Seed Catalog Season: How to Choose Vegetable Seeds

| by | garden, vegetables | 3 comments:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Snow, cozy fireplaces, holiday decorations, bringing your favorite flask with you to company parties and family gatherings. Yeah, all that stuff is great and all but when I’m talking about the most wonderful time of the year, I mean that it’s freakin’ seed catalog season, son!  Yes, it’s December and we’re already talking about summer gardening. Like the holidays, seed catalog season can be very stressful and overwhelming! What’s the best seed catalog to order from? What do you do when you have five or six seed catalogs stuffed into your mailbox all at once? There’s hundreds of varieties of tomatoes out there, how do you decide which variety to grow? Here’s some of our tips to help you decide on seed catalogs and seed varieties.

I think this is the only time of the year that I patiently wait by the mailbox. Each day could mean a new seed catalog!
I think this is the only time of the year that I patiently wait by the mailbox. Each day could mean a new seed catalog!

So you’re wanting to start a garden next year, or maybe you want to step up your gardening game a bit. First things first, you need seeds. Duh. The best way to go seed shopping is through catalogs. There’s dozens of seed companies out there and they’ll all offer similar but different varieties. So which one do you go with? Well, it depends on what type of garden you want and what is most important to you. Do you want to grow an all heirloom variety garden? Or is organic seed the most important to you? Gardening on a budget? There’s a seed company out there for everyone and every need, but just one company may not satisfy all of your needs. There are a few companies we go through that have trusted high quality seed that is proven to grown in a region comparable to ours. So my advice is to research a few companies that look interesting to you, carry the type of seeds you’re interested in and also based in a region near or comparable to yours. A variety that is proven successful in a trial done in the Pacific Northwest may not be as successful in your garden in Georgia. Just something to think about. Here’s a few of our favorite seed companies and a good starting point:


  1. Baker’s Creek Seed. They specialize in excellent heirloom, organic seed and are based in Missouri. Their yearly seed catalog is absolutely gorgeous and worth ordering just to look through. We try to order from them as much as we can.
  2. Seed Saver’s Exchange.  I love this company’s model. They sell heirloom seeds that are saved, shared and passed down through a community of seed collectors and savers. They’re based out of Iowa and although you don’t need to be a member to order through them,  you do get a sweet discount and other perks for joining.
  3. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Similar to Seed Saver’s, they’re a small, employee owned and run heirloom seed company in Virginia. They offer seeds that are adapted to Mid-Atlantic and Southern climates.
  4. Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Johnny’s offers a little bit of everything, some heirloom, organic and hybrids. Based in Maine.
  5. Seeds of Change. Another great organic seed company based in California
  6. Botanical Interests. Out of Colorado, they have a great catalog and can usually be found in a lot of retail garden nurseries across the country.
  7. Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply. Not only do they have great organic vegetable and herb seeds, but they have just about anything else you’d need for your garden or pasture. We bought an Omega-3 pasture mix for our chickens last year and plan to do the same again next year!

Photo Dec 13, 11 29 58 PM

So now you have a couple of seed catalogs laid out on your kitchen counter with just about every page dog eared and stained with coffee cup rings. Now what? Make your list of everything you want to grow in your garden, then begin comparing varieties.

Open Pollinated vs Hybrid. Seeds that are open pollinated are essential if you’re wanting to save the seeds at the end of the season and mature over a longer harvest window. Hybrids (often indicated by F1 in the catalogs) will give you a uniform, high yielding crop and usually more vigorous than OP seeds. Hybrids don’t mean that they’re full of GMO’s, it means that it’s the blend of two varieties for optimum results. OP’s are usually cheaper, but hybrids usually guarantee a good harvest and product.

Heirloom. Heirloom seeds have proven their worth generation after generation. They usually have superior taste and quality but also a superior price tag. However, make sure you know where the variety was based out of. All heirloom seeds come from someone’s backyard but that doesn’t mean it will thrive the same in your backyard. It all goes back to location, location, location.

Days to Maturity. This is a biggie. Pay attention to days of maturity and how it relates to your growing season. For example, if you live in a region where your springs turn into summer quite abruptly (like Missouri), you may want to find a lettuce variety that matures quickly and is heat tolerant. Or if you live in an area that has short summers, peppers that take 70 days to reach maturity may not be the best variety for you. We try to stagger our vegetables with varieties that mature early, mature moderately and then some that mature slower so we will have a consistent crop all season.

Other Keywords. In the description make sure to note which varieties are “heat loving” vs. “quick to bolt.” Or “consistent high producer,” “compact vines ideal for small gardens,” “harvest often for best results.” These keywords will help you decide what variety is best for you best on your garden, time and skill. If you don’t have the time or space to harvest a few times a day, gherkin cucumbers that are vigorous producers may not be as practical as a regular pickling cucumber. Also, if you have a small backyard garden and are limited on space, finding bush variety squash or plants that have compact vines would be a better choice than vines that will stretch to 850’ long. Sometimes it feels like they do get that out of control! And if the description makes it sound like the variety is high maintenance, it is. Don’t waste your time with that ish.

First cucumber harvest of the season!
First cucumber harvest of the season!

Taste. Probably THE most important factor. That’s why we all grow, isn’t it? Why grow vegetables that aren’t tasty. Grow what tastes best. If you like making tomato sauce, grow a paste variety that’s suitable for canning. Even bell peppers come in a variety of colors and flavors, some are mild, sweet or even have fruity notes. And if a variety says it’s the “best tasting” or a “favorite in our trials” then why not start with that one?

California wonder bell peppers
Cali bell peppers!

But really, find a variety that looks interesting to you. Try it. If you like it, then great! If you end up not liking it, make a note and try something different next year. That’s the best part about farming/gardening, there’s always next year! Eventually, you’ll find your favorite go-to varieties and then can save its seeds so you won’t have to buy them from a catalog again!

Although selecting seeds can be a daunting task, don’t forget to have fun with it and enjoy yourself! Spring will be here before you know it! The last frost is only four months away!

3 Responses

  1. March 6, 2014

    […] the most wonderful time of the year!!! Spring is right around the corner, we have our seeds selected, our planting schedule complete and a greenhouse that’s just begging to be filled with […]

  2. September 29, 2014

    This is great! I’m building my garden boxes for the restaurant this. I will definitely use the catalogs you suggest in December.
    Thank you,

  3. suchandsuchfarm
    September 29, 2014

    If need be, Dave and I can always come for a special “consultation visit/business trip.” You know, just to be thorough. And also, to get more jerky.

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