Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers scores of choices when it comes to pumpkins. These two pages show and describe only 30 of the more than 60 pumpkin varieties that Johnny’s includes in its 2021 catalog.
Having trouble deciding which heirloom tomato to grow? Johnny’s terrific pictures and descriptions can go a long way to help in the decision process. ANDREW MESSINGER
There are dozens and dozens of leafy greens to pick from for your salad garden. On this page, you can see color, shape and texture for nearly 50 varieties and there are many more in the "green’s" section of the Johnny’s catalog ANDREW MESSINGER
Nearly an inch thick, the 2021 Whole Seed Catalog is a must-have encyclopedia when it comes to heirlooms and open-pollinated seeds as well as pages and pages of growing advice. ANDREW MESSINGER
Renee’s seed packets (top) have three distinct text sections about the seed in the packet and the packet artwork is visually appealing. The information on the left (long) side includes both germination and days to harvest. The Burpee seed packets offer much less for the new or inquisitive gardener. ANDREW MESSINGER
As we embark into the new year, most of us hope it’s a time for new opportunities. This is oh so true in the garden.
Every seed or plant we put in the soil is a new opportunity. We remember last year’s mistakes. Some of us have already ordered vegetable seeds, and some seeds have even arrived. The catalogs, printed and electronic, are arriving. Now the big questions are, will we learn from our mistakes, and for new(er) gardeners, how can we learn?
Gardeners have to read. If you simply do the same thing every year, planting the same vegetables in the same location following the same practices and not getting a good foundation in your gardening practices, you will simply repeat your mistakes and get frustrated. There is nothing worse in my book than a gardener who quits. And no, there is no such thing as a black thumb. There are, however, gardeners who simply don’t take the time to learn the basics.
One of the best learning tools that every gardener should have is a good collection of seed and plant catalogs. I divide these into two categories. The first is the catalog that just wants to sell and offers little to no help. The second type of catalog is the one that has not just pictures but illustrations and charts as well as cultural information on how to grow a wide range of plants.
In recent years, there has been a twist on this theme, and now many seed companies and nurseries offer online catalogs along with online videos and tutorials. These too are great learning tools. Some nurseries abandoned their print catalogs years ago, and I thought this was a really big mistake. It broke the link between the nursery and the customer where a great catalog was a tool, not just an offering book. Klehm’s made this change several years ago. They are now out of business.
It’s hard to pick a favorite catalog, but when you view these catalogs as tools there is one that stands out above all the others. This is the Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, which has been publishing annual catalogs since 1998, though now you can also order from Baker Creek through rareseeds.com.
If you want Baker Creek’s large-format master catalog that’s 500 pages thick and chock full of everything you don’t know about vegetable gardening and veggie seeds, you’ll have to go to the ordering page at rareseeds.com/requestcat/catalog and shell out $13. It’s a great investment in your garden. On the same page, you can order Baker Creek’s free catalog, and while nice to have, it’s not the encyclopedia that the paid version is. The paid version covers veggies as well as ornamentals that can be grown from seed.
One important note about this company, though. They only sell open-pollinated and organic seed, so you won’t be getting the most modern hybrids and genetically manipulated seeds, but you will be getting seeds that have passed the tests of time and other gardeners.
For gardeners with a bit more experience and dirt under their nails, there’s Johnny’s Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com). At half the size of the Whole Seed Catalog, Johnny’s is free but lacks a good deal of the detail and depth found in the Whole Seed Catalog. To be fair, Johnny’s is after a different audience. I’d say that the Johnny’s customer has some experience under his or her belt but needs a broader range of choices than those offered in the standard retail seed catalogs from places like Burpee whose seed racks are staples in just about every garden center and home center. Johnny’s tries to cater to both the professional farmer and the home gardener, and that can cause some issues.
When reading through Johnny’s you’ll notice lots of references to crop rotations, growing in tunnels, seeds for different soils and climates and so on. But take your time with this catalog, and you’ll get quite a bit from it. You can buy a few seeds, or you can buy seeds by the thousands or by the pound. There are seeds designated for the home garden as well and the commercial grower, so look closely.
Johnny’s has also done something quite unique. For example, on the broccoli pages you’ll see comparative pictures of several types of broccoli so you’ll see the different textures as well as colors and go on to read about the differences in taste, habit and days to harvest. In the carrot section there are charts showing the depth (or length) of the carrot roots as well as their colors. For more help, the carrot selections are divided into early, main and storage uses so you don’t have to hunt around through each variety to find what you’re looking for.
In the baby green’s section there’s a small thumbnail picture of just about every variety of salad and kitchen green you could imagine including Asian greens, kales, brassicas, arugula, beets and chard, spinach, chicory as well as specialty greens and others. You can mix and match by buying smaller packets or buy 25 pounds of seed and cover that old potato field with greens.
It’s the same with tomatoes where there’s a panoramic chart of paste, plum and Roma types and two pages of comparative pictures of 20 different heirlooms. Pages of squashes and melons replete with pictures, charts and growing guides. Each section in the catalog has a full descriptor of the vegetable with complete cultural instructions letting you know when to plant, how much to plant, what the soil temperature should be and when you can expect to begin harvesting.
For the most part, Johnny’s seeds are organic, but Johnny’s often give you a choice and many of their seeds are pelletized for easier handling and better germination. Pelletizing can also eliminate or reduce the need for thinning in crops like carrots and radish. My favorite from Johnny’s last year was the “Cheap Frills Greens Mix,” which is all brassicas. After planting in September, I was able to get several harvests of very tasty and a bit spicy late greens that were wonderful.
Lastly in my favorite veggie picks is Renee’s Garden Seeds (reneesgarden.com). No print catalog here, but Renee’s does have some of the most beautiful and informative seed packets in the business. The packets often contain an extra flap on the back of the packet that has additional growing and harvesting information unlike what you find on seed rack packets (though you will find Renee’s seed racks in some local garden centers).
I find these packets not just beautiful but when I take the seed packet into the garden all the information I need is right in my hand. No one liners about “plant 1/4 inch deep, thin when 1 inch tall.” There’s usually a paragraph on starting the seed, another on “growing notes,” and yet a third on “harvest and use” as well as the information on the overleaf flap and a guide along the top left edge of the packet that includes all the gritty detail like seeds per inch, days to germinate, days to harvest and more. All really great stuff to have while you’re planting as well as planning.
Last year my main “greens” crop was Renee’s Baby Leaf Lettuce Heirloom Cutting Mix. Harvesting began about two weeks after planting and the harvest continued from May through August with no replanting, just three initial sowings 10 days apart. I was simply amazed, and the flavors and textures were wonderful. This was supplemented by her Baby Leaf Spinach Catalina and the Gourmet Mesclun Salad Asian Baby Leaf. This last one may not be for everyone though, as it does have some bite, and more of a bite the longer it’s left — but don’t let it bolt or flower. This is the one my wife liked the most due to its distinct flavors.
Some of you may want to try Jung Seed and others will be tried and true to Burpee — Jung for unusual and unique seed, Burpee for hybrids and whatever they’re pushing as “new.”
A word of advice: When planting or seeding a “new” variety, never fully rely on the catalog description when it comes to taste. Do your own testing of just a few plants or seeds. There will always be more next year if it’s really great. And something else new if it isn’t. Keep growing.
I’ll be reviewing seed starting in the first February column. The East End is in hardiness zone 7a based on the latest 2012 information. Trees, shrubs and perennials that you buy should be winter hardy to zone 7a.
Based on last freeze and frost dates as well as soil temperature information, you can start seeds for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants indoors in the last week of February and get them into the garden in May when the soils warm. Some cool crops like broccoli (cool types) cauliflower and cabbage can be seeded outdoors as early as March 24 but do succession seeding for insurance. Onions and potatoes can be planted as early as the second week in March, but there may be losses, so again, succession plantings. Summer veggies like beans, squashes (including pumpkins), cucumbers and sunflowers can be directly sown outdoors around May 10. For insurance, start some of these indoors around April 1.
All of these dates need to be flexible. Watch the weather and soil temperatures. For the above dates, areas in East Hampton to Montauk should add at least one week. Pine Barrens of Westhampton and Manorville may also need to add one week. Riverhead and areas west can use the above dates or subtract a week if it’s a warm spring. Southampton’s first frost-free safe date used to be around April 24. With climate change this may be a week or more earlier, but it just takes one hard frost to kill tender plants.
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