Time to Flip Through the Seed Catalogues

The seed catalogues have arrived…many, many seed catalogues. There are only a few that I regularly use, and I flip through a couple just to keep the hunt lively. And it is a hunt that follows their arrival. There are some varieties that I use consistently, but I also try new vegetable varieties each year. This is a good practice especially for heirloom tomatoes. Some varieties are easier to grow and some more tasty than others. Diligent experimentation gradually supplies a reliable list of choices. Catalogues are excellent information sources. As each plant has specific needs, careful reading will prove valuable.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds has been my favorite catalogue for years. It’s 100% owned by its employees! There are seeds for vegetables, flowers, cover crops, herbs, berry and rhubarb plants and several varieties of each. They have pelleted seed for lettuce, carrots, beets and onions, allowing one to plant rows of picture perfect, evenly spaced plants…no thinning! There are also descriptions of planting requirements and growing conditions, charts of maturing times and so much more information that I’ve read it almost cover to cover for many years.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is the most beautiful seed catalogue I’ve ever seen. This company was started in 1998 by a 17-year-old. Since then he has gathered 1,400 varieties of heirloom vegetables, flowers and herbs. Each winter he and his family go to another area of the world and gather seed for the catalogue. Two years ago I visited their “Seed Bank” in California. Their most recent project is the purchase and restoration of the Comstock Ferre seed company in Connecticut, the oldest continuously operating seed company in New England. Their zeal and commitment to preserving heirloom plant varieties is evident in the catalogue, as are descriptions and histories of each plant.

The Territorial Seed Company catalogue is similar to Johnny’s but has some different varieties. I start with Johnny’s and change and fill in from Territorial. It includes a section in the back offering growing equipment, organic fertilizers and pesticides and disease treatments. These are often hard to find.

Seeds of Change has been collecting and saving seeds for many years. This is a smaller catalogue but has some varieties not found in the others, including apple trees and a section in the back with growing supplies and garden “doo-dads.”

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is new to me this year. I have just leafed through it and already found seeds for rose campion, one of my favorite flowers! This catalogue definitely requires careful inspection.

I love to look at the Shumway catalogue because the illustrations look like they were drawn at the turn of the 20th century, and I imagine my grandparents looking at a catalogue like this. I often find something to experiment with here like “Peppermint Stick Celery,” which keeps its pink and green variegation even after cooking. And I love the drawing of the Black Diamond watermelon, the kind my uncle Less grew and chilled in the horse trough before the Sunday afternoon watermelon feast. You can also purchase seeds for the huge, green-striped cushaw squash that produced so well for my mother one year, we ate them all winter.

It is becoming important to me that I not support seed companies owned by Monsanto, so I will do some serious research on these companies in that regard. More on this in a later column. In the meantime, seed catalogues are an excellent source for information, learning and dreaming.

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.

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