It seems retail businesses are always trying to get the jump on sales and seasons. Its why we see school supplies in June, Halloween in August, and Christmas in October. I believe that’s why I saw my first seed catalog in my mailbox in December. Here I was looking for Christmas cards and bam I see a seed catalog. I guess it is meant to get us in the mood, but I was just getting over being worn out from fall harvest, canning and garden clean up. I tossed it and the others I soon received in the magazine pile to deal with after the holidays and fighting the weather with livestock.
I returned to my seed catalog pile in February when I was ready to think of spring. It had grown in size and type. I combed over the catalogs for the next couple weeks daydreaming of the garden I was going to plant. I based my selections on 5 characteristics; my history with the company, what my family would eat, how it does in my area (not just zone but soil type) and of course price. Some companies I have worked with I have enjoyed others not so much. My favorite 4 are Jung, Indiana Berry, Burgress, and Baker Creek (my favorite.) I share all my double copies and catalogs I do not plan on ordering from with other gardeners and my local library. Remove you label first and double check to see if your information is preprinted on the order sheet. It will save everyone some confusion when all of a sudden you receive a package you did not order and your friend is mad her package has never arrived.
I usually order a couple things I haven’t grown before. I love trying new foods especially fruits and vegetables. When I am selecting a new plant/seed for my garden, I have to take in consideration of my space, time available for maintenance, my zone, soil type (pH 9), and how much of this fruit/vegetables do I really want. Do I really need 30 lbs of radishes? (umm, no) Will my family forgive me if I only grow 10 lbs of carrots? (definitely no.) My big question I had when I first started serious gardening was how much do I grow? Take a rough inventory of what your family normal eats in a week. Base your garden plan on what you would normally use. I have seen several gardening and homesteading books with how much of each specific fruit or vegetable to grow to feed your family. I love the book Backyard Homestead edited by Carleen Madigan, published by Storey Publishing. It has an excellent chart on how to
estimate your garden size and produce.
If you truly want to grow 30 lbs of radishes, see if you have any friends who like radishes. Maybe you could set up a trade for something they grew in abundance. Maybe you know of someone that was unable to have a garden, and would like some produce or the senior citizens at church or living center. In the fall, there is often a box of vegetables at my local gas station. People with abundance leave produce there to share with their neighbors. There is a joke here in South Dakota that summer time is the only time that South Dakotans lock our doors and vehicles and its so our neighbors (with good intentions) cannot fill them up with zucchini.
I have a fun debate going with a friend about growing blueberries in South Dakota. They had purchased some plants at a large retail chain. Bad deal I told them, blueberries don’t grow here our pH is too high. We debated this for a while, as long as it took for the blueberries to slowly wither away. I often preach that just because you can buy it doesn’t mean you can grow it. The other day I wanted to stand next to the blueberry plant display at an area large retail store and tell everyone picking one up not to buy it. Local nursery and greenhouse shops are great sources for information on this. Sometimes you pay more at a locally owned store but you are getting the right plant that has been taken care of properly and the knowledge you need to be successful at growing it. At some big stores, the employees don’t know a petunia from a tomato. Same holds for some seed companies. Some seed companies read that blueberries (just an example previously used) grow in zone 4 (my zone) but they may not understand that our soil does not support blueberry production.
Gardeners seem to be frugal people. They understand that to get a good harvest, some money and lots of time are needed. When I am looking at seed catalogs, I compare selection, price, quality, quantity and shipping. I ask myself where can I get most of what I want. Some packages are different sizes so price comparison is tricky. I look for the quantities I would be planting. No sense wasting money on seeds you don’t need. However if you have friends who garden, you might be able to share seeds or have a seed swap after you have used what you need and still have left overs. I have swapped corn for potatoes and tomatoes for peppers before. It a win win situation. You could form a buying group to purchase large quantities of seed saving everyone money. The trick would be to get everyone to agree on which varieties.
I have compared shipping fees and they are not all the same. Some offer free shipping if your order is placed by a certain date. Some offer a flat rate for shipping so if I am inclined to order from them, I tend to order a lot of what I am looking for to save money. Or again I call my gardening friends and we place one order for a couple of us thus saving us shipping.
OK, I will admit getting your seed orders in the mail might rank up there with Christmas, but I’m still not going to look at my catalogs until at least February. All of these tips (except for shipping) hold true for purchasing seeds more locally. The same basic concepts apply. Make sure that you are getting what you want, what will grow, paying for what you will use (or share), and having fun.
One more suggestion, keep a running seed inventory on you. I have been in a store trying to remember if I had already purchased enough of something or a certain variety I wanted. It will help take some guesswork out and save you money and headache.