Starting in December, seed catalogs begin to arrive. By January, they arrive daily. Even though many companies have gone completely online, others like John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds send paper seed catalogs. I’m so glad they do.
Like additional Christmas presents during the bleakest part of the year, seed catalogs start showing up about a week before the big holiday, and then for weeks afterward. By the end of January, I usually have a large stack of seed catalogs waiting for me beside my favorite chair.
Seeds for vegetable gardening and beautiful flowers entice me, but I make myself lay the catalogs aside until I can really look and choose what I want to grow.
Those companies that aren’t completely paperless have expanded their seed catalogs so they are now magazine-like. I see you Baker Creek! All those pretty pictures, and once I look between the covers, all those choices. From their pages, they call out, “Select me. No, no, choose me!”
Once I unplug and stow away the Christmas lights, I can give my seed catalogs the attention they deserve. In my garden, I grow both flowers and vegetables. In fact, I have a potager (kitchen garden) just outside my kitchen door where I plant cool crops first and later, summer veggies and herbs.
Of course, the potager has changed over time. It’s now surrounded by lavender which deducted some of the planting areas. Undeterred, I began growing vegetables in pots down the center of our old asphalt driveway.
When perusing my favorite seed catalogs
My first thoughts run something like this:
Which plants will I grow from seed? Of the early crops, I usually choose spinach, lettuce, chard, beets, peas (snow peas and snap peas), carrots and turnips, along with delicious Asian greens like tatsoi and pak choi for stir fry.
This year, I’m again growing my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants from seed instead of buying transplants. This will save money and allow me to try new varieties. Here’s the post on last year’s tomatoes.
I once planted onion sets–those small bulbs already growing instead of using onion seeds, but in the last few years, I began growing onions from seed. I started some in the greenhouse last week, in fact. I’m growing ‘Deep Purple’ bunching onions and ‘Red Baron’ bunching scallions. I’m also growing ‘Comanche’ and ‘Giant Musselburgh’ leeks as a new experiment.
I will also purchase seed potatoes and plant them outdoors in Smart Pots around St. Patrick’s Day. This is a good way to remember when I need to plant them. Or, I may plant sweet potato slips this year. Maybe Japanese sweet potatoes?
Then, I think about what I need to buy locally as plants? Cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower come to mind. I’ve basically quit growing cole crops in spring because we can have such a short spring, but it can be fun to try.
Which warm crops must be started indoors from seed and when?
Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are those I start about two months before my last frost date. Later, I think about green beans and other warm crops, which can be planted directly outdoors once the soil warms.
Here are the tomatoes I’m growing this year: ‘Black Strawberry,’ ‘Evil Olive,’ ‘Bread and Salt,’ ‘Gold Medal,’ ‘OTV Brandywine,’ ”Mortgage Lifter VFN Tomato,’ ‘Rosella Purple,’ ‘Virginia Sweets,’ ‘Mortgage Lifter VFN Tomato,’ and ‘Rosella Purple.’
What flowers should I grow from seed?
Although much of my garden is perennial, I always grow zinnias, morning glories, cosmos, and sunflowers for splashes of bright color. I’ll also plant nicotiana and poppies this year, and maybe sweet peas!
Time to sit, relax and peruse those seed catalogs.
I grab myself a mug of piping hot cider or tea, a pad of paper, and a pen, and with great anticipation, I begin. Before ordering anything, I organize my seeds and take an inventory to avoid duplicates. The growing possibilities seem endless, but I manage to narrow things down a bit. I know I’ll grow lettuce and spinach, but even then, there are so many varieties from which to choose. One lettuce “must have” is ‘Black-seeded Simpson’ for its gorgeous spring green color and reliability. ‘Bloomsdale Long-standing’ spinach is another good green for my garden. I’ve tried others that never produced and bolted far too quickly in early heat. Yes, definitely those two.
However, I then turn the page and see an entire section of “Other Greens.” A photograph of beautiful red orach lights up the page with color, and I want it. Because I’ve never tried it before, I pick a mix of greens which contains orach. That way, if I don’t like it, I won’t have four rows of it growing in the potager, a hasty mistake I’ve made in the past.
I take a sip of tea, focus, and line out my choices. At the top of the pad, in my own shorthand, I write the name of the seed company, type of seed, page #, and price. Then, I move on to the second catalog and the third. I check my blog to see if a particular seed did well, and if so, did my family like it? Which flowers did I enjoy the most? Which fell over in the wind? Which were the prettiest, and so it goes.
In what seems only a moment or two, I realize my drink has grown cold, and over an hour has passed. Oh, but what an hour. I’ve now gone through only a few catalogs and have a mile-long list. I’ll spend another cold winter’s night trimming it, but soon, my strategic plan is certain, and packets of seed are on their way.
Now, if only spring will quickly come. I’ve got planting to do.
If you’re thinking about spring too and can hardly wait, check out my podcast with Carol Michel of May Dreams Gardens, the Gardenangelists, or subscribe to our free weekly newsletter. Last week’s podcast episode was build your gardening confidence the seedy way.
Or, if you want one-on-one help, hire me as your personal garden coach.
So many ways to learn, so little time. See you soon!