajama overstocks and off-brand aluminum foil, and we saw a big display of Burpee seeds, all at 40% off. Burpee is reputable, if not organic, and 40% off seemed like a good buy to us. We bought beets, carrots, radishes, and a few herbs.
Then, at the last CCOG meeting – a workshop on seed starting – the conversation naturally turned to where everyone had gotten their seeds. Kevin and I suddenly managed to look very busy.
Then came the discussion of onions and garlic. Last fall, we decided to overwinter those two crops. Generally, that means you buy seed garlic and onion sets from Fedco or Seeds of Change, and you plant them in October. But Kevin had a better idea. He’d seen an episode of “No Reservations,” Anthony Bourdain’s television show, in which Bourdain participates in a Catalan festival centered around the calçot, a kind of onion that looks like a scallion on steroids. Calçots are grown by cutting the root end off a full-grown specimen, and putting it in the ground, root side down.
If it works for calçots, it should work for onions, Kevin reasoned. As for the garlic, how different can seed garlic be from, say, Costco garlic?
Yes, that’s what we did. Last October, we bought two ten-pound bags of onions and one five-pound bag of garlic from Costco. We planted the bottoms off the onions and the fattest cloves from the garlic with a little bone meal for fertilizer. (We ate the tops of the onions and the rest of the garlic.) We covered the garden with straw, and hunkered down to wait out the winter.
When, at the CCOG meeting, talk turned to overwintered crops, Kevin came clean. First, he confessed that we’d used ordinary, store-bought garlic (without saying ‘Costco’ out loud), but that it seemed to be coming up just fine. Then, he explained about Bourdain and how we’d tried the Catalonian method. The CCOG members were too astounded by the sheer folly of sticking onion bottoms in the ground to notice that the onions in question weren’t organic. They shook their heads in pity and disbelief.
“I’m not sure that’s going to work,” one of them said, diplomatically.
We’re not sure either, but there’s only one way to find out.