Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Seed Catalogs: Reviewing the Pros and Cons

I don't know about you, but this is the season for seed catalogs and I certainly have gotten my share this year and have been inundated in the past as well.  They do tend to pile up in numbers but their color filled pages get me to dreaming about this year's garden.

Why even order out of a catalog?  
After all, most stores carry lots of seeds this time of year.  Well, here's a look at why you may want to consider placing a seed order through the mail and the downsides as well.  

If you've never ordered out of a seed catalog, then it's pages can seem a bit daunting for sure.  But once you narrow down the staple items you're looking for, like beans, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, etc; it gets much easier.  So let's take a look at the benefits first of ordering seeds through the mail or online.

1. Choices, choices and choices!! 
  Why you do have quite a few options in the store, seed catalogs generally carry a lot more inventory and this means more choices and options for you.  This is one step closer to gardening successfully.

2. More options means finding varieties suited to YOUR growing conditions.  
 This is one huge advantage I love about seed catalogs.  Not only many varieties, but you can pick a zucchini that is a space saver and only 47 days until fruiting...this is a huge plus if you are short on space and live in an area that has a short growing season.  Stores usually carry a limited amount of vegetables and each variety may have only 3-5 choices depending on what it is.  This means that if I'm looking for an heirloom squash or more choices in certain kinds of pumpkins, I'm probably going to be very limited in what they offer.

3. It's much easier to find and buy heirloom and organic seeds. 
  If you only plant these types of seeds, then they will be much more difficult to find in a store.  Burpee does offer its own heirloom seeds, but again, their offerings are pretty limited and if organic is the only option for you, then this option may not even be in the stores.  I have to grow some hybrids because of limited space and I need disease resistant tomatoes, so I tend to use a catalog that will carry a selection of heirlooms as well.

4. You get more seeds per package. 
 What's great about most seed companies is that they will give you an approximate number of seeds in a packet.  You generally get more in them then from a packet from the store.  This is not a problem for something like eggplant, but when it comes to green beans, I want to make sure I get enough for a good planting and I always do when ordering from a catalog. 

5. You get lots of information in your catalog about each variety.  
For me this is really important.  I like the descriptions from the smaller seed companies where they give personal reviews of what they liked about a specific variety of vegetable.  For instance, "...very sweet tasting and prolific...we harvested 20 peppers from one plant."  This helps me so much when making a decision.  I feel more assured I made the right choice.  When in the store, the lack of information makes me feel like I'm taking a shot in the dark with that vegetable.  Many times it works, but it feels more stressful because they just don't tell you a lot.

6. You can actually help support seed saving. 
 If you order from the Seed Savers Exchange, then you are helping a non-profit business succeed with its vision to save heirloom varieties for future generations.  That always feels pretty good!  Also, you should be able to save the seeds of many of the varieties from there because they are open-pollinated. Buy once and plant many times again.

The downsides...

1. It can be expensive.  
Not only can the seed prices be a little heftier depending on what company you are ordering from, but if you add in the shipping charges, this can add up very quickly.  I do find the quality is really good with most seed companies though. If you're ordering from a catalog but don't have a large order, you may be able to share the expenses with another gardening friend.

2.  You may not be able to get all your seed needs from one catalog.  
This is where it can really hurt you.  Paying shipping one time can be bad enough, but twice?  Ouch.  I try to place an order with the company that is going to offer me the most varieties I'm looking for and use the store to supplement the seeds that I don't need to be as fussy about.

3.  It takes time to get your order. 
This is not a problem if you order early, but if you don't then you won't be able to get what you're looking for in time to grow for that season.  I've procrastinated about ordering so many times and missed out on certain vegetables I wanted to grow.  You have to be purposeful when ordering through the mail.

A few more bonuses with seed catalogs...

1. Lots of great information!  
They usually give you more planting information for a specific vegetable and then a great description of each variety.  When just starting out in gardening, I used to study seed catalogs because they are packed full of great gardening knowledge (I still study them!) I've noticed this most with the smaller specialty companies. They know that more practical information means you'll have a better garden, and they want you to do well with their seeds.  So they are generous on planting tips, how-to's and facts about different varieties.  This makes them great free resources that make junk mail pretty valuable!

2. They sometimes include recipes. 
 How great is that?  I love that they give you ideas for some of the specific foreign type vegetables too...this is a fun plus that helps you to want to experiment with different varieties than what you may be used to.

3. They can make your garden much more successful.  That's right.  With all the great information, they can help you choose varieties suited for your particular growing zone and region.  The more specific you plant to your growing area the better your harvest will be.  For example, they will often tell you what kind of onions to grow if you live in the north as opposed to the south.  They will often recommend varieties that have been proven to grow well in certain zones too.  This helps so much if you're a new gardener or are trying to grow a new vegetable that you've never tried before.  You typically don't find this information in a store display of seeds.

Cook's Garden

So, there you have it...just a few things to think about when considering ordering online or from a catalog.  I always order online from the paper catalog as I like reading from a paper copy better than trying to read everything online.  However, you may find navigating a web page a bit easier than a catalog.

I personally am hoping paper catalogs never stop as they are great to pick up and hold and pass along to a friend and gardener.

What's your favorite seed catalog?


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  1. This is a fun post. I LOVE seed catalogs. It's so inspiring to see all the beautiful plants I never would have thought of. I don't often order from them but rather look for seeds and plants locally.

    1. Thanks Eileen...they are inspiring! I buy some plants locally too, not everything is easy to grow. :)

  2. They are informative and helpful.

    We learn and know something more even though no buying at the end.

    1. That's very true and some of them are very artistic as well... :)

  3. Hi Nancy,
    I just received my order from Seed Saver's Exchange :) I love their catalog, but the shipping charges do add up! And they didn't have parsnips this year :(

    Hope all is well with you!

    1. Oh, sorry you didn't get your parsnips...hopefully you'll be able to find them somewhere else! Thanks for visiting Lisa - have a wonderful day and be blessed!

    2. Thanks Nancy! And thanks so much for sharing this on The HomeAcre Hop! Hope to see you tomorrow for a special hop and a giveaway announcement! :)

  4. Yes, I agree, the more information the better!

  5. I like Gardens Alive because I usually get coupons for half off in the spring. We usually end up buying most of our seeds there because they sell organic seeds. Starting out we used to just buy seeds from Lowe's, but now we are more into organic and heirloom varieties. We did buy some heirloom tomatoes from Seed Saver's Exchange last year and really enjoyed them.

    1. Sounds like a great deal from Garden's Alive. I used to get their catalog too and used some of their fertilizer too...really liked "Houseplants Alive," it works great for regular houseplants. :)

  6. I love Baker's Creek catalog, beautiful! I also order Botanical Interests. They have lots of heirlooms and nice artwork.

    1. They both sound interesting...I am amazed at the artwork in many of the catalogs; so beautiful. :)

  7. Thanks for posting in Wildcrafting Wednesday.
    The Entwife's Journal

  8. Hi Nancy, I love this! I just somewhere that something like 90% of heirloom varieties have gone extinct due to the monoculture of large food companies, so buying heirloom seeds is a great idea!

    Thanks so much for sharing this on Waste Not Want Not Wednesday. I've pinned this :)

    1. Thanks Danielle. It's nice that there are so many companies that still carry heirloom seeds, they are very valuable for sure. :)

  9. We love supporting seed companies like High Mowing and Renee's Garden. Thanks for the great ordering tips!

    1. Thanks for the catalog suggestions too...:)

  10. I loved this post! I wish I would have gotten a seed catolge a couple months ago. :( Thanks for sharing with Natural Living Monday. I hope you join us again the week!

    1. Thanks so much for the invite and hosting!! :)