Love and Seed Catalogs

Seeds have the power to preserve species, to enhance cultural as well as genetic diversity, to counter economic monopoly and to check the advance of conformity on all its many fronts.

-Michael Pollan

Seed catalogs are responsible for more unfulfilled fantasies than Enron and Playboy combined.

-Michael Perry

 I am torn between reverential ceremony and childlike glee (EEEE!!!!) upon the arrival of new seed catalogs. Do I clean the whole house and then sit with pen, pencils, highlighters, notepad, calculator and coffee in hand so that I can properly focus on them or just have my 7 year-old drive up the driveway from the mailbox so I can start thumbing through them before the groceries are unloaded?

Starbucks’ cups should have seed catalog themes.  

When people ask about my plant based eating they always say same three things, one of which is, “What do you eat?!”  I try to smile but what I WANT to say is, “Here, HOLD MY GIANT SEED CATALOGS.  They are full of actual food and THIS is what I eat.” 

I love seed catalogs.  We have been going through them for weeks and will spend the next 2 weeks pouring over them until that fateful night when my husband and I sit down with a glass of wine to place our orders.  It is our favorite date night of the year.  Sometimes I wear my good yoga pants.

There is a method we use and it developed because gardening should be budgeted and we need to have a leash on ourselves when we order seeds.  Here is my post from last year about the garden budget.

To start, arm yourself with some basic knowledge to guide you away from the things you are not going to be able to grow.  You can still look, but no buying;)

First, know your hardiness zone with Arbor Day or the USDA.  

This isn’t everything but it is based on low temperatures and that matters to plants.  Don’t bother getting frustrated when you don’t see this information on many seed descriptions.  It is only one determinant.  If you eat local, you have an idea of what grows in your area.  If you live in Indiana, you should know you won’t be growing traditional kiwi.

Since this is not our first year in this location, our first step is to inventory the seeds we currently have on hand.  If you have seeds on hand, figure out exactly what you have.  I have purchased the exact same thing I already had on hand because I assumed I used them all the prior year.

Next, know if you want to plant in your native soil or if you will be augmenting it to a higher quality.  For instance, if we want to plant in an area with only our native, acidic sand, we know that okra, peppers, sweet potatoes and collard greens are what we can plant with success.  When we are planting in our raised beds, which are compost based, we can plant all kinds of things that are heavier feeders (meaning they require a lot of nutrients).  Our raised rows are native sand mixed with seasons of cover crops and other humus.  They improve every year but are not rich enough to grow everything.  Our garlic beds have virtually no native soil.  They are our richest and best effort.  Because we are willing to go to such extremes to accommodate certain crops, we don’t limit what we buy based on soil quality.   

Now, the fun begins!  Get a highlighter and a writing utensil and go crazy on those catalogs!  Mark and list everything that strikes your fancy.  Read the descriptions.  Enjoy the photos and drawings.  Figure out what might meet your needs.  If you plan to save seed, remember to stick with heirloom stock.  If you are more concerned about documented disease resistance, try some hybrids.  We like to plant both so we can save seed and have certain resistances.  Go crazy!

Follow this “wish list party” with some reality.  Decide what you may actually have room to plant by making a tentative map of your space.  If you have room for 6 tomato plants, it may be overkill to order 19 varieties.  Remember, you need to keep things that may cross pollinate separated.  

There is, alas, more to do before you actually place your order, like mapping out your garden to see what you don’t have room to plant.  This cuts our list further.  My kids cannot each plant 4 beds of melons and I can’t properly separate 4 fifty foot cucumber trellises.  

Once you have eliminated anything that has no chance of ever being planted, add up the cost of all those seeds on your list.  Does it cause you to feel tightness in the chest and emit a choking sound?  If yes, cut it back further.  If no, remarkable.  This is a first and you should pat yourself on the back for either being weirdly disinterested in seeds, terribly practical or wealthy enough not to care about the cost.

A note here:  Joining Seed Savers’ Exchange has perks like discounts and a copy of their magazine.   If you find yourself obsessing about seeds and all the potential therein, you may want to add a membership to your list.  You’ll really feel invested in the future of heirloom seed.

Stuff I have learned about my own tendencies:

I order too many varieties of carrots and not enough carrot seed.

I suck at growing spinach but I order piles of it every year.

I love pretty colors and they taste better.  It’s okay to order based on looks but suitability has to come first.

Chew on this

Deep roots draw nutrients up from lower in the soil and help break it up as they decay far more effectively than shallow roots.  This stuff matters, especially in the long term.  Remember, we are soil stewards above all else.

In case you missed it, here are my recommendations for some great seeds:  (Baker Creek)  417-924-8917  563-382-5990  540-894-9480 866-735-4454  800-626-0866 877-564-6697

Love from the farm

Love from the farm

Happy eating, Katy

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