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Seeds, Glorious Seeds!!

With icy cold temperatures and low light levels typical to the winters of the Northeast, one of my preferred activities to help dispel the potential gloom is to fervently peruse the endless collection of seed catalogs constantly filling my mailbox. This pastime always reminds me of the 1968 British musical film ‘Oliver!’ where the emaciated orphan boys march to the dining hall to receive their daily ration of unappetizing gruel while wistfully singing ‘But there’s nothing to stop us from getting a thrill when we all close our eyes and imagine Food, Glorious Food!’ While they sing about ‘Hot sausage and mustard, cold jelly and custard’, I envision the abundance of what can be grown from the seeds of sweet juicy heirloom tomatoes and purple Peruvian fingerling potatoes.

While I find this time enjoyable, the actual process of selecting crops, seed varieties and quantities can be quite challenging – the sheer number of seed catalogs alone can be overwhelming, and how much and when to place an order to ensure an adequate seed supply poses further challenges. In this posting, I will offer some tips to help make the seed ordering process just as pleasurable as the images of ‘Seeds, Glorious Seeds’ seen in your fruitful imaginations.

Seed Catalog Choices – There are over a hundred of various seed catalogs circulating through the snail mail system so it can be overwhelming to choose the best ones. I typically order from list of about a dozen favorites, but the majority of my orders may only come from 5 or 6 seed companies, those including: Johnny’s Selected Seeds is my #1 favorite for the quality and varied seed selection, the company’s commitment to sustainable growing practices or suppliers, and the wide selection of tested tools and other gardening necessities. For organic seeds, High Mowing Seeds sells 100% organic seeds with over 600 varieties available and their company is located in Wolcott, Vermont. High Mowing Seeds also created the Safe Seed Pledge in 1999, along with 9 other seed companies, to affirm their commitment to non-GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds. Fedco Seeds is located in Waterville, Maine and specializes in many cold-hardy varieties. For heirloom seeds, the Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. For a great selection of seed potatoes, Wood Prairie Farm is a Maine certified organic family farm started in 1976 by Jim and Lisa Gerritsen. One of my new favorites is Adaptive Seeds which specializes in rare, diverse and resilient open pollinated seed selections. Some of my most successful winter kale varieties are sourced from Adaptive Seeds. And if I am ever in need of a standard and/or reliable hybrid variety, I generally use Burpee Seeds.

Anticipating Quantity – A good rule of thumb is to always order at least 1/3 more than you anticipate growing in order to plan for irregular or poor germination issues, and potential crop failures at any point during the growing season. There are many computer spreadsheet programs you can use to help calculate your seed requirements based on production goals and some seed companies, such as Johnny Selected Seeds have a Seed Calculator feature available to use on their website.

When To Order – Place your order as soon as possible! New and popular seed varieties typically sell out, sometimes as early as mid-January, so the earlier you can get your order placed, the better. For convenience, try to take advantage of seed companies who use websites to place orders online, but if you feel more comfortable placing it over the phone with a live person, there are many knowledgeable and helpful sales representatives to answer questions and take your order.

Happy seed ordering!


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