A guest post by Elizabeth Matlin
Nothing warms the winter heart of a gardener quite like the arrival of mail-order seed catalogs. They usually start pouring through my mail slot in January, but I must have gotten onto some übergardener list since a few arrived in December! I think I did go overboard last year buying seeds. I knew I couldn’t possibly plant them all, but when you’re a seedaholic (does anyone know of a 12-step program for this?), space and weather limitations matter not. Gorgeous color photos, rare heirloom varieties and promises of high yields actually induce an endorphin-like high as I sit down with a mug of tea or hot chocolate and flip through the catalogs, copiously making lists and comparing prices. Those seed companies, dangling their tantalizing bait, know just how starved northern gardeners are by mid-winter for dirt under their fingernails. Visions of home-grown tomatoes dance in our heads!
This will be my third year planting an early spring garden, so I am a tiny bit justified in stocking up on seeds for this extra growing season (at least that’s how I rationalize my addiction). I never realized some cold-hardy varieties of lettuce could germinate and grow in winter until I saw some big lettuce plants one April at the Chicago Botanic Garden that had been seed-started outside in February! As I see the mountains of snow outside right now, I know only the miracle workers at CBG could pull this off. (How do you dig in frozen ground anyway?) By the first week of April, I plan to direct sow lettuce, radish, spinach, arugula, broccoli raab and baby pak choi seeds in my community plot. A few weeks later, my onion sets, peas, and carrots will be sown along with another round of lettuce, etc. Succession planting (making several small plantings of the same seeds each a few weeks apart) ensures that you have a steady supply of a vegetable rather than force-feeding yourself on a single huge harvest. (Trust me, eating broccoli raab twice a day for a month is challenging.) It’s also easier to squeeze shorter planting projects into a busy schedule rather than marathon sessions. Your back muscles will thank you, too!
So let me dangle some “seed bait” in front of you and see if you’re garden starved enough to nibble. Below are some of my favorite seed sources, all with on-line catalogs. Here’s an idea: Invite each child in your family to select a variety as their garden project, taking the vegetable from seed to harvest to kitchen. Let the endorphin rush begin!
Territorial Seed Company www.territorialseed.com 800-626-0866
The Cook’s Garden www.cooksgarden.com 800-457-9703
John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds www.kitchengardenseeds.com 860-567-6086
Johnny’s Selected Seeds www.johnnyseeds.com 877-564-6697
Seeds of Change www.seedsofchange.com 888-762-7333