The 2014 seed catalogs should start arriving this week. Very exciting reading — for avid gardeners. If you haven't yet signed up to receive seed catalogs (I've provided a list of websites for my favorites at the end of this column), do it soon. We need to place our orders for summer vegetable and flower seeds by late January in order to start seedlings in early February for transplant into the garden six to eight weeks later, in late March or early April. Let the seed company know to ship early.
The catalogs are both tempting and instructive. Most include a history of the heirloom or open pollinated (OP) and organic seeds and background information on the hybrid (F1) seeds, as well as planting tips, recipes, selections and explanations of plants that attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds, and always a new variety, or two or three, to try.
I've already previewed the Burpee and John Scheeper's Kitchen Garden sites and started my list (white cherry tomatoes, Indigo Rose cherry tomatoes, Marseille dwarf basil) for this year's trial of new varieties. I'll share the results with you in September.
I splurged on good seed-starting equipment at least 15 years ago and I'm still using the same adjustable fluorescent light stand (with the original bulbs) and the same seed-germination heat mat. Neither is required for good seed germination, but the waterproof heat mat maintains an even temperature on the cold back porch in winter and the adjustable lights provide eight hours of grow light on the darkest days. Both the lights and the mat were purchased from a seed catalog. It's not always easy to find the larger-size cell packs locally or three dozen small 4-inch peat pots or a really high-quality lightweight seed-starting medium. The larger cells give more room to the seedlings' roots; the seedlings are transplanted into the peat pots when they're about 4 inches tall; the seed-starting mix holds water very well. Supplies are often limited in local nurseries and garden centers. The seed catalogs have a wider selection of seed-starting equipment in a variety of sizes to fit your available space.
Seeds remain viable for about two years if kept tightly sealed in a plastic bag or stored in sealed glass jars in a cool, dry place.
John Scheeper's Kitchen Garden Seeds, www.kitchengardenseeds.com
Seed Savers Exchange,www.seedsavers.org
Territorial Seed Company, www.TerritorialSeed.com
Baker Creed Heirloom Seeds, www.rareseed.com