Fall Is the Right Time To Dig … Into Seed Catalogs!

It's that time of year when we dig into seed catalogs to plan next year's garden. Here are some tips for navigating the many seed choices available.

by Zach Loeks
PHOTO: Zach Loeks

This time of year, as the weather gets cold again, I start to organize my seed orders. Before the holiday season starts, it’s essential to put seed orders in before favorite varieties sell out. Fall also offers us, as home gardeners, a good opportunity to prioritize spending towards a regenerative activity—growing food next spring. 

I like to cruise through the online seed catalogs at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, High Mowing, Fedco, Ferme Tourneseol and William Dam and other great sources in my region. (Hobby Farms also recommends Jung Seed and Territorial Seed Company.) I prioritize my time to explore both new varieties and old favorites. 

I also do this with nursery catalogs for fruits, berries and nut trees for my food forest. 

Approaching Seed Catalogs

First, I highlight all the crop sections of major interest so I can easily zone in on sections to which I will give more scrutiny. For instance, carrots have been an important market garden crop for me for years. Even though I no longer sell carrots commercially, they are an essential homestead crop because of their root cellaring value for my family. 

Next, within the sections of crops, I will put a check next to all the favorite crops from year previous that I know I want to continue to grow.

I will also cross out those I am no longer interested in. Why would I drop a crop? Maybe a particular beet variety was more susceptible to boron deficiencies in the northeast and I am looking for something with improved quality in these conditions. Or perhaps I have changed my focus away from a colorful carrot that I love but know needs to be harvested early, and I understand my focus has shifted to sweet storage varieties.  

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Then I will scrutinize any varieties that are new in the catalog and review their growth requirements and overall crop characteristics. I am always wary of seed catalog claims, which should be read with a consideration for what you already know about a crop. Sometimes (for example) a claim of sweetness in an heirloom carrot means that, if harvested on time, it is sweeter than other heirloom-colored carrots. 

Overall, it is important to pay attention to varieties that are long-time favorites, with a good track record. You should also try some new varieties in a limited capacity to see how they perform in your soil and for your needs. 

Potentail Solutions

Also, I always pay particular attention to information in the seed catalogs about varieties that may lead to solving a particular problem I am facing. Is there a disease resistant variety or early maturing variety? Can I find a variety better for my soil type? 

Over the years, I have stayed clear of long Imperator type carrots because they just grow too long for my clay soil I also like to focus on limited early maturity varieties. I want some fast-growing and tasty carrots, but mostly I need great storage carrots for my cellar—carrots that will store exceptionally well for months. 

Then I pull the data from all the varieties I have selected to grow. I note:

  • Price per gram, ounce or seed count
  • Days to Maturity (DTM) of the variety
  • Any key attributes that are important to my crop plan  

All this data goes into a spreadsheet that I keep for my crop plan. From there I can calculate how much seed I need based on the number of row feet I want to grow of a crop with certain planting density or seeding rate (seeds per row foot, like three seeds per 12 inches). This gives me a seed order with all my crops and seed packet sizes, and calculates and my total cost. 

Now I can easily budget by removing seeds or adding, sometimes focusing on cost savings by eliminating multiple varieties of the same crop and increasing the packet size of one of these varieties (improving the cost per seed). Bulk seed orders always save money, so I may also ask friends, neighbors and colleagues if they’d like to order together. 

Grow On, 


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