Although beginners should get a small amount of seed locally at a real bargain price in those 99-cent packs, as you advance in your gardening skills or if you just have the time, space and money, you will probably want to try more exotic varieties and that is where seed catalogs come in.
For example, I just bought hundreds of dollars worth of grass, timothy, clover, and vetch seed at the local feed store – all for my pastures where the sheep, horses, and donkeys roam. I also picked up turnip, kale, and some other bulk seeds at Mahoning Valley Milling where you just scoop them into a bag. This is a farm supply store, open to anyone, but not generally where new gardeners go.
Jim (“Snake”) Wehrle, one of the brothers running the feed store, said there was a lot of early demand this year for individual seed packets – the pre-packaged seeds most people see in grocery, hardware, and other stores. According to Jim (who is also the mayor of Punxsutawney, PA (www.15767.com)- the home of Phil and Groundhog Day), they are seeing a lot of early customers and, while those of us with large plots often buy one or two small packets of specialty seeds, the usual buyer for a handful of small packets is the small home gardener.
That day there were Amish farmers in line with me (and other “English” farmers) along with home gardeners but, although I buy a lot of seed at that feed store, they cater to the farm crowd which is more likely to buy fertilizer by the ton and not the more adventurous home gardeners – we buy our basic bulk seed at Mahoning but rely on catalogs for anything more exotic – even something as common as shallots aren’t available in any of the local stores here and some years there are no sweet onion sets available.
As I say, that is where catalogs come in, and one of the biggest and oldest mail order home garden seed suppliers in the world has offered a special deal to NewsBlaze.com readers of this column.
If you order $30 or more of seed from Burpee.com before June 1, 2009, and enter the promo code “growtosave” (without the quotes), they will take $5 off your order.
Those who, like me, pour over seed catalogs every January looking for new plant varieties know that it’s easy to spend $30 on seed or supplies.
If you think shipping is too expensive for seeds, consider how much it costs to drive to a couple of stores looking for the right tomato seed packet.
For beginners I need to explain that seed companies such as Burpee sell both hybrid and “regular” seeds as well as “heirloom” seeds. Burpee.com, for example, shows 40 NEW varieties of tomato seeds just this season and the first “seedless” tomato.
None of these are the tasteless varieties you get in stores but there is quite a variety to choose from.
Hybrid seeds are terrific, often producing the best crops – the downside is that seeds saved from the grown plants often won’t breed true; some may not even produce viable seeds at all. Nevertheless, some hybrids are a part of any larger garden because they are carefully grown to produce the perfect plant. Hybrids are not the same as genetically engineered, they are usually just a careful cross breeding of two specially chosen varieties to get the best of both.
The non-hybrid (regular) seeds are simply the tried and true varieties that have been developed for garden use over the past century. They are less expensive and many are excellent – all are good choices, the seed companies such as Burpee don’t bother with poor varieties.
Heirloom seeds often produce the best-tasting fruits, especially tomatoes. These are the old-fashioned plants, which may be centuries old. They are often less resistant to drought and disease.
Some notable heirloom tomatoes are the Brandywine family, which includes a black tomato and even a white one with very little acid.
Virtually all seed packs except for the most rare and expensive varieties will include enough seed for two or more small suburban gardens, so consider buying and sharing with a friend or two – that way you can try four or five varieties of tomato.
If you are in the northern U.S., then it is time to get tomatoes started indoors but they can be transplanted as late as early June.
Tomatoes can be determinate or indeterminate; the former simply means the plant will be compact and all the fruit will ripen at about the same time. Indeterminate plants will produce ripe fruit for a month or more and need staking or a tomato cage.
Beans are either bush or climbing. Small gardens need climbing varieties because you can grow five or six plants in one mound or even a five-gallon bucket, and they will climb a stake or piece of fence up to six feet high. Bush beans are less work but take a lot more space.
Although the planting season is well-started for cold weather crops such as spinach, kale, radishes, and the like, you can plant them again in the fall – especially Brussels sprouts, which actually improve with a light fall frost.
Any plant marked as a cold weather season vegetable simply means it should ripen in cool or cold weather – pre-summer or late fall. Plant these as soon as possible in the spring and/or in August but don’t expect to find seed packs in your local stores in August; buy or order fall seeds now.