October 21, 2014

Chandra L. Mattingly

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Quick guide to garden seed ordering
Written by Chandra Mattingly   
Monday, January 14, 2013 8:58 PM

It may be cold outside, but seed and nursery catalogs keep arriving in the mail, with glossy photos of perfect plants.

Ah, the joys of poring through page after page, imagining the beautiful flowers, the pristine peppers and ruby-red tomatoes, the rich, black earth unblemished by weeds!

Whether or not that garden is to be, 'tis time nonetheless to order garden seeds if you want specific varieties. Or you can shop the seed racks at local stores, though you may not find that certain herb or special heirloom tomato.

I do both, as well as keep seeds from year to year. Stored in zipper freezer bags in the refrigerator, most seeds will keep at least a year. Some, such as tomato and pepper seeds, keep well for several years.

That's why I like John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds. The catalog lists average seed life of various vegetables – though it says only two years for tomatoes and mine, refrigerated, have germinated well for six or more. The company also emails garden-related news; the most recent one discusses how early to plant various seeds for transplants, both of flowers and vegetables. (On their website, look under horticultural tips for seed-starting schedule. We're in Zone 5.)

Another company, Pinetree, has some of the most reasonable prices I've encountered, and I've had good germination from most of their seeds. The seed packets are not waterproof, however, so handle and store carefully. They ARE re-closeable, with a not-too-sticky seal, which is nice when you keep seeds from year to year or want to make succession plantings.

Park Seed Company has foil seed packs for many of its seeds, which enhance the viability of the seed until you open them. With the end folded over, they reseal fairly well, though I also enclose them in a zipper bag before storing.

A number of seed and nursery companies now are owned by our local company Gardens Alive in Greendale: Gurney's, Michigan Bulb, Henry Fields, even Thompson & Morgan, originally an English company which had seeds for almost everything. They still have a good variety, though not quite as extensive.

If a company has a return address of Lawrenceburg, Aurora or Guilford, you can bet it's a Gardens Alive subsidiary. I depend on the mother company for organic gardening supplies, as well as row covers to help my winter crops survive, but they also sell organic seeds.

Of course, Burpee has a great reputation for seeds and plants, and its seeds are offered locally on seed racks.

One thing to watch when buying or ordering seeds is the number or amount included. Most catalogs now list how many seeds are in a packet, and some companies have lower prices because they offer fewer seeds per packet. CherryGal.com, which I'm trying for the first time this year, is one of those. They offer some unusual varieties, and you don't need 100 seeds if you plan to grow only a few plants.

Here are a few of my favorite vegetable varieties: Straight Eight cucumbers; Big Dipper sweet peppers (great flavor!); Sungold (very sweet yellow cherry,) Supersteak (beefy with good flavor) and Early Girl (very early, good flavor, produce through winter in our homemade hothouse) tomatoes; Carantan Leeks (great flavor, winter hardy); Sweet Spanish Yellow Utah Jumbo onions (good producers, great keepers); Ambition shallots (so sweet when sauteed!); Russian White kale (another winter-hardy plant); and Green Ice (slow to bolt, overwinters with protection) and Buttercrunch lettuce.