Homeyer: Seed Catalogues Arrive

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(HOST) Commentator Henry Homeyer says that just when winter seems to have settled in for good, seed catalogues in the mailbox remind him that spring isn’t really that far off.

(HOMEYER) My thermometer has been so cold it’s threatening to go on strike.  The wind is blowing, the driveway is icy and there are still many weeks of winter ahead.  This is not the high point of the year for this mad-dog gardener.  I keep going, in part, by dreaming of things to come: sunny days, perfect vegetables and magnificent red, pink and purple flowers.  

By now I’ve gotten lots of seed catalogs, and I love to drool over them, but I’ll order from just a few.  I prefer to buy from Vermont or New England based catalog companies, even though I know the production of seed is often farmed out to growers in warmer places.  

Seed companies charge a flat price for packing and shipping small orders, so I try to piggy-back with gardening friends to keep the costs to a minimum.  Why should each of us buy 3 kinds of carrot seeds if we will only use a small fraction of each packet?  I’ve read that most seeds are good for 3 years.  Still, I believe that fresh seeds are better and more vigorous.

Then there is the yearly question of whether or not to buy organic seeds.  Is it worth the difference in price to buy them? I say yes for two reasons. First, the extra cost supports growers who use no chemicals, and I believe that the earth will be a better place if we all use fewer chemicals. Second, since I am not going to use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, I want to use seeds that were produced without them, too. I believe that plants bred to grow well without chemical fertilizers should do well for me. And I think that plants that have not been protected by fungicides or insecticides have stronger constitutions.

So why should I bother starting plants from seed?  

Cost is one issue.  

I start about 50 tomato plants each spring, trying 8 or more varieties.  Buying them as started plants would cost a fortune compared to starting from seed.  And I save seeds from my best heirloom tomatoes, so I don’t have to buy seeds for all the varieties I grow.  I must buy seeds for any  hybrid plants (such as my Sungold Cherry tomatoes) because they don’t breed true.

Variety is another reason for starting from seed. Catalogs offer many wonderful varieties of zinnias, for example, including some that I could never find at my local garden center or farm stand. Each year I like to try some new flower varieties to see if they are as wonderful as they sound.

One word of warning: catalogs, like used car salesmen, are prone to minor exaggerations. The catalogs want you to buy their seeds, so every single entry has some special feature highlighted. And the companies know that we gardeners are eternal optimists, wanting to believe that this year our selections will be even better than the last.  And maybe they will.

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