Every year I carefully (sometimes painfully) set my seed catalogs aside as they begin to arrive just before the holidays. I might sneak a peek here and there, but I try really hard to wait until at least after Christmas, if not New Year’s, before I really dive in because winter can get a little long here in Minnesota – especially in January! There’s nothing quite like a cold, snowy day spent curled up with a warm cup of tea, devouring each catalog from cover to cover without any sense of urgency.
As peaceful as that scene is, it’s pretty easy to get carried away in the sudden influx of seed catalogs and increase in garden chatter this time of year. We’ve all been there, with that same feeling we had as kids on Halloween, all jacked up on sugar and all, Wheeeeee! Seeeeeds! Or maybe you find yourself a little more zombie-like, trying to satiate your appetite for seeds, constantly look for more Seeds… Seeds…Must have more seeds…. At times it can even be paralyzing, with so many options before us, it’s hard to decide where to start, bouncing from tomatoes, to beans, to peppers, and Ooh, look! Squash! And don’t get me started on how you even begin to pick a good variety of carrot. They all look the same to me – how do I know I’m picking the right one?
Yes, we’ve all been there. Our eyes suddenly get bigger than our gardens during seed catalog season. Our dreams get grander, our ambition levels soar, and before we know it, we’ve fallen into the seed catalog rabbit hole. So how do you survive seed catalog season without feeling overwhelmed or compromising your sanity? How do you avoid the trap of ordering too many seeds, blowing your budget, or having buyer’s remorse? How do you savor the season and make it a productive time for garden planning? Here are a few ideas:
Keep a Running List: If you see something that piques your interest, jot it down. Indulge your garden dreams a little. That’s the beauty of a list; it’s non-committal and allows you to keep a number of options organized and under consideration until you’re ready to narrow it down. Just be sure to jot down the catalog(s) in which you find each variety, so you can find them easily for comparison – and to order!
Read the Full Catalog Description: The glossy veggie glamour shots in seed catalogs can get your mouth watering, but the truth about each variety is in the print. Know your seed catalog terminology (if you need a primer in seed catalogese, check out this post from the Garden Planning 101 series), but more importantly, look for the more subtle clues in the description, like how fussy it might be about growing in certain conditions, or the fact that one plant might be all you need to produce enough to feed your whole neighborhood.
Have a Healthy Skepticism for the New and Novel: I’m all for exercising my sense of garden adventure, but at the same time, my experience has proven that just because something is new and looks really cool doesn’t automatically mean it will live up to the hype. Take Indigo Rose, for example: the tomatoes were striking in appearance, but unremarkable in flavor. I’m definitely not saying there’s anything wrong with growing something for its appearance or novelty (I’ve done both!), but it is important to have realistic expectations for what you might get out of your garden in return. Balance these selections out with some tried and true varieties.
Find Specialty Catalogs for a More Focused Selection: This is one that can go either way. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed by all the selections in a seed catalog that offers a little bit of this and little bit of that, opening the door to hundreds more tomatoes, beans, or onions to choose from might not help. But if you want to focus on finding the right tomato without the temptation to order every heirloom squash in the book, or want to only browse heirloom varieties without having to look out for F1 or F2 hybrid designations, a specialty cataglog can be very helpful.
Sleep on it: Take a break and come back to your list with fresh eyes and new focus. If, after a few days, certain varieties are still must-haves on your list, or aren’t that memorable anymore, you will have some pretty big clues as to where you need to end up.
Read the Reviews: Most seed company websites allow customers to leave reviews , which can be very helpful when you’re trying to find out more about a particular variety or compare varieties. Of course, you have to take customer reviews for what they are. Some will leave you no clue as to where they had their success or failure (California? Canada? It matters!) or other important details, but more often than not, gardeners who take the time to write reviews can provide a lot of helpful information.
Take Your Time: Unless you are just stumbling upon this post a week before you plan to put your garden in, you have plenty of time to plan your 2014 garden and order seeds. Let me repeat that: you have plenty of time! I know everyone and their brother is a seed-crazy, garden planning fool this time of year (and I mean that in the best sense, of course!), but that doesn’t mean it’s a race to see who can get there first. You should take your time and enjoy the process.
Know When to Reign it in: Ultimately, what ever seed you order must have a place to grow, so know when it’s time to start fine tuning your list into a realistic garden plan. Stick to your budget and the boundaries of your growing space. Create a “next year” list for the thing that don’t make the cut.
Compare Prices and Consolidate Orders: Stretch your seed budget by shopping around for the best price and selection, and then try to purchase everything from just one or two companies to save on shipping. Sign up for emails from your favorite companies so you know when they are offering discounts and free shipping.
What advice would you add to this list?
Updated: For those of you looking for seed catalog recommendations, check out the Seed Sources Pinterest Board!