Happy 2017! Ignore that dull grey snow, cruddy-looking ice and lifeless landscape outside your window. Spring is closer than it appears. The days are already getting to be a bit longer, and once you clear the next 2-3 months of shoveling, shivering and slushing around, you’ll be happily back in the garden surrounded by green.
This is a great time of year to be thinking about your 2017 garden. And even better than that, you can start taking action. You can plot out what you plan to grow, and you can start getting seeds.
Here are my 5 rules for seed-buying:
- Buy varieties of vegetables that you can’t find in the market, or that are expensive to buy in the market. Chances are the seeds are no more expensive than the cost of more mundane varieties. Make sure they are vegetables that you (and your family members) actually like to eat. In my house, that’s the sad fate of broccoli — I like it and it’s a cost-effective thing to grow, but everyone else in the house hates it.
- Get seeds for the vegetables that you would otherwise buy as seedlings. Then grow them yourself — it’s easier than you think and it will save you a lot of money. Tomatoes are a good example of this. (We’ll get into the details of this in a later blog).
- Don’t buy seeds for vegetables that aren’t really worth growing in your garden, either because they take up too much space, they are too high maintenance, or because homegrowing doesn’t give you a noticeable bump-up in flavor and cost savings. I think potatoes and carrots are good examples of this.
- Try something new every year. You may stumble on your new favorite food. Oftentimes, the best-tasting varieties aren’t sold in markets at all, because they are too delicate for the rigors of shipping and they are too small of a niche for mass production.
- Buy seeds for vegetables that make the “dirty dozen” list of foods that have the most pesticides sprayed on them. Tomatoes and cucumbers are on the list, along with other popular foods. You can grow those foods without pesticides.
The next step is — where do you buy your seeds?
There are a lot of seed companies that you can buy from online. Dozens of them. I’ve bought from quite a few of them over the years, but I’ve settled on my favorite (for now anyway). It’s Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. This company popped up about 20 years ago, founded by a very ambitious 17-year-old young man, Jere Gettle, who has a natural talent for picking seed varieties and advocating for seed diversity. He’s built his company into an impressive enterprise. Every year he introduces new varieties of vegetables — all sorts of eye-popping and interesting vegetables and fruits that will wow you. The catalog alone is worth looking at. This
year’s new addition is a tomato “mad scientist” who has come up with some very interesting new varieties. I get probably half of my seeds from this company. It’s best to order now, in the depths of winter, because some of the seed varieties sell out.
For the rest of my seeds, I buy from local sources. First up is Plum Beach Farms in Salisbury, a nursery and garden store. Owner Freeman Condon does a great job providing a wide variety of hard-to-find seeds, along with all of the supplies you need to grow them. Next up is Harbor Garden Center, also in Salisbury. Owner Tim Lamprey has a good selection of seeds. More than that, both Freeman and Tim are excellent sources of information on pretty much everything you need to know about growing things. You will never get this kind of service in the big box stores. My third local source of seeds is Dodge’s Agway, which has 3 locations in the area. Agway is your standard farmstore, and this is where I get standard varieties of vegetables (such as silver queen corn) in bulk quantities at low prices. Agway also has good deals on all the other things you need – seed-starting soil, seedling containers, fertilizers, etc. the staff is always friendly and helpful, it’s a family-run business. None of these places will have their 2017 seeds available for sale until about March or so.
Buying seeds and planning your 2017 garden is a great way to brush off the winter blahs.
John Macone operates a neighborhood organic farm in Amesbury. For more information, visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Farmerjohnsfoods/