Order now from seed catalogs

I hate to be the one giving you bad news, but some seed companies are already out of seed. Don’t panic: there are, in fact, plenty of seeds out there. And if one company doesn’t have your favorite variety of tomato or zinnia, chances are another company does.

Before you panic, you may also want to go to your local feed and grain store, garden center, or food co-op to get some seeds. Most of them have seed shelves – some with one brand, some with several.

Most seeds are good for three years. Of the seeds I use, onions and parsnips only last a year. Peppers, parsley, corn and leeks are good for two years. Most of the cabbage family (kale, broccoli, etc.) and squash family (cucumber and zucchini) are good for four years. Basil and a few flowers are good for five.

You can prolong the viability and vigor of your seeds by storing them properly. They do best in a dark, dry place with a temperature below 40 degrees. Freezing is fine too, but put them in an airtight container. In fact, it’s always a good idea.

Despite what I wrote above, I germinated seeds much older than the suggested limits when I couldn’t find the varieties I wanted. There are downsides to using old seeds. They generally germinate at much lower rates. You can test this by wrapping 10 older seeds in a paper towel and keeping it damp on a sponge. If less than half germinates in a week or two, buy new seeds. You can do this now, before placing your seed order.

Older seeds also have less vigor. This is the main reason I avoid them, even though they will germinate at 60%. Not all seeds are created equal, and I want those that are ready to explode with pent-up energy, ready to grow.

Corn seeds planted in a cork tray indoors have a head start and a better chance against crows.

It is important to know which seeds should be sown indoors and which can be planted well directly in the ground. All of your roots are best started outdoors in the ground, although beets can be started indoors. Beans and peas are also sown directly outdoors. Corn can be started in the ground or indoors in flats. Crows love freshly sprouted corn seeds with a small green leaf, so it’s good to plant 4-inch plants indoors if you only have a small patch.

Although you can start vine crops directly in the ground, I have had trouble with striped cucumber beetles that kill young plants when they first sprout by stripping them of their first leaves. So I start the squash family vines in small pots indoors about a month before planting day outdoors. By then, the plants will be large enough to survive some leaf damage from these insect pests.

Heirloom tomatoes are often irregular in size and shape, but they are tasty and you can save their seeds to plant next year.

Tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and lettuce I start indoors in April or buy in six packs. Peppers and some flowers should be grown very early indoors. March 1 is where I am.

What are my favorite companies? This year I ordered most of my seeds from FEDCO Seeds, a cooperative based in Maine. I like the fact that it’s a cooperative and that everything is done in a discreet and sustainable way: their catalog does not contain any color images designed to make my mouth water. They offer small packets of seeds for as little as $2. And instead of saying each variety of tomato is “Best Tasting,” they list the flaws as well as the positive attributes of each variety.

I always get some things from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, an employee-owned company in Maine that is favored by commercial growers. They provide excellent growth information. This year they provide great comparison photos in each section – all of their tomatoes, side by side, for example.

Last year I tried John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds and really liked them. If you’re interested in unusual vegetables like shiso, edamame Karikachi, tatsoi, mizuna, and other Asian vegetables, they’re spoiled for choice. They even have peanuts for gardeners up north! Like Fedco, no color photos in the catalog.

Do you like Italian cuisine? Seeds from Italy offers Italian seeds from the Franchi brand, and more. They also have kitchen items, garden tools and more. All high quality.

Hudson Valley Seeds started as a seed library in New York and has grown into a great seed company with seeds that others don’t carry, like their Siberian Watermelon.

Fruition Seeds in upstate New York is another favorite of mine. They grow much of their seed on their 24 acre farm, specializing in heirloom seed for short seasons like the ones we have in New England. They have some nice varieties that you can’t find anywhere else. The owners are young and full of energy, and they grow only organic seeds.

Carrots and most root crops should be planted directly in the ground.

Renee’s Garden Seeds has great seeds, but no printed catalog. Still, I order from them most years. I love their blends of different colored vegetables in one packet – three colors of beans or two colors of carrots.

And finally, don’t forget Burpee Seeds, one of the oldest and largest seed companies for the home gardener. They sell many varieties they have developed, especially disease-resistant hybrids.

So get busy and buy your seeds now before they’re all sold out!

Henry Homeyer

Henry Homeyer’s blog appears twice a week on gardening-guy.com. Write to him at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746. Please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you would like a reply by post. Or email henry.homeyer@comcast.net.