Tips for Navigating the Seed Catalogue

Mary Miller, Community Garden and Outreach Coordinator
Gardens on Spring Creek

 

In these days of deep winter and short days, bears hibernate, owls whoo-whoo in tall trees, fish swim under the scrim of ice, and veggie gardeners pore over seed catalogs. Dreaming of the best garden ever, winter is for finding seed varieties that will yield the juiciest tomato, the chile with just the right amount of heat, and broccoli that will produce a beautiful head. 

If you’re new to the area, note that our growing season is relatively short for tender crops such as tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and cucumbers. The average last frost is listed as mid-May, while the average first frost is in mid-September. It is not wise to equate average with normal. Frosts can occur earlier or later than average. The weather here plays a large part in growing food crops with fluctuating temperatures, wind and that dreaded four-letter word that starts with H ends with L (hail). We do enjoy lots of sunny days.

Seedling; Courtesy Fort Collins Nursery

Navigating a mailbox full of catalogs touting the best of this and the most delicious of that can be daunting. Here are some suggestions for upping your browsing savvy.

Go through the catalogs to look for those selling to both market growers and home gardeners, particularly for our northern Colorado area. For the tens of thousands of seeds I secure for the Garden of Eatin, the garden dedicated to growing edible crops at the Gardens on Spring Creek, I obtain seeds primarily from four different companies – two located in Maine and one each in Vermont and Iowa. 

Another advantage to seed companies that sell to both home gardeners and market growers is they most often include quite useful agronomic information on the different crops. This may include optimal germination temperatures so the gardener can see planting carrots when the soil temperature ranges from 65-80°F speeds germination.

Be on the lookout for keywords and superlatives in descriptions of the plants and fruits. They offer subtle and not-so-subtle clues to a particular plant. An example of a keyword is adaptable. “Widely adaptable” or “highly adaptable” may indicate a variety that does well in heavy clay soils or stands up well to colder temperatures. It may continue to produce well under stressful conditions such as prolonged high temperatures. Another to watch for is productive – also shown as “highly productive” and “prolific producer.”  If you want lots of fruits, then choose the prolific. Match the productivity to the taste descriptions, as often the best tasting is not the highest yielding. I would rather fewer Cherokee Purple and Black Krim tomatoes than a load of insipid ones.

Planning to buy seeds locally to support businesses here?  Spending cold winter days looking through seed catalogs will help inform your choices and spark new ideas of plants to grow!

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