FEATURED COLUMN by John McDonald: Oh deer! It’s seed time

By John McDonald

Some minor details may change but the rest of the story is always the same. This year’s slightly different story concluded this morning when I was moving and shuffling stacks of important papers, profound pamphlets and heavy boxes around my neat but not overly ostentatious office.
All of a sudden there they were — bold as brass — my stack of spring seed catalogs.

Over the past few months I’ve occasionally wondered what ever happened to them. I was glad to see they’d survived the winter and were still around.
Rediscovering them also gave me the opportunity to wonder, once again, why seed catalog companies start sending me catalogs before Christmas. Who thinks about Memorial Weekend planting before we’ve even started using the new calendar? So my catalogs always get shoved aside and mostly forgotten till “spring.
When I was a kid, our family didn’t get seed catalogs in the mail and we didn’t have a kitchen garden in our yard out back. My mother did have our yard pretty well covered with all kinds of locally-bought flowers and flowering trees. Our fresh summer vegetables came from Sonny Leighton’s roadside stand, which opened sometime in late May, even though the only fresh items Sonny had that early were rhubarb and Swiss chard.
Although Father would often help Mother plant her trees and flowering bushes and do other small chores to assist in her gardening efforts, he never took interest in gardening or had what they call a green thumb. Since he was a dentist, it was just as well. Who’d want a dentist poking around in their mouth with a bright green thumb?
When I was around 10, I remember buying some packets of vegetable seeds down at Harris’ Tru Value Hardware. I was advised — by those who supposedly knew — not to forget radish seeds. I had never knowingly eaten a radish and didn’t see that they served any known purpose, but I did add a packet of radish seeds to the pile. It turned out to be a wise move. I dug up a patch of ground in the yard and planted my seeds. Of all the vegetable seeds I planted — lettuce, celery and such — the radishes were the only things to sprout, grow and thrive. Although I don’t like radishes any more now than I ever did, I will never forget them for the fine job they did with that first garden.
This year we’re planning a big garden up to camp. Now that April is here and decent weather can’t be but eight or ten weeks away, I feel like sitting down with my mess of recently rediscovered catalogs and ordering lots of seeds. The first catalog I picked up was from a place called Deer Resistant Landscape Nursery in Clare, Mich. I figure with all the deer tracks we have up to camp, we’ll have to do everything possible to keep those hungry critters from cleaning out our garden at their earliest opportunity. With packages of deer repellent, deer resistant plants, eight-foot deer fencing and all kinds of books outlining the best ways to repel deer, these people seem pretty focused and determined. If I buy all this stuff, I just hope the deer know enough to do their part and consider themselves duly repelled.
The next catalog off the pile was from Ronniger’s Potato Farm in Moyie, Idaho. A friend said he had great luck with Ronniger’s and their potatoes that sport names like Dakota Rose, Early Ohio and Irish Cobbler. Their potatoes sure look good in the catalog, but that isn’t surprising. Ever see any plant that looked under the weather (no pun intended) in a seed catalog? What do you think will happen if I bury a few rows of their Early Ohios from Idaho in rich Maine dirt meant for Kennebecs? I’ll let you know later how it worked out.

John McDonald is the author of five books on Maine, including “The Maine Dictionary” and “A Moose and a Lobster Walk into a Bar.” Contact him at: maineauthorjohn.mcdonald@yahoo.com