Garden Dreaming? Use Seed Catalogs for Ideas to Plan Your Garden
10 Reasons seed catalogs are still relevant in the age of online shopping. These weeks after Christmas are one of my most favorite times of the year. I love the possibilities of the New Year and the way we are naturally encouraged to start over. Not that we can’t start over any day of the year, but at the beginning of the year we tend to reflect back and dream forward. I can’t think of a better way to dream than with a pile of seed catalogs.
By now you have probably received several of them in the mailbox. I like to browse through the catalogs, looking at the new varieties and old heirlooms, and make a list of all the things I dream of growing this year.
My list is always long… and somewhat unobtainable, but that’s ok with me. There is only so much money in the seed budget every year. As I browse I become familiar with new and heirloom varieties. Seed catalogs also lift my spirits on dark winter days.
After I’ve chosen my favorite varieties I spread out the catalogs and compare prices and seed packet quantities. I want to get the most seeds for the best price. A good seed catalog (or website) will have a ton of information about planting seeds and growing specific plants, which keeps my money saving in check.
10 Great Gardening Tips from Seed Catalogs
Really good seed catalogs will have a box at the beginning of each vegetable type that gives you all the information needed to successfully grow the plant. If you are unfamiliar with growing the variety, this will be invaluable.
- Does the seed need cool or warm soil to germinate?
- How far apart should you space the seed?
- How much moisture does the plant need?
- Are there soil pH requirements?
- Will the plant bolt if temperatures reach a certain level?
- …and much more.
New varieties and reintroduced heirloom seeds are offered every year. It can be hard to sift through all the new information with an online catalog, but paper catalogs offer everything in one place.
Find at least one catalog that is specific to the region that you live in. This will give you new planting ideas that you didn’t even know existed.
I moved from the Pacific NW to Central Texas a few years ago. Leafing through the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog is like getting a gift. Who knew that you can grow so many different varieties of peanut, cotton, sweet potatoes, and peas in the South?
Days to Harvest
Days to harvest is vital information if you are practicing succession planting and crop rotation. You want to know when the crop will mature for food storage purposes and when the area will be free to another crop.
Use a spreadsheet or yellow pad and make a list of each variety you will be growing and how many days to harvest. Group like-minded crops together in the same planting bed.
As I mentioned above, I like to use seed catalogs as a general price comparison gauge. As I’m flipping through I make notations about the varieties I’d like to grow and then I spread out the catalogs for easy comparisons.
This year I’ve decided to grow Calabrese Broccoli, an heirloom variety that arrived with Italian immigrants in the 1800’s. It produces dozens of side shoots and I will be able to save the seed for years to come.
I can purchase 130 seeds for $3.79 from Seeds of Change, or 30 seeds for $1.50 from Pinetree Garden Seeds, or 300 seeds for $2.50 from Baker Creek Heirloom seed. I’ll choose Pinetree because it offers the amount of seeds I need for a great price. If I was not planning on saving my own seed I would choose the Baker Creek Heirloom package and make sure I know how to save seed for long term storage.
Specialty Seed Providers
There are catalogs that specialize in one type of seed and they do it really well. Totally Tomatoes will sell you every kind of tomato and pepper seed that’s out there. If you like to grow tomatoes or peppers, you’ve got to have this catalog.
Another catalog that comes to mind is Richter’s Herbs. If you are looking for unusual or hard to find herb seeds, this is the place.
Master Planning Lists
Sticky notes are your friend when garden planning your way through the seed catalogs. Get out that yellow pad you used while calculating the days to harvest and start a master list of the seed you currently have and those you would like to purchase.
As you are deciding where each variety will grow it is helpful to know what seed you already have and what will be coming before planting time.
How to use unusual varieties
Perhaps you’ve decided to grow a few unusual varieties of winter squash this year. Baker Creek Heirloom seed catalog has 93 different varieties to choose from! They are fantastic for food storage during the winter, but how do you even use those most of those?
A good seed catalog will give you tips.
This year I’m growing Scheherazade Squash – a beautiful warted, orange and green striped fruit weighing 5-10 pounds. This is a great choice for fall decorations. It was developed as an “oil seed” pumpkin so the seeds can be pressed to yield a nutty oil perfect for salad dressings or as accents in squash soups. The flesh is good to eat and you can bake it like spaghetti squash because it has a similar texture.
Disease & Pests
A seed catalog should also provide detailed information about the pests that are specific to each crop. You’ll get a jump up on what to look for and how to avoid the conditions that are favorable to pests.
From Seeds of Change: Peas are susceptible to various soilborne seed and seedling rots as wells are foliar diseases. Avoid overhead irrigation, trellis and increase plant spacing to maximize airflow. Practice crop rotations and compost crop debris to manage these and other diseases.
I’m a big planner, which is great for “preparedness” minded people like me. Garden catalogs provide the inspiration I need. Here are some of my favorite seed catalogs and websites, all of these offer organic, non-GMO seed. I’m going to get a cup of herbal tea and spend a day dreaming my way through the seed catalogs!
Seed Catalogs no particular order:
I like to spread my seed love around and purchase from several seed companies that I think are doing a good service. I may pay more for shipping but that’s ok with me.
Territorial Seed Company – Their seed catalog is a mini book, filled with planting information and other supplies. Their website has a 30-day free trial for an easy online Plan Your Garden App that looks interesting. If you live in the Pacific NW, this is the catalog you need.
Seeds of Change, 100% Certified Organic – Everything you could want for vegetable, flower and herb seeds plus a ton of growing tips.
Park Seed Co – You can enter your zip code and they will suggest seeds suitable for your growing zone. Online or paper catalog available.
Richters Herbs – If you grow your own herbs, or make your own herbal products, or if you are in the business of herbs, make Richters your destination. Download or request a catalog.
Totally Tomatoes – All things tomatoes and peppers, you’ve got to check it out! Download or request a catalog.
Stokes Seeds 2017 Commercial Grower Guide – Stokes Seeds has a large selection of untreated vegetable, herb and flower seeds and is a GMO-free website. You can purchase seed in small or big quantities – packets to pounds – and they have helpful growing information about each variety.
Nichols Garden Nursery – Herbs, Fine Seeds & Goods for the Garden Cook, Virtual Catalog for 2013. We expect the virtual flip page version of our catalog will be easier to use than the regular PDF version. Using it one can download a higher resolution PDF catalog with the look of a paper catalog. With the page-turning and magnification, the virtual catalog can be viewed like a handheld catalog.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds – Baker Creek carries one of the largest selections of seeds from the 19th century, including many Asian and European varieties. The company has become a tool to promote and preserve our agricultural and culinary heritage.
Pinetree Garden Seeds – One of my favorite sites for gardening books, seeds, and supplies. Their prices are great and they are family owned.
The Natural Gardening Company -The Natural Gardening Company sets the highest standards in the organic seedling business. As the oldest certified organic nursery in the nation, we were instrumental in developing many of the guidelines by which other organic nurseries now operate.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange – Their catalog costs $2 for shipping but they have a free downloadable .pdf version if you can’t wait to get your hands on it.
Seeds for Generations – Online only but I buy from them every year because I like their reason for being in business, which is teaching their kids ethics and hard work. They have a great garden planning calculator.
I encourage you to look for reputable seed companies in your region and buy seed locally. Leave a comment below and tell us about your favorite seed catalog, especially local ones that may be hard to find. We can all use some more garden dreaming time!
You are right on with every point. It saddens me to come across the companies that only offer an online catalog. The companies you recommend here are my favorites, too, except for one I have never heard of before. Thanks for sharing!
Janit Calvo says
Great resource Shelle! Definitely a keeper. Thank you!