Seed Catalogues: Read, Weed then Order

January is the time for Connecticut gardeners to dream up plans for the spring and summer garden. For gardeners who start indoor seedlings, it’s time to order seeds. This can be a daunting task if you read every catalogue that comes in the mail. Most people don’t have this amount of time … I know I don’t … so my first weeding project of each growing season involves weeding seed catalogues.

If you’ve ordered seeds before, you’ll have no shortage of catalogues delivered by mail. I go through my stack to find the page or pages  with general  company and seed information. I avoid seed that is treated or genetically modified and prefer seed organically grown.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Next, companies from Connecticut, or at least the Northeast U.S., go to the top of the stack. Those providing the most information on specific plant types and varieties get my first look. I order from other companies only if I cannot find a sought-after seed variety locally.

I find it much easier to order from a thinned-down group of catalogues. If new at seed ordering, you might want to limit yourself to ordering from just two for comparison purposes. Familiarize yourself with the key, the U.S. hardiness zone map, ordering instructions and general product information for each company, then allow yourself to become entranced with the promises of ‘the sweetest, the biggest, or the earliest ever.’

Indulge yourself. Mark all seeds and varieties that spark interest. Then put the stack down and let your senses rejoin reality.

Return to your stack of wishes with a clear head and the understanding that catalogue descriptions, and photos, are there to sell seeds. By all means enjoy these descriptions – someone worked hard to make each irresistible – but when it comes time to develop your actual order do so with a clear head and a realistic understanding of what you have time and space to grow.

Keep repeating the phrase right plant, right place.

If you want to fit multiple edibles into a small growing space avoid rambling squash vines and try seed varieties bred for compact growth.

Understand that most vegetables need a minimum of six hours of full sunlight. They will grow leggy and may not fruit well in less light.

Look at your seed wants versus your space and time needs and concentrate on varieties not available or too pricey at local markets. If, like me, you crave certain heirloom tomatoes and have ample space and light, by all means grow them. Just don’t try to squeeze competing edibles into the space your craved plant needs.

If you don’t have an indoor space to set up a grow light or lights or a sunny, heated greenhouse, purchase seeds you can sow directly into the soil once it warms. In Connecticut’s zones 5 and 6, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers need to be planted outdoors as transplants. Trying to start seeds inside without supplemental light results in leggy seedlings that don’t transplant well.  You’re better off purchasing these and other long-season heat-loving annuals as transplants from a reputable local garden center.

Gardeners with a grow light set-up often start more seeds than they have time to care for or space to grow. I do this every year – intentionally. I like the safety net of having too many, as opposed to too few, transplants. The strongest go into my gardens and to family and friends. The weaker ones become compost.

In spite of all this pre-growing season weeding, you are still likely to order more than you can possibly grow in one season. Don’t despair. Most seeds remain viable more than one year. Just store remaining seeds in a dry location – mine stay in their packets in a box on a shelf in my office. I’ve had great success germinating seed packaged for a prior growing season. Generally, properly stored seed more than two years old will not germinate as well. I don’t count on seed more than two years old, but will try germinating them to use as back-ups in case other seeds run into some fatal issue. Experiment to find what works best for you.

Connecticut- and Northeast-based seed companies I have, or would order from:

  • Kitchen Garden Seeds – great growing information, no photos, but lovely plant drawings, online cookbook and seed gardening guidebook, sign up for their email newsletters for seasonal suggestions, tips and deals. Based in Bantam, CT.
  • Select Seeds – open-pollinated, heirloom flowers and some edibles. Based in Union, CT.
  • Comstock, Ferre & Company – the regenerated version of the old Comstock, Ferre in Wethersfield, CT, specializing in hardy northern seeds.
  • Pinetree Garden Seeds – great prices, most selections sold with smaller numbers of seeds for home gardeners. Based in New Gloucester, ME.
  • Johnny’s Selected Seeds –  employee-owned company offering an extensive list of seeds. Based in Winslow, ME.
  • Fedco Seeds – cold-hardy seeds, trees, fruit, and bulbs. Also a good source for garden supplies. Based in Waterville, ME.

Other seed companies I have, or would use:

Try some of these vendors and let me know how you like their products and customer service. If you are a veteran or new seed starter, share your tips and experiences. And, as always, garden thoughtfully.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry

5 comments for “Seed Catalogues: Read, Weed then Order

  1. January 23, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    Joene, Great post with lots of d0wn-to-earth advice. Especially the part about weeding out some of the competition. I ordered some seeds from a place called Hudson Valley Seed Library after a reader left a comment on my blog. Apparently HVSL was at the CT FLower Show last year (I missed them, not sure about you) but I liked the idea that they are local so I thought I’d give them a try.

    • joenesgarden
      January 23, 2012 at 9:19 pm

      Thanks, Debbie, I’ll have to look for Hudson Valley at upcoming events.

  2. January 24, 2012 at 12:08 am

    I didn’t realize Comstock Ferre had online ordering. I thought they had just the store and a catalog. When I clicked through, they had nice pictures and info about the history of each vegetable or flower, but no botanical names.! I was completely confused by a couple of the flowers, didn’t recognize or know what they were! Some other seed / plant catalogs are sketchy about identifying what you are buying, and I eliminate any that use pretty pictures but don’t use botanical names.

    I love your advice to “weed” the catalogs!

    • joenesgarden
      January 24, 2012 at 8:54 am

      Laurrie, you offer great advice in eliminating any seed/plant catalogues that don’t list the botanical names of each product. The same is true for any plant/seed vendor. Too often you don’t get what you expect and, without botanical identification you cannot be sure you are not planting an invasive or potentially invasive plant.
      Regarding weeding the catalogues, more end up in the recycling bin than in the keep pile.

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