For some reason this post has been a draft for over a week. Since writing this I have received one more catalog and a notice that another one will be available online to be environmentally friendly.
To date I have received 3 garden catalogs; 2 from Park Seed Co. and one from Johnny's Selected Seeds. I already know we'll order from Johnny's but I'm still undecided about Parks. I think I'll wait for a few more catalogs to arrive. Meanwhile I'm already working on lists of seeds I want.
So, how do I decide what seeds to order? First I go through the catalog from cover to cover and mark everything I'm interested in. Then I go through again and write everything down on a piece of notebook paper. This helps pare down the list a lot because I check the growing conditions for each plant. This usually shortens my list by 1/4.
Next I break things down into 2 categories; flowers/herbs and veggies.
The veggie list is simplest (and shortest).
I start by crossing off anything we normally buy from the farm market; for example, what would I do with a packet of zucchini seeds? One plant makes plenty of zucchini for our family. Next I cross off anything that's on my list of seeds saved from the previous year, like tomatoes, garlic, and (hopefully) beans. The rest is pretty simple. Since I don't have space to grow multiple varieties of most veggies, I simply choose the one that looks the best or the one that our family likes best.
Then comes the flower list that is 4 or 5 times longer than the veggie list. Paring this list down is a much more random process. I often start by crossing off the most expensive items. Last year I stayed with plants I knew I could grow- cosmos and calendula; everything else I either bought or started from seeds I'd saved.
This year I'd like to branch out and try some different plants, so I'll start by crossing off my old favorites like a new calendula or cosmos variety. Then I'll start going back over the descriptions, drawing garden plans, looking at how big the plants get, whether or not I can collect seeds from them, and whether they are annual or perennial. After several weeks of gazing at pages full of pretty plants, staring at lists, and crossing items off my list is usually short enough that it fits the seed budget.
Along the way I try to compare lists and see if one catalog has something cheaper, or if I know for sure I'll order from one (like Johnny's) I'll look for something similar in their catalog. Some of these places have really high shipping costs, so I try and get everything from one or two companies rather than from whoever has something that strikes my fancy.
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