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Getting a box

When your dear Aunty was very young, I got into the habit (as some comic in years past put it) of ‘sending away’. Now, of course, this was years before the internet was a glimmer in Al Gore’s eye, and even years before true mail order as it became known became a huge industry. It was the sort of thing where you saw an advertisement in a magazine or a newspaper and you sent in your postcard or a letter (with a self-addressed stamped envelope!) and you got stuff in the mail back to you. Addressed right to you.

And no matter what I did, they always spelled my name wrong but that’s another story for another time.

In any case, I was probably ordering seeds from Burpee or Parks or someone else when I was in junior high school and I was probably the only person on campus at college who was ordering grow lamps so that I could start begonia tubers in my dorm room. I guess the tip off that I was not growing dope was that I did not come back from the grocery story with a gillion rolls of aluminum foil.

In any case, I learned the joy of getting a box in the mail pretty early and that ‘Oh, it’s Christmas!!” feeling has never worn off.

So, yesterday, I got this box in the mail and as is my wont, I ripped that baby open in two seconds flat and found (as usual) that it was crammed with paper packing. I love paper packing. The only thing I love better is getting something with excelsior, which if you are old enough to know what it is, I don’t need to explain it and if you are not, it’s basically wood shavings and gives a package a delightfully old-fashioned feel and look. It is also very heavy, so companies have not used it in years but if I were to produce something very old fashioned, like handmade soaps or pottery tea sets or something like that, I’d nestle all of that stuff inside a box full of excelsior. But that is a digression.

So, what was in the box? Well, not everything I’d ordered, actually but what was missing were the potatoes and they won’t ship those until it’s almost time to plant them anyway. What was in there were packages of seeds that I’d ordered, most of which, with any luck, I’ll be able to get into the garden sooner than later since they are things like Chinese cabbage (a little bird told me that he wants to make kimchi this year and for that you need napa cabbage), kohlrabi, broccoli and so on. The other things will have to go in later plus some coleus seeds that I have to get started so that I have a good bright display in the front in the spring ( I dote on coleus).

The plastic bag is a pound and a half of buckwheat. Buckwheat? As in Buckwheat pancakes or soba noodles or things like that?


Buckwheat Fagopyrum esculentum is a plant which is not a grain and is not a member of the wheat family. It does not contain any gluten at all – it’s related to such plants as sorrel and rhubarb. The first part of the name is a degradation of the old Dutch word for beech tree because of the resemblance of the seeds to beech nuts. Buckwheat is a very useful plant – it’s great for a ground cover and suppresses weeks. It also goes literally from sown in the ground to flowering in 6 weeks, so if you have a short window of time where you want to keep the ground productive, before you plant something else, buckwheat is a good plant to use. Bees love it – buckwheat honey is very dark and strongly flavored, great for baking. And the seeds are very high in protein – 18%. And the protein is not gluten, so people with allergies to wheat can still get their pancakes with buckwheat.

I got a pound and a half of this because we have a bed that we started last year that did not do well at all. The compost that we got from the township was literally 90% wood chips so the poor tomatoes in that bed crouched on the ground and just moaned all summer long. My plan, as soon as the ground warms up is to start sowing buckwheat and as soon as it flowers, digging it in. With any luck, I’ll get two crops done before I need to use that particular bed. At the same time, I’ll see if I can get hold of some composted manure to dig in. This fall, if I have any buckwheat left, I’ll get another sowing so that it’s up and growing before the frost hits because buckwheat is not frost-hardy. This won’t cure that bed’s problems — it usually takes us several growing seasons of compost, top-dressing and so on, to really improve a soil such as this one but the buckwheat will certainly be a good start.

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