Recently Rich donned a heavy jacket, gloves, and hat then ventured through swirling snow to the mailbox. He returned with seed catalogs. Seems early but there are two good reasons why we like to receive them in the depth of winter.
Seed catalogs make great winter reading.
First, they make fun reading as we sit in the cheery glow of the woodstove. It’s pleasant to see photos of colorful vegetables. Makes us long for spring.
Second, they remind us it’s time to buy our seeds. Gardening was amazingly popular last year as Coronavirus confined millions of people to their homes and potential food shortages were a concern. So many people bought seeds that they were hard to find. The lesson: Buy early.
We manage our small garden intensively and mix composted chicken manure into the soil. It makes vegetables seemingly explode in growth.
Here’s how we buy seeds:
Mail Order: Our favorite mail-order seed source is Seed Savers Exchange (seedsavers.org) in Decorah, Iowa. They specialize in organic, non-hybrid, non-GMO seeds. In other words, they sell classic vegetable varieties. We eat many winter squash, and Seed Savers sells a wide diversity of varieties. Our favorite is Silver Bell. It’s full of flavor, keeps all winter, and is just the right size for two people. We have ordered seeds from large format catalogs that come to our mailbox unrequested. They’ve been good seeds, but they tend to have fewer varieties of winter squash and some other vegetables. Most also sell flower seeds and fruit trees.
Over the Counter: Right after January 1st, home and garden stores put out their garden seeds. We often buy a dozen or so of the small envelopes of seeds.
Generally, they sell seeds packed by two types of companies. One is name brand seeds. The other is packets sold by companies with names we don’t always recognize. They are much less expensive than name brands. We usually buy some of each type and have had good success with the less expensive ones.
A Planting Tip
Lettuce, carrots, parsnips, radish, and many other seeds are tiny. It’s easy to plant them too close together. That results in tedious thinning in a month or two. We take the time to plant the seeds further apart to reduce the thinning chore. This also stretches the seeds in the envelope to produce more food. Often, we replant early vegetables and get a second, late-season crop.
Use chicken manure to enrich the soil.
Save space and cool the cabin.
Intensive gardening maximizes space
Baby Chicks May Also Be in Short Supply
Last year hatcheries had trouble meeting the demand for baby chicks. Some customers were disappointed that they weren’t able to buy the breeds they wanted. We place our order at Hoover’s Hatcher (hoovershatchery.com) in the winter so we get the chicks we want at the best time for us.
Chicks need to be warm until their insulating feather grow.
Seeds or baby chicks……order early.
Savoring Seed Catalogs
There’s a surefire way to tell we are in the depths of winter. It’s the arrival of garden seed catalogs in the mail. We get many at Winding Pathways.
Seed catalogs make great winter reading.
Some come from massive companies that sell a wide range of flower and vegetable seeds plus tree seedlings and garden supplies. Others are from companies that specialize in one type of seed or plant, like fruit tree seedlings or prairie plants.
We buy vegetable seeds in late winter from either the Dutchman’s Store in Cantril, Iowa, or the Stringtown Grocery near Kalona, Iowa. Both are run by Mennonites or Amish people and sell bulk seeds. Scoop a spoonful from a large jar and deposit them in a small envelope. Then write the code and vegetable name on the envelope and pay on the way out. We’ve found the seeds to be of excellent quality and much less expensive than similar ones sold in stores or through catalogs or the computer.
Not everyone has access to a bulk seed store, so buying prepackaged seeds makes sense. Sometimes seed catalogs list vegetable varieties we want to try and can’t get otherwise. This year, for example, we will plant a new dwarf winter squash. The vines are short and the fruits just the right size for two people.
We usually buy trees from the National Arbor Day Foundation, and prairie plants from Prairie Moon Nursery. Arbor Day Foundation trees are small but we’ve had excellent results from them, and they are inexpensive.
In early 2020 we plan to convert about 3,000 square feet of lawn to low profile pollinator habitat. We’ll buy a prairie seed mix from Pheasants Forever (pfhabitatstore.com). They have many mixes available that are suitable for different soils. They are most appropriate for larger areas.
Happy Planning and Planting.
Each winter we love discovering colorful seed catalogs in our mail. The landscape may be snowy and the air frigid but flipping through catalogs and savoring photos of flowering prairies and ripe tomatoes makes us think spring.
We buy many types of seeds for our prairie and woodland restorations, the chicken run and the vegetable garden. Often, we order from several companies and buy some seeds in local garden supply stores.
Like many wildflower enthusiasts, we prefer buying seeds grown as close to our Iowa home as possible. They are well adapted to our climate and soil. Googling NATIVE PLANT SEED SOURCES will steer anyone to seed companies close to where they live, even if that’s Australia!
Here are some of our favorite sources:
SEED SAVERS EXCHANGE, 3094 North Winn Road, Decorah, IA 52101. www.seedsavers.org. This is our favorite source for garden vegetable seeds. The catalog lists hundreds of varieties. Many are heritage types hard to find anywhere else. It’s where we buy seeds for Silver Bell winter squash, our favorite. Seed Savers is a fun place to visit located near the college town of Decorah, Iowa.
ALBERT LEA SEED HOUSE, 1414 West Main Street, Albert Lea, MN 56007. www.alseed.com. We’ve bought prairie wildflower seeds and a few pounds of turnip seeds that thrived in our chicken run from this company, and we enjoy visiting their fun store.
ERNST SEEDS,8884 Mercer Pike, Meadville, PA 16335. www.ernstseed.com. A few years ago, we were looking for buckwheat seed to plant in our chicken run. We found it at Ernst Seeds, and it thrived. Ernst sells a wide range of seeds.
ION EXCHANGE, Harpers Ferry, Iowa, www.ionxchange.com. Ion Exchange sells both seeds and started plants for prairie and woodland restorations.
PHEASANTS FOREVER, www.pheasantsforever.org. This conservation organization sells seed mixtures especially developed to provide wildlife habitat and food. It is an excellent source of reasonably priced seeds for planting large areas.
Seeds are one of nature’s miracles. Given the right care and location each tiny and seemingly dead seed brings life to the land that is a feast for the eye and palate.