January would otherwise be bleak and depressing to me if it weren’t for seed catalogs. I can spend hours browsing through the pages, reading the descriptions of new and heirloom varieties, oohing and aahing over the photos of beautiful flowers and oddly shaped vegetables, and pining for the warmer days of spring. My garden journal usually has the most entries this time of the year, in part because I’m not actually working in the garden and have more time to write. I draw and redraw and draw again my plans for the garden beds. Maybe I can squeeze this plant here, what would it look like there, no wait, maybe I should add it over on the other side…
Buying your seeds at the store is fine, and I’ve planted successful gardens with store bought seeds before. What I find, though, is that if you aren’t careful about what growers/companies you choose, your yields will be low and you might buy something you weren’t bargaining for. What I mean by that last part is genetically modified seeds—at risk of lawsuit, I won’t go into detail on that, but if you want to do your own research type in those three words to your search engine and see what you get. There are a couple of places that I like to buy seeds locally. Three Rivers Market has a good selection of organic and heirloom seeds. Stanley’s has a nice variety, and I even noticed a few at Earth Fare. Other than that, I stick with the seed catalogs.
Why seed catalogs? Yes, you’ll pay shipping on your seeds, but you’ll also get a lot more for your money. Seed catalogs give gardeners more information about the plant. I’ve never planted rhubarb before. Heck, I’ve never even eaten it, but in hopes of adding more perennials to the garden, I’m considering giving it a try this year. In one of my seed catalogs, I found a section dedicated to teaching gardeners everything they needed to know about planting and growing rhubarb. The same with horseradish. I’ve been meaning to dig up some from a friend’s yard forever. I decided that maybe I should give up and just buy some roots this year. I did not know until I read the information in the seed catalog just how invasive they can be.
I also find that I get more seeds for my dollar. The seeds are higher quality and will be more likely to germinate a plant per seed when grown in the right conditions and in the first year I buy them. (Germination rates can decrease as the seed ages). If I have a large property and want to plant 100 or even 1000 seeds, seed growers usually offer bulk rates and discounts for those types of orders.
Seed catalogs provide me with a lot more variety. It wasn’t all that long ago that all the parsley you could find seeds for in stores was curly parsley. I much prefer flat leaf Italian parsley and would order it through catalogs to make sure I had it. I open the catalog to zucchini and all of the sudden I have over 20 options, instead of 2-4 found in the stores.
What are some ways to lower your costs?
Order with friends—you’ll save on shipping. If you don’t plan on planting an entire packet of zucchini, order with a friend and split the packet.
Don’t go overboard the first year—when you look at your first seed catalog, you’ll salivate. If you are anything like me, you’ll want to plant everything you see. Keep your list small on the first year and grow your garden from there. Ask friends who garden in your area for plant suggestions so that you aren’t disappointed with your first year’s crops.
Order early—some catalogs give discounts for early orders or larger orders. Some even throw in a little freebie or two.
Pick for garden mixes or selected packages—some companies do little packages with themes --“plants for children”, “herbal gardens”, “garden in a bag”—where you’ll receive a number of seeds for different plants under that category. Garden in a bag, might have a packet of tomato, zucchini, cucumber, and bean seeds, for example. Garden mixes are great for those of us who want a little of everything. The first year I started gardening I wanted every lettuce I saw. I decided that a mesclan mix worked best for us because I was able to grow about 15 different types of lettuces without committing to a seed packet for each variety. I’m doing the same with radishes this year. I’m buying a mix because we so enjoyed them last year, and I want to try different varieties.
What are some of my favorite sources for seeds?
Kitchen Garden Seeds—you’ll find a few less varieties in this catalog, but I have been so pleased with the business I’ve done with them. I’ve bought seeds from KGS for over 5 years now.
Fedco—not a pretty catalog, but it is crammed full with variety. Good deals on bulk buys, too.
Seeds of Change—organic seeds and lots of them. Great photos and plant information.
I’ve ordered from a few other catalogs, but these are the three that are my favorites. For potatoes I also recommend Ronniger Potato Farm.