Time to talk about seeds

The seed catalogs arriving daily in our mailboxes and email inboxes are a sore temptation for a gardener especially when it’s cold outside. Google tells me Guthrie is a balmy 54F today, way up from the high of 10F we experienced only a few days ago. The clouds that have dogged us for days finally burned off, and skies are that clear wintry blue.

Winter sky in Oklahoma
Winter sky in Oklahoma

That’s winter on the prairie. Warm, cold, warm, cold–no wonder plants heave themselves out of the soil.It’s enough to send a gardener into a seed buying frenzy. Stop. Before you plunk down that credit card, consider a few things.

  • How much space do you have to garden? If your space is tiny like my potager, and you don’t belong to a community garden, you don’t need a lot of seeds. I hear your groans from here, but trust me and start small. If you succeed at gardening the first and second years, you’ll add more space and gardens over time. How do I know this? A little bird told me.
Winter potager and greenhouse
Winter potager and greenhouse
  • How do you want to set up your garden? Do you have a sunny space, or is your area shaded by trees?
  • If you live in Oklahoma or some other windy place, do you have wind protection? If you don’t, those spring winds will shred and desiccate anything you try to grow. This is the truth. So, build some latticework, a fence, or something else to shield your tiny plants from the wind.
  • What is your soil like? Is it gumbo red clay? Plan to spend several seasons–years–amending it, or burm up your soil, or build raised beds. You can build your own raised beds. I show you how in The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff, or you can search online. You can buy corners that make construction very easy from Gardener’s Supply. So, consider it, and never fear. While it takes practice to garden and garden well, no one ever really fails because there’s always next season.
  • Will you buy some plants as transplants from your local nursery or box store, or do you plan to start some of your seeds indoors? If you think you’ll start seeds for tomatoes or peppers, I’ve written about it a couple of times. Also, I’ve written about vegetables easiest to grow in Oklahoma. Starting seeds indoors is easy if you remember they are your babies, and like babies, they must be fed and cared for on a very regular basis. You can’t forget to water them for a day especially if they are on heat mats. Speaking of heat mats, I think they’re essential. Heat beneath seed trays makes those little seeds pop up out of the potting mix. Don’t use regular soil either. That may sound elementary, but not everyone knows this. Use a good soilless mix for best results. I don’t like seed starting mixes myself because they SO finely grained–if you water at all from above, you’ll have floaters–floating seeds that is. So, just buy a good potting soil, preferably one with locally sourced ingredients. Check with your local nursery.
  • What do you like to eat? If your family won’t touch rutabagas, start with something they do like. You’ll get more help in the garden, and if you have children, you also have future gardeners following in your steps. Let them pick out some of the seeds. Botanical Interests has a children’s seed collection so you might check it out.
  • If you and your family are adventurous, go ahead and try one or two new things. Then, plant the rest of your garden in vegetables and fruits you love to eat, or those that are extremely expensive to buy. Of course, make sure they will grow where you live.
  • Go through last year’s seeds too and consider using some of those. Many seeds remain viable for years. That’s why so many of us store ours in cool and dry places.
  • Don’t forget flowers either, especially sunflowers. These tall beauties really make any garden, but especially a cottage garden, shine.
Seed catalogs 2014
Seed catalogs 2014

Finally, take your time as you choose. I usually sit at the table with a pad and pen in hand–along with a cup of tea–as I circle those seeds I really want to try. I  go through and write down the company name along with item numbers and quantity. Several seed companies sell seed in different quantities, and I want to make sure I buy the right ones. I also try to buy only the seeds I’ll need for the current season. Then, when I go to their websites, I have my list in front of me. It helps with impulse buys. Right now, I’m thinking about lettuces and other cold crops that I’ll plant out in February along with the tomatoes, eggplants and peppers I’ll start indoors. Later, I’ll go through the seed catalogs again for summer food like squash, watermelon and pumpkins. You may find you like to do it all at once, but my eyes begin to cross before I can choose. Soon, I hope to write about those vegetable varieties I definitely can’t do without.

Get your motors running gang. There’s seed to buy.


  1. Rachel says:

    Hi Dee
    I live in Australia so most of my information comes from a gardening friend in the US. This is what he said about Monsanto:

    Monsanto is now estimated to control between 85 and 90 percent of the U.S. nursery market. This includes the pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer markets. By merging with or buying up the competition, dominating genetic technology, and lobbying the government to make saving seeds illegal, this monolith has positioned itself as the largest player in the gardening game.

    Monsanto holds over eleven thousand U.S. seed patents. When Americans buy garden seed and supplies, most of the time they are buying from Monsanto regardless of who the retailer is.

    Most home gardeners started noticing the initials PVP appearing next to selections in the mail order garden catalogs a few years ago. This stands for Plant Variety Protection. It means the seed or plant carries a U.S. patent. It is illegal to save seed from or otherwise propagate PVP varieties. Consumers will have to buy more each year if they wish to grow a PVP variety.

    LLC is an umbrella corporation for The Garden Store, The Michigan Bulb Company, Gurney’s, and Henry Field’s. Also Spring Hill Nurseries, Breck’s Bulbs, Audubon Workshop, Flower of the Month Club, and Gardens Alive. Totally Tomatoes, R.H. Shumway, The Vermont Bean Seed Company, Seeds for the World, Seymour’s Selected Seeds, HPS, Roots and Rhizomes, and McClure and Zimmerman Quality Bulb Brokers are all standing shoulder to shoulder under the J.W. Jung Seed Company’s umbrella. Under Park Seed Company’s canopy you’ll find Wayside Gardens, Park Bulbs, and Park’s Countryside Garden.

    It certainly seems a lot!

    It is harder to find out who they own over here because of archaic privacy laws so I just buy heirloom seeds as often as I can.

    Make sure you pop over to my blog and check out my Aussie garden 🙂 I have looked at your with interest x

  2. AmyH says:

    Dee, what is that catalog with the strawberry plant on the front? I would love to know, and I just can’t read the title in your photo. Thank you!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Amy, it’s the Natural Gardening Company, http://naturalgardening.com. It’s the first time I’ve ever gotten one from them.

      1. AmyH says:

        Thank you, I’ll check it out.

  3. Kelly says:

    I love this time of year too! It’s all cold & snowy outside and I’m all cuddled up inside with my seed catalogues! My husband doesn’t understand this sacred act of reading seed catalogues and planning next year’s garden – there is so much to think about. I keep a garden journal to help me remember what I liked in the garden and didn’t, and it’s also a nice little place to keep all my little tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years. My eyes and orders are always larger than my garden … so there is always an overflow into containers. I’m going to try your approach and write what I want in a list and hope I don’t get sucked too much into “Oh I just have to try that this year!”

    And your potager and greenhouse are lovely! I look forward to following your blog!

  4. Erin (@bbburrow) says:

    Hey Dee- Great advice. I like that you included flowers. They’re such a wonderful addition to any vegetable garden.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Why thank you Erin.

  5. I’ve been thinking on your article for a few days. I realized there were a few more seeds I needed to order of produce we would eat. Then I culled through my massive seed stash for the seeds I KNOW I won’t grow (I hate beets and refuse to grow them but have 17 packets of them). I’m giving these away to friends and the local public school garden. Even of they don’t like the beets or the 12 packets of beans, they’re having a plant sale as a fundraiser for their garden. They can put these seeds to good use. Thanks for the inspiration, Dee!

  6. granny annie says:

    My husband was the gardener. We have a perfect place for the garden and he took care of putting all the right soil there. I took care of the chickens and he took care of the gardening. He grew beautiful tomatoes and lettuce and potatoes. I know the tomatoes were Jet Star. I know he planted the potatoes on Good Friday. I think perhaps I could plant a garden if I knew where to go to find out what to plant and what time of year to plant it. Is there a website that I could follow for this information?

  7. Jane Scorer says:

    Definitely time to obsess about seeds… I try to jot down successes and failures through the year, and any bright ideas I have for new stuff to try. In reality I have score of reliable favourites that I grow every year – flowers and veg, and a few exploratory entires ! Top of my list every year is Cosmos – never failed , easy and gorgeous.

  8. Barb Matthews says:

    Great tips! I use a heated mattress pad to warm my seed trays. With a twin size pad I can start 9 trays.

  9. I only grow a few veggies but several kinds of flowers. I’m in the middle of stratifying three different types of lavender to see which have the highest germination rates. I only buy nonGMO seeds that haven’t been pre-treated with pesticides and are from nonMonsanto owned companies. It’s worth it to do a bit of research to see what you’re buying and where your money is really going.

  10. You can also use a spreadsheet to compile your seed orders. Then it is very easy to get a total as you go along.

  11. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    All those seed catalogs with all those possibilities AND a greenhouse to start them. Lucky you…

    1. Rachel says:

      Please remember most seed companies are owned by Monsanto and are therefore GMO; they are not required to label them as such. No matter which catalogue you order from, the chances are pretty good you are getting the exact same seed as everyone else. Virtually every large mail-order garden company in the United States uses a seed broker to supply them with stock. The broker’s job is to find tons of seed at a low price. They contract with competing umbrella corporations, selling the same seed to everyone.

      Check out seedsavers.com they sell seeds that are not GMO and are not terminator seeds so you can grow them, save the seeds and grow again the next year.

      1. Dee Nash says:

        Hi Rachel, thanks for stopping by and commenting. While I don’t agree that most seed companies are owned by Monsanto, I do share your concern. That’s why I follow the recommendations by Mother Earth News and use only those seed companies who have taken the safe seed pledge. I do save my seed, but I also buy some organic seeds. Thanks again for stopping by and caring enough to comment.~~Dee

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