Seed Catalogs and Seed Starting

Oh the choices. . .welcome to the January 2011 issue of  The Dusty Hoe!

“Burgess “– “Gardens Alive: Environmentally Responsible Products that Work!”– “Henry Field’s”– “Southern Exposure Seed Exchange”– “Miller Nurseries”– Stokes”– “Gurney’s”– Johnny’s”– “R. H. Shumway’—“Grower’s Supply Company” –

What DO the above names have in common?  They are all the names of Seed and Garden Supply Catalogs.  Those of us who have been gardening for a while know that winter is the season of the Garden Catalog.  Our Mailboxes are jam-packed with them.  Why, just today, I received three more. But which one might be best?

A question was recently asked about whether or not it would even be wise to order seeds from a garden catalog.  They questioner wanted advice about a specific catalog.  One response was that ordering from garden catalogs was expensive.  The simple fact of the matter is that this COULD be true, depending on your circumstances.

Value is the issue.  If what a Seed or Garden Supply Catalog offers is important to you, then the value that you would derive makes it worth ordering from.  Here’s an example.

If you are the type of gardener whose primary interest is in growing the usual ingredients for salads in season (lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and cucumbers, for instance), don’t bother with ordering from seed catalogs.  For one thing, the packet of seeds that is distributed to each gardener by the Dauphin County Parks and Recreation Department each year is sufficient for part of your needs because it includes Radish, Lettuce and Cucumber seeds.  You can obtain the most popular species of Tomato plants or seeds and Bell Pepper plants or seeds from the local supermarkets, Lowe’s or Home Depot stores.

However, if you are interested in starting an All Organic garden, or if you want to plant open-pollinated or heritage varieties, or if you want to try some cultivar of sweet corn other than Silver Queen, then the Seed and Garden Supply catalogs have something to offer.  Want miniature heads of lettuce that can be served up as individual salads (I grew these last year and they are terrific!). Want watercress, land cress, corn salad, sorrel, komatsuna, misuna or baby bok choi?  Often the seed catalogs can make the difference between serving mere iceberg or leaf lettuce or presenting something tastier or fancier.  Here are my top choices for Seed Catalogs.  Maybe you have another opinion.  Please feel free to comment!

Stokes Seeds, Inc.

Box 548

Buffalo, NY   14240-0548


Farmers order from Stokes, especially farmers who are growing in northern climates and Canada.  Stokes specializes in hardier varieties of plants and flowers that will perform in cooler climates.  This means that you can obtain certain varieties of vegetables that can be set out earlier (such as in March and April).  Also, the descriptions in the catalog are EXTENSIVE, and include directions about how to grow each type of vegetable or flower.  Most importantly they offer a choice between treated and untreated (organic) seed, and the catalog features heritage varieties from which you can save seed.  Careful, though!  Because they also sell to farmers, they offer seeds in quantities of 1000, 10,000, 100,000 and up.  Small gardeners must be sure that they pay attention to listings and purchase by the packet or ounce.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Inc.

955 Benton Avenue

Winslow, ME   04901-2601


Once again, very EXTENSIVE product descriptions are very helpful in assisting you to choose varieties that are best for local growing conditions.  Like Stokes, Johnny’s Seed Catalog has information and vegetable choices that you can set out early for an extended growing season.  Because farmers also buy from Johnny’s, there is a lot of information about the nicest “market varieties,” which is also helpful for small gardeners to know.  Over 1800 products and plants to choose from, including organic and heritage varieties.  What’s really special is the “Easy Choice” designations throughout the catalog, which literally highlight (in yellow) the easiest plants and vegetables from novice or beginning gardeners.  What’s also nice is that Johnny’s has over 40 Instructional Videos available on their website, and they also provide growing guides.

Wondering when it might be safe to set out the Tomatoes and Peppers?  A Frost Chart appears here

Harrisburg is Zone 7.


In general, seeds should be sown outside according to the directions on the seed packet. Since Harrisburg is in Zone 7 (some say Zone 6), knowing the last frost date is important. If you intend to start your garden by planting seeds outside, here is some general information:

Very early spring (as soon as the ground can be worked) this would be March for us–

  • onions
  • peas
  • spinach

Early Spring – Generally April for us —

  • lettuce
  • beets
  • carrots
  • radishes
  • dill
  • cilantro
  • cabbage
  • broccoli
  • celery
  • kale
  • potatoes
  • collards

After Last Frost Date – Generally May for us—

  • beans
  • melons
  • carrots
  • corn
  • cucumbers
  • eggplant
  • okra
  • squash
  • pumpkins
  • tomatoes
  • peppers

However, many folks want to get an early start by starting plants from seed indoors.  The first thing you need is a space indoors that gets lots of natural light from a window (but no drafts), or a table in an area where you can hang a fluorescent light.  You don’t have to buy any expensive grow lights: rather, you can get an inexpensive fixture at the local big box stores or Wal-Mart that can be hung from the ceiling by a couple of chains or that can be mounted under a cabinet that overhangs the area where the plants will go.

The next thing that you need to know is the Last Frost Date for our area.  Then read the seed packet to see when the plants need to be set out.  Most seed packets will actually say something like “start plants indoors 8 weeks (for example) before the last frost date.” Suppose the last frost date is May 10.  Then you use a calendar to count backwards from that date for 8 weeks to determine when you should start the seed indoors.  Of course the WHEN to start seed indoors will vary from plant to plant.  It is helpful to make up a chart that will give you a timetable of when to plant each type. Generally the order would be something like this , (beginning in February through to May):  onions, spinach, cabbage, collard,  peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, squash.  Follow the information on the seed packet so that the growing plants are ready to set outside when the weather is right for them to survive.  A handy chart that you can print out and use is found at

You will need some containers to start your seeds in.  Small yogurt containers, cut-down milk cartons, and old margarine tubs are good.  You can also start seeds in old egg cartons. Punch some holes in the bottom of the containers so that excess moisture can drain out and place the containers in an old tray to keep water off the tabletop.   Another option is to use seed-starting kits purchased from the hardware stores or grocery stores. One type of new container is the Cow Pot, little planters that are made entirely of composted Cow Manure ( .  Then you add your soil or growing medium.  The key is to make sure everything is CLEAN.  I like to use fresh coconut coir mixture (such as WONDER SOIL) moistened by water mixed with a very small amount of Miracle Gro Starter Solution.  You can also use a mixture of Neptune’s Harvest and water, or TerraCycle Liquified Worm Castings and water to enrich your seedling soil.  DON’T USE OLD SOIL, OR DIRT FROM THE GARDEN.  Old soil or dirt from the yard that has not been sterilized could transmit diseases and pests that will kill the young plants.

Speaking of CLEAN, I need to warn you to beware of PEAT POTS.

Have you ever planted seeds in peat pots or pop-up peat pots, only to have your seedlings “stretch out and die?”  Or have you ever noticed clouds of little “fruit flies” hanging around your seedlings?  There are two reasons for these problems.  First of all, those little pop-up peat pots and the peat growing medium most people are used to have no essential nutrients to keep seedlings alive.  All your seeds have to live in is a soggy little peat bog. Because peat alone cannot properly nourish the growing plant, the seedlings will damp off and die.  The solution to this problem is to moisten the peat with water to which a little liquid fertilizer or compost tea has been added.  An even better solution is to use coconut coir planting medium.

And did you know that peat, peat pots and the little pop-up peat pots are often contaminated with a little bug called a root maggot?  When these maggots grow up, they turn into little flies.  But when they are little worms, they feast on your seedlings.  This is why some seedlings grown in peat seem to disappear.  The only solution to this problem is to sterilize the peat products by wetting them down with a 50% water and 50% Hydrogen Peroxide solution.  After wetting them down, give them several days to dry and then use them.

Actually, I think that peat pots, et al, are more trouble than they are worth.  I’d rather use little pots made from cardboard egg cartons or newspaper than bother with peat.

Well, this has been a rather lengthy post, but I think that the information is good.  What do YOU think?  You can post your comments by clicking on the “LEAVE A COMMENT” link at the very top of this page.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Vidunegrprt on June 3, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    i was wondering read your article and im uderstand thats problem. we are same to looking for a solution


    • Posted by gardengal on June 18, 2011 at 11:27 am

      I am sorry. I don’t understand which problem you are talking about. If you specifically tell what your problem is, perhaps we can come up with a solution.


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