Monday, February 23, 2015

Seed Catalog Recommendations

“While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
And cold and heat,
And summer and winter,
And day and night
Shall not cease.”
Genesis 8:22, NASB

God's promise to man after the flood is one I have to cling to this time of year. Even though I have lived through 28 springs in my life, it's still hard for me to believe in a few weeks these bitterly cold temperatures will be gone, to be replaced with cool winds, melting snow, and budding crocus. As I write this, it's 6 degrees outside, warmed by the wonderful sunshine from the subzero temperatures we had when we woke up this morning. But I know that God's promise is true, and that spring will come, and the earth will turn green with new life again.

My frozen, sunshiny backyard garden

One of the things that helps me keep hope through the winter is planning the garden for the summer, reading seed catalogs, and ordering new varieties to plant in our yard this year. Since we've placed most of our orders for the upcoming spring, I thought I'd share a few of our favorite seed catalogs with you all.
Telling everyone about Fedco is one of the reasons I really wanted to write this post. Collin and I have ordered from Fedco every year since the first garden we planted together in the spring we were married. Collin's roommate introduced us to them, and we've come to love this quirky, affordable seed catalog more and more every year. Based out of Maine, Fedco offers high-quality seeds at great prices. Unlike many other seed companies, Fedco only sends one seed catalog a year (so don't lose it!), and the catalogs are black and white, printed on newsprint, and illustrated with off-beat, somewhat related vintage-style line drawings.

What I love: Fedco has some of the best prices on seeds we've seen anywhere. The number and diversity of the varieties offered is fantastic. And the descriptions of the plants are extremely helpful, coming from gardeners rather than seed salesmen, and telling the good as well as the bad about each variety. They'll tell you, for example, that Carola potatoes are "The best-tasting potato... rarely uniform, but have that charming old-fashioned potato look. Firm and waxy, loved by all... However, Carola isn't the best performer in the patch - watch out for dreary weather that could wallop your Carolas with them fungal blights."

What I don't love: Fedco's lack of color pictures can be a turn-off for some. We work around this easily with a Google image search of the varieties we're interested in from the desciptions. If there were color pictures for each variety, this 160-page catalog would be a coffee table sized book!

Something new for this year: I'm excited to grow Magic Molly purple potatoes, and Mexican Sour Gherkin cucumbers (that look like tiny watermelons!) for the first time this year.

Rare Seeds (Baker Creek Heirlooms)
Rare Seeds is a new catalog to me, but I'm already a fan! This Missouri seed company is similar to the more well-known Seed Savers (see below), but their catalog is almost twice as big, weighing in at 210 pages. I first came across Rare Seeds this year when I saw a reference to the Pusa Asita carrot. I fell in love this the rich purple hue of this unusual carrot, but sadly it was sold out when I made my order. It looks like it's back in stock now, although at a premium price due to its rarity and the high demand.

What I love: I love unusual varieties, and this catalog is chock-full of them! You'll find many plants in this catalog that you can't find elsewhere. There are seeds (and a few plants) for tropical houseplants and garden fruits as well as a huge array of garden vegetables. Their selection of eggplant, melons, and tomatoes (26 pages!) is especially impressive.

What I don't love: This is kind of a funny criticism considering I don't mind Fedco's complete lack of pictures, but I find it a little disconcerting that the plant photos aren't organized very well. For example, the tomato section will only have tomato photos, but the variety pictured on one page might actually be listed three pages later. Also, the prices in this catalog are on the expensive side, so this company makes for a better supplement to a more affordable primary seed source like Fedco.

Something new for this year: I made an order of several just-for-fun plants from Rare Seeds for Collin's birthday. But since his birthday isn't for another week, and he's going to read this post before then, I'm not going to tell you what I bought. Two plants that I didn't buy this year but hope to in the future are Passiflora Foetida, and Black Seeded Sesame.

This is one of the more traditional, very reputable and high-quality seed companies. We've ordered from them before, but not every year. This year we're planting blueberry bushes and a couple peach trees in our yard, so the cold-hardy varieties from this Wisconsin-based company were a good choice.

What I love: Jung has a large selection of fruit plants at good prices. I liked their blueberry varieties better than anywhere else I looked this year, and since Collin thinks a lot of the quality of Jung's plants we ordered from here.

What I don't love: I'm kind of embarrassed to admit why Jung isn't my favorite, but it's really just that the aesthetic reminds me too much of mainstream garden catalogs like Gurneys, Henry Field's, and Burpee. However, I do like that Jung's prices are more up-front and fair, without huge swings in prices depending on the coupons/promotions of the other aforementioned companies.

Something new for this year: Jung was one of the only places that I've seen selling wintergreen, which I've been looking for all year! I'm going to plant it with the blueberries, since they both like acidic soil. I'm also excited to plant Rubel, Chandler, Razz, and Pink Lemonade blueberry bushes.

Stark Bro's
Each year we're hoping to plant a few more fruit trees and bushes around our yard, as time, space, and money allow. Stark Bro's is a large fruit tree nursery from Missouri, with most of the varieties we want to grow and all at good prices. Last year we ordered pie and sweet cherries, a plum tree, and raspberry plants from Stark. This year is a smaller year, with just a couple peach trees and a quince, since we're ordering blueberry bushes from Jung. Next year (hopefully!) will be apple trees and grapes, if we can get some major work done on preparing our yard this summer.

What I love: I think I first came across Stark when I was searching for nurseries that carry my favorite fresh-eating apple, CrimsonCrisp™. We were slow about ordering our fruit trees last year, so we hit a good "Pi-Day" sale in mid-March. I'm postponing our small order for a few more weeks in the hopes that it's an annual sale, although the prices are fine even without a sale. Also, importantly, the plants we ordered from Stark all arrived in good condition, nicely cared for and pruned, and every one of them broke dormancy and grew nicely throughout the summer.

What I don't love: There isn't much not to love about Stark. I suppose it's a little annoying that they send multiple catalogs per season, since we tend to hang on to the first one we get of any company we're interested in ordering from.

Something new for this year: This year we're going to order peaches and a quince tree. I'm looking forward to growing the Blushingstar® white peach tree, a cold-hardy variety I haven't seen elsewhere, as well as the Orange Quince tree.

Seed Savers deserves an honorable mention, even though I haven't ordered from them directly yet. Still, Seed Savers is celebrating their 40th anniversary, and is largely responsible for bringing back many of the heirloom varieties of vegetables that are so popular today. Beyond the catalog, the Iowa-based Seed Savers organization facilitates the nation's largest seed swap, and a seed bank with 20,000 heirloom and heritage garden varieties.

What I love: Seed Savers strikes a beautiful balance in their catalog of providing a color picture for every variety, yet still maintaining an aesthetically pleasing layout. While their catalog selection is smaller than my two favorites, Fedco and Rare Seeds, they provide helpful and interesting information about each listed plant. Although we didn't make an order from Seed Savers this year, I expect we will occasionally in other years.

What I don't love: The prices are pretty expensive, especially for their apple trees, which are about twice what you'll pay at Stark Bro's. The cost of garden seed can be more easily justified, since you can save your own seed from heirloom varieties after you grow them, provided they haven't cross-pollinated with similar varieties in your garden.

Something I'd like to order: The extremely romantically named Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate flower caught my eye. I'd love to plant some in the corner of our garden between the dining room's bow window and the garden gate. Also, the Purple de Milpa tomatillos look extremely fun to grow. What can I say? I'm a sucker for purple plants.

Botanical Interests
Also deserving honorable mention is Botanical Interests, another new-to-me seed catalog that I hope to order from in the future. Botanical Interests is a smaller, but well-respected company from Colorado which places a high importance on having a beautiful catalog, beautiful seed packets, and especially beautiful plants because, as they say, "Gardeners are artists, and artists appreciate, and are inspired by beauty."

What I love: As someone drawn to beautiful design and colors, I love Botanical Interests individual take on the seed catalog. They also have some wonderful seed mixes, which are perfect for those who love variety but have limited gardening space, like we do. Since our yard is fairly small, all our gardening has to fit into the concept of "edible landscaping," rather than the row-gardens of spacious country yards. So if I can buy a seed packet with a rainbow selection of seven varieties of cherry tomatoes rather than having to settle on one individual type, sign me up!

What I don't love: The descriptions of the plants are very brief, and generally too short for me to determine if it's a variety I'd like to try without further research.

Something I'd like to order: If winter drags on much longer I might be tempted to place an order still this season, even though I know our current space is more than spoken for. Several items that caught my eye are Rainbow Quinoa, and the Basil Custom Blend, which includes Lemon, Anise, Cinnamon, Red Rubin, Dark Opal, Thai, and Genovese basil - all in one $2 packet!

So, there you have it - my top six seed catalogs. I hope these mini reviews were helpful to any of you who are also spending these last remaining weeks of winter garden planning. I'd love to hear where you're ordering from, and what varieties you're excited about growing this year!

No comments:

Post a Comment