Winter can be dull. The sky is cloudy, the garden is mostly dormant, the pace of living seems to slow. It’s hard to remember the warm sun on our faces, the feel of hot dirt in our hands, and the beautiful sight of a young seedling pushing up through the soil.
Then, one bleak morning, we open our mailbox to find it. A shining little beacon of hope. Spring in 120 pages—the season’s first garden catalog.
I love garden catalogs… I like the sight of them stacked up on the table, a sign of brighter things ahead. I like looking at all the new varieties and old ones that are just being rediscovered.
If you are new to ordering seeds for the garden, we’ve got some handy tips for you.
- Order early! Especially if you are ordering heirloom varieties, there is often a limited amount of seed available. Once the seed runs out, many seed suppliers will substitute another “similar” seed, but chances are it won’t be what you want.
- Plan ahead. I will confess that sometimes my garden planning methods involves a Sharpie marker and just circling everything that looks interesting in the catalog. If you know your garden space allotment, plan accordingly. While you can never really have too many seeds, it’s disappointing to have more seeds than space. If you plan ahead, you can avoid this by only ordering the seeds you truly need.
- Set a budget. Seed packets are cheap individually, but they can add up quick. Decide how much you want to spend before you start looking at all the shiny pictures.
- Read the catalog. Catalogs are generally packed with information. Be sure to read everything thoroughly. (Especially return policies and shipping times.) The Landreth Seed Company has a catalog that is especially informative with articles, but it does cost $5 to order. Kentucky is mostly zone 6, so be sure what you order will thrive in that zone.
- Understand hybrid vs. heirloom. There’s been a lot of demonizing of hybrid plants and glorification of heirlooms in the past few years. And let’s face it… there is definitely something romantic about buying a seed variety that has been around for hundred of years. There is history in an heirloom seed; a connection to our ancestors. But not all hybrids are evil. In some cases, they have resistance to some diseases that you won’t find in heirlooms. (I’m not talking about genetically modified seed, which is an entirely different story.) Here’s an interesting article about Hybrid Vs. Heirloom from USA Today.
- Consider buying plants from a local greenhouse. Many folks order plants as well as seeds from garden catalogs. Personally, I prefer to buy plants that I can see and touch and make sure they are healthy. For this reason, I purchase my plants from local greenhouses. It is also a great way to keep some of your business local. (You can purchase seeds at a greenhouse as well, but you will get a larger variety from a catalog.)
- Get advice from your extension office. Every Kentucky county has an extension office, and they can be a great resource of information. They often have pamphlets or links to the specific varieties that thrive in your area. (A word of caution: I feel like a lot of the extension offices are a little behind the times as far as organic and heirloom are concerned, so be sure to filter the information you get there.)
- Visit Garden Watchdog. Have you ever visited this website? It is the ultimate source for garden company information. You can check a company’s rating before you place an order. I learned this the hard way after getting ripped off by a seed company. (My order was so late that I barely had time to plant. Many items were backordered and never sent, and several seeds varieties did not grow into what I had ordered!) When I checked Garden Watchdog, I found out the company had a terrible rating.
- Be patient. Patience is not my best virtue, which makes one wonder why I would choose gardening as a hobby! This is a very busy time of year for seed companies, so be prepared to wait for your order. (Baker Creek Seeds has one of the best turn around times of any seed company I’ve ordered from.)
If you are a novice gardener, I think sometimes there is confusion about what things have to be started indoors (which can be overwhelming) and which things can be started right in the ground with ease. My no-fail direct sow plants are lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots, peas, corn, sunflowers, dill, zinnias, cosmos, and beans. To give you an idea, every year I give my 5 year old the leftover seed packets of these things from last year and he makes one of the most lovely garden beds in the yard with them. Anyone can start these things right in the ground and feel successful with their gardening!
Some of our favorite garden companies:
- Baker Creek Seeds
- Landreth Seed Company
- Seeds of Change
- Seed Savers Exhange
- Cook’s Garden
- Renee’s Garden
Get your seed order placed and then we will talk seed starting. Spring is coming, my friends! I can hardly wait.
Do you have any seed ordering tips?