In an old French gardening book, the author describes the winter ordering of seeds for the new year’s garden. “We wait until the children are in bed. We must choose wisely because if the children were there, and we had to listen to them, they would make us order anything just because of the beauty of the names and pictures in the catalogs!”
Those words remind us that inside every gardener there is a child thrilled by visions on page or screen to catch our attention during the long, dark January days. Like impulse items at the cash register, we too will snatch at bright colors, big glorious photos of perfect vegetables and flowers, knowing each one costs about the price of a bottle of soda.
A packet of vegetable seeds is the greatest value in the 21st century because it can feed a family with fresh, wholesome and often organic produce for a long time. If it’s a non-GMO open-pollinated variety or heirloom, that one packet will result in a crop and free seed each year – yielding a considerable return on your original $3 investment.
One packet will result in a crop and free seed each year – yielding a considerable return on your original $3 investment.
The second greatest freebie is the color seed catalog that arrives by U.S. mail. It’s mind-boggling how companies can afford such lavish publications and catalogs free for the asking from the website (or just call). Color seed catalogs give you days and days of shopping as you study each varietal candidate rather than make impulse buys at the garden center.
Some gardeners will prefer to go paperless. All companies have active online stores, so you can start shopping today with a few simple clicks.
No matter where you buy your seed, the process of deciding what to grow next year is important. It’s the only way to find the unusual versions of familiar supermarket varieties that offer new flavors and opportunities in the kitchen. It’s also a great way to explore all the amazing food crops from around the world. After all, why grow varieties made for cold storage or early picking when you can grow the ones that were selected for nothing but great flavor?
The global economy has made more foreign vegetable varieties widely available than ever before. Often they are unique to areas where regional cuisine keeps them in cultivation. For those interested in international tastes, or immigrants and their descendants who want to grow the plants for their homeland dishes, look to heirloom seed catalogs. This is also where the creative griller will find big surprises for summer barbecues.
If you’ve priced sprouted seedling vegetables recently in the garden center, you may be surprised. A six-pack of tomatoes can be downright expensive, and you have to choose from what’s there. So not only will you save money growing from seed, but you’ll tap into an enormous seed supply line that brings the world’s best food crops to your door.
Follow the example of experienced gardeners who test a few new vegetable types or varieties each year. This allows them to grow as secondary crops until they’re vetted in the kitchen and by the climate for much larger sowings. Consider every year’s garden a grand experiment by cycling new varieties into your crop rotation.
Many heirlooms would vanish completely if not kept in continual cultivation because they don’t last long, even in seed banks. When you buy and grow them in your garden, you become an active participant in the global effort to preserve them. So start ordering from this master list of heirloom seed houses or log on and let the armchair shopping begin.
Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.
Top 10 Heirloom Vegetable Seed Catalogs
Order your catalog now or go online and start shopping now.
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.: rareseeds.com, 417-924-8917
- High Mowing Organic Seeds: highmowingseeds.com, 802-472-6174
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds: johnnyseeds.com, 877-564-6697
- Native Seed/SEARCH: nativeseeds.org, 520-622-5561
- Nichols Garden Nursery: nicholsgardennursery.com, 800-422-3985
- Renee’s Garden: reneesgarden.com, 888-880-7228
- Seed Savers Exchange: seedsavers.org, 563-382-5990
- Seeds of Change: seedsofchange.com, 888-762-7333
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: southernexposure.com, 540-894-9480
- Territorial Seed Company: territorialseed.com, 800-626-0866
Free seed exchange in Raleigh on Jan. 19
The Gardeners of Wake County is offering a free seed exchange at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19 at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh. The seeds will be for flowers, vegetables, bushes and trees.
Bring seeds to share if you have them, but feel free to come even if you don’t. Refreshments will be served at 7 p.m.; program starts at 7:30 p.m.
The arboretum is at 4415 Beryl Road, Raleigh.