The weather is warm and sunny, the ground moist and muddy. <sigh> That can only mean one thing: it’s time for us to be taunted! Are you mesmerized by dazzling arrays of seeds at the stores, big walls of displays touting abundant flowers and picture perfect vegetables? Perhaps the mail has inundated you with catalogs filled with pictures of lush, bright flowers and sumptuous garden produce. It’s like those wicked seed producers know we’re tired of frozen ground and pale pink, plastic shaped tomato- like objects at the store.
Those villains know our weaknesses, alright. GRRRRRR.
Our catalogs have tons of pages earmarked and lots and lots of items are circled. Shoot, I circled at least one dozen interesting bell peppers alone. Just like you shouldn’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry, it’s best not to start ordering seeds when you’re suffering from #IamSOoverWinterIcantstandit! Look through catalogs and gawk at displays all you want, but when it comes time to purchase, be deliberate.
Here are things that we- myself and Semi-Benevolent Garden Dictator Laura Norman- think about when buying seeds:
- Length of growing season: Don’t get suckered into buying frost sensitive plants that need 100 days to mature. Even 80 days is pushing it unless you have season extenders. Unfortunately, corn, peppers, and big slicing tomatoes often have lengthy maturation periods, try to select a variety that’s has a shorter season.
- Double Dip: On the flip side, it’s nice to plant short season things in succession. Plant radishes, carrots, spinach, and cilantro in July or August for a fall harvest.
- Tried and True Varieties: Griff really likes Goliath tomatoes and Red Rubin basil. They do well in the area and are consistent producers.
- Disease resistance: If you have issues with late blight affecting plants (like I do), buy seeds for tomatoes that have higher late blight resistance to plant. Given the alkaline soils around here, getting potatoes that are scab resistant is a good idea.
- Special use: You might have certain dishes that you want to make. Maybe it’s poblano peppers to stuff or use in special dishes; or winter squashes to cook, bake, or use in soups.
- Different than what’s available locally: For a long time, fennel wasn’t available in the grocery stores. Since that was a favorite, Laura planted it each year.
- Trying new things: Maybe you’re looking for colorful salads, so you pick a lettuce seed mix that has a variety of leaf colors. Or carrots that have a purple outside, and bush beans that are speckled. Or think fresh okra might taste good (hint: it does!)
- High yield or Flavor: If you are planning on canning, you’ll want varieties that are heavy producers so you can put up a hefty batch at once. The Cherokee purple tomato produces scrumptious fruit but sadly isn’t a high yielding plant.
- Storage Quality: If using your produce into the winter is your goal, then you’ll want to pay attention to this. Some onions are good keepers, others aren’t. Ditto for winter squashes.
- Space considerations: Pole beans can produce a substantial crop while taking up less space in your garden plot than bush beans. Trellising cucumbers are the same way.
- Economics: You might focus on getting seeds for something that you’ll want a lot of plants of. A packet could produce many, many plants for $3, whereas buying seedlings will cost much more.
- Entice kids to eat veggies: Kids get a kick out of watching plants grow and then harvesting the fruits of their labor. More kids would eat Brussel sprouts if they grew them! This year we have a variety of summer squash called “Flying Saucers” which might appeal to the younger crowd.
- Fuss Factor: You need adequate space, light, and time to manage starting seeds indoors, so consider what level of “fuss factor” you’ll willing to engage with. Are you willing to share you kitchen table or counter with plants that will continue to covet more room?
- “Missy-laneous”: There are all sorts of other considerations, from how many seeds are in a packet, to some plants not being good bets because they bolt too fast in our climate. I’ve been on a quest to find a true chocolate cherry tomato for several years now. (Another variety this year- sixth time is the charm!). Fun names might catch your attention of something to try. I fell for “Long Island Cheese” winter squash because of the name. I prefer purple pole beans because they are easier to find in the mass of green leaves. After sowing fussy, tiny carrot seeds and spending way too much time thinning them, purchasing whatever variety comes in seed tape or pelletized (makes the seeds bigger) is my preferred way to go.
Hey, why are you still sitting there? The garden is waiting.