There’s a pile of seed catalogs on my desk (or “littered around the house”) but only a few are useful as gardening books/tools, and it’s not always because of the company reputation as you’ll read below. Ed Smith, author of “The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible” and promoter of “W-O-R-D” (wide rows, organic methods, raised beds, deep soil) System, devotes a section in his book (pp. 32-35, paperback 2000 edition) on how to decipher seed catalog lingo and assess which ones are keepers.
Top three reminders:
- Source seeds from a company in your geographical area (if possible). These companies often test the varieties they sell and can provide more in-depth information specific to your region.
- Be wary of what the catalog does NOT say. For instance, if the description focuses on disease resistance, yield, and firmness, (supermarket produce characteristics) that particular variety may be wanting of flavor.
- Pay attention to description lingo. Is it “sweet-tasting” vs. “nectar-sweet winner of all our trials” ? Do you sense from their language that they stand behind their products and are intimately knowledgeable of that particular variety?
Our favorite, bedside-worthy, “all-purpose” catalog excellent for the West Coast is the Territorial Seed Company based in Oregon. As the photo above shows, their catalog provides detailed, useful information (germination, fertilization requirements, pests, diseases, area coverage given seed packet amount, etc.), relevant in our part of the country (i.e. generally mild winters). We buy from other seed companies, but as catalogs go, Territorial’s is an excellent resource.
Specialty seed companies like Ronniger Potato Farm, based in Colorado, have great tips on growing and storage in their catalog. Plus they’ll carry more exotic seed types that larger companies may not have available.
Probably the least useful catalog in our pile is from Burpee (sorry, guys), which offers little beyond impressive photographs and the latest trends in what national seed companies are now trying to peddle (e.g. heirlooms).
Most seed companies now have downloadable catalogs via the Web or you can just browse their selections on-line. If you’re fed up with catalogs, we’ve successfully halted most of ours through http://www.catalogchoice.org/.
So which seed catalogs do you keep for bedside reading?