Seed catalogs bring hope for gardeners

December 28, 2017 | Doug Oster comments

It’s said that a $50 investment in seeds can pay off with nearly $1,500 of produce. There’s something special about watching that little seed come to fruition in just a few short months.
The economic downturn a decade ago brought seeds back to the forefront of gardening as people were looking for any way possible to save money. Reading seed catalogs is an annual ritual for gardeners.
Another reason to start from seed is to grow varieties that can’t be found at nurseries or garden centers. When it’s time to plant seeds in a few months, I’ll be writing about how to get them started indoors.
Here’s my annual run down of seed sources along with a couple ideas of what I’ll be growing from each of them.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Mansfield, Mo.
The company was founded by Jere Gettle in 1998 when he was 17. It’s grown to be one of the most respected sources of seeds and plants.

Violet Jasper' was one of the tomatoes from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds grown in Doug Oster's garden last year. seed catalogs

‘Violet Jasper’ was one of the tomatoes from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds grown in Doug Oster’s garden last year.

Last year, I grew ‘Black Beauty’ and ‘Violet Jasper’ tomatoes from the catalog. They will both return to this year’s garden. ‘Golden King of Siberia’ is another favorite.
This year’s cover shows off the stunning colors of ‘Atomic Grape’ tomato, that photo makes my mouth water, I’m ordering a packet. ‘Dark Galaxy’ tomato has “mottled skin resembling a scene from deep space,” according to the catalog.

'Dark Galaxy' from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is an interesting looking variety. One reason to start from seed is to grow something different. seed catalogs

‘Dark Galaxy’ from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is an interesting looking variety. One reason to start from seed is to grow something different.

 

'Purple King Tut' is a pea that was discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun for Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. seed catalogs

‘Purple King Tut’ is a pea that was discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun for Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

There’s a lot more to the catalog than tomatoes, the beautiful photography is reminiscent of the finest gardening magazines.
‘King Tut Purple Pea’ has a fascinating history. One of the best parts of growing heirlooms is the great stories that come along with them. The original seed was said have been discovered in Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. Amazing purple pods with bright green peas can be eaten young as snow peas or shelled when mature.
‘Yellow Torch’ Mexican sunflower is an amazing and rare variety of the plant which is a pollinator magnet.
Details: 417-924-8917 or rareseeds.com

'Atomic Grape' is the tomato on the cover of this year's Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog.

‘Atomic Grape’ is the tomato on the cover of this year’s Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog. seed catalogs

High Mowing Organic Seeds
I was introduced to High Mowing Organic Seeds by fellow Trib columnist Jessica Walliser.
• ‘Red Racer’ tomato is a new All-America Selection. I trialed it last year, and the plants didn’t go into the ground until July 15, yet produced lots of 2 ounce, tasty tomatoes before frost. It will be interesting to see how they do when planted early in the season.
• ‘Astro’ arugula is mild, productive and one of my favorites. ‘
• Esmee’ is a new arugula introduction is described as having more of a nutty flavor than spicy with upright leaves that are very cold tolerant.
• ‘Kossak’ kolrabi in the catalog is a variety Dan Yarnick of Yarnick’s Farm in Indiana raves about. It’s huge, the size of a cabbage, but stays tender and stores well too.
• Chris and Jennifer Brenckle of Brenckle’s Organic Farm and Greenhouse in Zelienople made a point of telling me about ‘Gilbertie’ tomato for it’s firm texture and wonderful flavor.
Details: 802-472-6174 or highmowingseeds.com

Red Racer' from High Mowing Seeds is a new All-America Selection that Doug Oster grew last season. Even though the plants didn't go into the ground until July 15th, the plant produced lots of small tomatoes. seed catalogs

‘Red Racer’ from High Mowing Seeds is a new All-America Selection that Doug Oster grew last season. Even though the plants didn’t go into the ground until July 15th, the plant produced lots of small tomatoes.

Heirloomseeds.com
Since 1988, Heirloomseeds.com, based in West Finley, Washington County, has been a great local source for heritage varieties. Thomas and Barb Hauch offer some of the most interesting and rare varieties for gardeners.
• You can’t go wrong for a $2 packet of ‘Brandywine Blend’ tomatoes. This mix of the most famous heirloom tomato includes red, pink, yellow and black fruit.
• ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ pole beans were carried from the east to Oklahoma by the Cherokee tribe on the infamous 1830s journey. The bean is my favorite pole variety for its unique nutty flavor and vigorous growth habit.
• ‘Kagraner Summer Lettuce’ is a butterhead variety from Germany that is slow to bolt when the weather warms up.
Details: heirloomseeds.com

Burpee
Since 1881 W. Atlee Burpee & Co. has been one of the biggest seed suppliers in the county. They now are selling plants, too.
‘Atlas’ tomato produces large, one pound meaty tomatoes on a stocky plant bred to be grown in containers. ‘Mad Hatter’ pepper is a new All-America Selection with small, sweet Scotch bonnets. The flavor intensifies as the peppers turn from green to red and might have a hint of heat during a hot summer
Details: 800-888-1447 or burpee.com

Seeds from Italy
Seeds from Italy sells Franchi Seeds, Italy’s oldest family-owned seed company. You can get the real deal from the company. That’s evident since there are five different arugula varieties available.
• Arugula ‘Rucola Selvatica’ (Wild Arugula) claims to be the finest selection of wild arugula. It’s a slow grower, ready in 50 days, with lobed leaves and a pungent taste.
• ‘Fennel of Parma’ produces smaller round white heads with great taste. It enjoys a light, fertile soil and plenty of water.
• ‘Cuor di Bue’ or oxheart is one of my favorite tomatoes for it’s flavor, shape and firm texture.
Details: 785-748-0959 or growitalian.com

Kitchen Garden Seeds
John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds have some interesting new varieties this year.
• The ‘Phoenix Nasturtium Mixture’ offer a completely different looking flower. The unusual split, ruffly petals give these yellow, peach, orange and red flowers look like a flame or butterfly. There’s nothing easier in the world than growing nasturtiums and they are edible too.
• The double flowers of ‘Zinerella Purple’ zinnia are a new form of “scabiosa flowered” flowers. They are 2-inch-wide flowers that resemble a double coneflower with a dense dome of ruffles surrounding a dark eye.
• ‘Ippon Negi’ onions look like a cross between scallions and a small leek. They are easy to grow as a spring crop with a sweet, mild flavor. Blanching the stems by hilling with soil will produce longer white shanks.
Details: 860-567-6086 or kitchengardenseeds.com

There are countless other great seed catalogs out there. Don’t be afraid to give them a try if there’s a variety calling your name.

Doug Oster is editor of Everybody Gardens, a website operated by 535Media, LLC. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or doster@535mediallc.com. See other stories, videos, blogs, tips and more at everybodygardens.com.