The Dirt on Ordering Seeds...

I had this idea in my head that the farming would slow down in the hasn't!  I have spent almost every extra minute of every day, thinking about, reading about, obsessing about soil, fertilizer, heirloom varieties and most importantly what I am going to plant this spring.  With all of this sifting around in my head, there is a constant beat in the background, a drum that beats for March.  March is seed starting month, and I have more than ever to be thinking about when I think of March.  I have ordered almost 200 packets of seeds...yup...200!!!  I will plant the majority of them when March finally creeps up on me.  The thing that I have found to be overwhelming, and I am hoping that I am not alone, is sorting through all of the seed catalogs.  There are pages and pages of varieties; I want to plant them all.  I need forty acres, I have already got the mule, so to speak.  I have found a few tricks to ordering and I would like to share some of them with you.

1. Give yourself plenty of time.  I am a seed catalog junkie, I carry a supply of them with me everywhere. I have a little tote bag filled with them, and whatever farm related reading I am pouring through at the moment, and every spare second seems to be devoted to reading.  I read seed catalogs from start to finish several times.  I highlight things that stand out to me and then I use the internet to further research some varieties.  There are notes in the margins of the catalogs with references jotted down everywhere so I can return to a reference if I need to before ordering, or even after I order.  My first catalogs arrive in late October, and I study them for a few months before I make my orders.  When you have ordered, don't throw away the catalogs.  I keep a journal that details where the seeds came from so I can reference the catalog again if I need to, sometimes there is valuable information about harvesting and growing in the catalogs.

2.  Read reviews:  They are so valuable.  Things that don't produce well, or don't do well in particular climates are good to know about.  Seeds that have poor germination or came up as something completely different than what they should have been are things that I have read in reviews.  Probably the most important piece of information to me is how it tasted.  I have been so tempted to buy a certain tomato, but every single review written about it says that it is beautiful, but has no flavor.  What good is a tomato with no flavor?  That's like enjoying the sun without warmth to me, utterly pointless.  Every time I was drawn to this tomato, there they were oodles (not just one) review shouting out to me, "don't do it"!!!  Reading reviews can save you heartache and money.

3.  Look at your variety:  Before you hit the place order button, go through your list.  Make sure that you have a great variety.  If you are planting squashes, you certainly don't want several orange round squashes all that all look alike.  Variety is the spice of life, and you will appreciate that you took the time to vary your order next fall when you harvest.  Your customers, if you sell or even share your produce, will love trying several new and different flavors, shapes, and colors of squash instead of just orange and round.  Variety is what makes food interesting, at least to me.  Every little oddity or new ingredient is like a challenge for me.  It gets my brain ticking in the kitchen and I make some of my favorite things when I have been challenged by something that I am seeing and tasting for the first time.

4.  Look through several catalogs before you buy:  There are so many catalogs out there, it is impossible to go through all of them.  I have a few that are my standards (Baker Creek, Comstock and Ferre, Seed Savers Exchange), but I do sift through new ones that show up in the mail.  With new catalogs come new and exciting things that you haven't seen before.  Also, prices may be different.  Just make sure you are comparing apples to apples when you compare catalogs.  Some things may have the same name, but if you look carefully, you will see that one may be from a small organic family farm and the other may be commercially grown (I would pick the small farm...but that's just me).

5.  Keep your climate in mind.  There are several things that I would love to grow that are meant for different climates.  I look at them with longing, and then remind myself that I live in a hot, dry desert with a relatively short growing season.  There is no point in planting something that was meant for Thailand's hot, humid, long season here in the middle of the desert.  It would just be a waste, and I would be terribly disappointed, which is something I try to avoid!

6.  Be fearless and try something new:  There is nothing more exciting to me than growing something new.  I usually take a leap of faith on a few new plants every year.  This is how we learn and grow by trying something that stretches our minds.  The best part is that there are new flavors and tastes to explore, new beautiful plants to watch grow, and something new to fascinate you in the garden.

7.  Think about what you cook and eat:  If you absolutely detest broccoli, why would you order three packets of seeds?  (For the record, I could never detest of my favorites.)  I often read through cookbooks when I order seeds because it gives me a sense of what I can cook with all of this glorious food.  The great advantage about loving all vegetables is that I get the fun of planting all of it.  Think about what you are going to do with your produce.  If you are a salsa garden person, make sure you stick to tomatoes, peppers, cilantro and onions.  If you adore beans, make sure you plant a number of different beans that will interest you throughout the season.

8.  Think about how much space you have:  It is easy to get carried away and order way too many things.  We all make this mistake at least once, but the saving grace of such a mistake is that many seeds will be viable for up to five years if stored properly.  You got radish happy and ordered too many radishes?  Store them away for next spring in a dark, dry place, and hopefully you can use them next spring.

9.  Ask questions:  If you have a question, don't be afraid to ask!  Call the customer service line or ask someone who may have experience growing the plant in question.  I often pick the brain of a farmer that lives just a few blocks from me.  I corner him at the farmer's market, at his produce stand, or I swing by his farm on my bike.  If he is in sight, I shout out a question.  The thing that I have learned from him is that he is more than willing to share his knowledge with me.  Farming and growing is an art that is meant to be shared.  If it wasn't shared, if farmers were greedy with their knowledge, none of us would know how to grow anything.  Farming is one of the core principles that unites humanity in that we all need to eat.  Without passing along the skills and knowledge required to feed people, the next generations would surely starve.

8.  Have fun:  Don't forget to have fun while you are picking and choosing your seeds.  There are pictures to gawk at, strange plants to twist your mind, and things that make you drool all over your catalogs in excitement and anticipation (melons...drool...)!  Show the pages to your kids, let them pick something to plant.  This is supposed to be fun, make sure you don't get too serious!


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