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Given the small scale of Elaine's operation, she can afford to experiment with unusual plants. She offers new varieties each year, always testing plants in her own garden before growing them to sell. "Most people want an early tomato," she explains, "and nowadays some come specifically to find the old heirlooms." Two tomatoes that Elaine will introduce this spring are Mr. Stripey, an heirloom with yellow and red both inside and out, and a new variety named for the late actor and civil-rights activist Paul Robeson. They'll share bench space with peppers like Hot Paper Lanterns and Habanero Caribbean Red, both high on the Scoville scale for heat. Elaine and Dan prefer sweeter peppers like Giant Marconi and Gypsy that are delicious in salads or roasted.
Towards mid-June, when the last few plants have sold, the umbrellas come down and Elaine closes shop, though in some ways her season is just beginning. She plants any leftover or broken seedlings in her vegetable garden. By harvest time, she'll have enough to make spaghetti sauce, pickles and things for the freezer. Seeds and equipment are ordered during the summer. Just after Christmas, she plants the first perennials. They start out on triple-tiered racks in the corner of a family room, coddled by the warmth of a wood stove. Once the seeds have sprouted, the trays go to a sun-drenched first floor room that used to be her grandmother's bedroom.