Winter is the time to tackle the major planning stages for your garden. That often means reading through a variety of seed catalogs and choosing what you want to grow. In this week’s tip, we’ll tell you how we look through various seed catalogs and what to look for in choosing the best varieties for your space and preferences.
If this is your first time looking through a seed catalog, take a deep breath. It is easy to get overwhelmed with all the varieties of plants, the overload of information that is in there, including pictures, descriptions, symbols, codes, and prices. Take it one step at a time. If possible, try to get a physical print copy of the catalog. As much as we love technology, we find using a print copy much easier as you’ll be able to easily flip through to find new items, don’t have to worry about a small screen or slow internet connection, and can take notes and highlight directly on the pages.
First, think about the seeds you want to order. This may be just fast and easy to grow seeds like lettuce, radishes, beans, cilantro, etc. Eggplant, peppers, and other longer growing or more difficult seeds can be done by professional growers and you can purchase directly from them.
Next, you’ll want to look and read through the main descriptors listed in the catalog. This can be things like “powdery mildew resistant”, “customer favorite”, “compact plant”, “uniform fruit” or any other descriptors that may be suitable for your garden. If you’re not sure, some of the top picks or customer favourites, or established varieties are generally safe bets, compared to new introductions or ones with unusual descriptors. Many attributes we look for include taste, growth habit, disease resistance and yields.
After reading through the description and any available pictures, you’ll also want to look for other metrics if it is available. This can include days to maturity (one variety with a comparatively long maturity date may be suitable in a region with a short growing season), # of seeds in a package or weight (some packages can contain only 5-10 seeds, while other packages can contain hundreds), and price.
When it comes to price and your budget, there are a few things to consider. Generally certified organic seed commands a strong price differential – sometimes double the price of non certified organic seed. The larger the package size you buy, generally the lower the cost per seed. Some catalogs list a specific amount of seeds in a packet, while others are more general. Shop around as the amount of seeds per packet can vary greatly amount seed companies. For example, when we ordered packets of tomato seeds from two different growers, one packet had around 20 seeds while another of the same variety had 3-4x that amount for the same price. Combining your order with a friend can also help save costs by splitting packages and reducing shipping costs, though some seeds are best grown out that same year and may not be as vigorous in following years.
If you are a seed saver, you may want to look exclusively for open pollinated varieties to save and grow again for future growing seasons. Hybrid varieties are another option, though often can be more expensive that heirloom/open pollinated varieties.
Going through all the seed catalogs can be an overwhelming and time consuming process. We recommend taking notes in your garden journal, on a computer, or directly in the seed catalog to help you remember and identify the ones that stood out to you. It is easy to forget which of the 20 types of zucchini or 60 types of tomatoes you want to grow and order the next time you look through. At the end of the season, you can look back on your notes and see how it compared to the description and your experiences.
After a while, we hope you’ll see this as a fun and exciting winter activity. It is during this planning phase that the opportunities can seem endless. If you need help in choosing varieties you want to grow, talk to us about our Garden Coaching Services or a workshop for your group/organization.