Archive for Wednesday, January 31, 2001

Seed catalogs can help plan garden

January 31, 2001


Editor's note: This is the final part of a series on planning your garden.

Once you have a garden plan laid out on paper and know how much of each variety you want to plant, the next step is to decide which vegetables you'll direct seed and which you will grow from transplants.

Of the transplants, decide which ones you'll start yourself from seeds and which you'll buy at greenhouses.

A number of seed catalogs now sell transplants, and will ship them to you when the planting season begins. If you want to spend $6 for a tomato plant, that's your business; however I can't imagine serious gardeners either paying such prices or letting someone else pick their plants.

Moreover, most local greenhouses now stock a nice assortment of varieties of transplantable vegetables, which you can actually see, smell and touch. The local retailers also stock varieties that do well in this climate, and you can buy the transplants already hardened and ready to sit out overnight.

However, most vegetables also are easy to start from seed. If you have the time and space to fiddle with transplants, growing your own is a good way to try varieties that aren't available from retailers.

The first transplants that go into the ground in mid- to late April, such as cole crops, will need to be started in late February, so you'll need to develop a planting schedule as well.

Even if I don't order seeds by mail, I find seed catalogs to be a useful tool in planning what I will buy. And I do frequently get ideas from catalogs and then trot down to the local garden store to buy the seeds. But if I am shopping early in the season, I usually have to buy from catalogs because the local vendors don't have their complete inventories out yet.

Most of the catalogs also operate Web sites, which in theory eliminates the need for the paper versions of the seed companies' inventories. However, there's something to be said for being able to lay out your favorite catalogs side by side, the better to compare seed varieties and prices.

The descriptions in the seed catalogs also contain much of the same information that appears on the seed packets, such as how many feet of row you'll be able to plant from a single packet.

Even if I'm going to plant Kentucky Wonder green beans, whose seeds are available everywhere, this is valuable information I can use in planning my space and figuring how many varieties of beans I can grow.

Of all the catalogs that arrive in my mailbox from Thanksgiving to mid-January, there are five that I have ordered from year after year. All are competitive in price and each offers things the others don't. I have bought seeds from all of them more than once, and can vouch for their customer service.

These catalogs generally support my bias against genetically engineered seeds and in favor of organically raised seeds.

Following is the list of the catalogs, with phone numbers and Web sites.

Pinetree Garden Seeds This is my hands-down favorite seed catalog. The selection of both vegetables and herbs is amazing, from standard varieties to Latin, Asian and continental.

Most seed packets are priced under $1. You get fewer seeds (maybe 30 for eggplant or just 500 for lettuce), but then standard seed packets usually contain far more than we need. (207) 926-3400,

Totally Tomatoes The catalog also has a generous assortment of peppers, but tomatoes are its stock in trade pages and pages of them. (803) 663-0016,

Vermont Bean Seed Co. Although this catalog contains a sampling of other vegetables, its wide variety of bean seeds is the reason to shop here. (803) 663-0217,

Johnny's Selected Seeds This is a comprehensive catalog with a nice assortment of specialty greens, seed potatoes and other vegetables. (207) 437-4301,

R.H. Shumway Wonderful assortment of heirlooms; good selection of seed for such vegetables as corn, cabbage and root crops. (803) 663-9771, www.

When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.

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