Understanding Seed Catalogs: 15 Features to Look For

| 12/13/2013 6:06:00 PM

Tags: seed catalogs, heirloom vegetable varieties, garden planning, Virginia, Pam Dawling,

Are you already thinking about snuggling by your woodstove browsing seed catalogs?  Don’t get sucked in byHeirloom Butternut Squash Varieties catalog superlatives! Careful reading of the variety descriptions will ensure you don’t miss something basic that would tell you this variety is not for your farm. Here are 15 phrases to watch for:

“Adaptable” “easy to grow” are good phrases to look for. “Requires an attentive grower” is a helpful warning.

“Early zucchini, 47 days from sowing” - but even the late ‘Costata Romanesco’ is only 52 days. How important is it to have zucchini 5 days earlier, especially after your first sowing? “Early maturing” isn’t useful if the seed rots in cold soil, so check both points.

Disease resistance/tolerance. Read the 66 items in Johnny’s Vegetable Disease Code list. Don’t be a vegetable hypochondriac– your plants won’t get everything! ‘Raven’ zucchini has no listed disease-resistance, while ‘Dunja’ withstands four diseases. Both have open plants, high yields of dark green zucchini. ‘Dunja’ has only small spines. No mention of ‘Raven’s spines – are they wicked? ‘Dunja’ is organically grown, 'Raven' is not. ‘Dunja’ costs twice as much as 'Raven'! What price organic seed, disease-resistance and short spines?

 “Semi-easy harvesting”: faint praise. ‘Spineless Perfection’ zucchini (45 days) has an open plant, ‘Tigress’ (50 days) is only semi-open, and makes no promises about lack of spines. Both are medium green, high yielding, cylindrical, with the same disease-resistance package. Price is very similar. Is the saving of a dollar on 1,000 seeds worth the costs of a five-day delay and spines?

“Heirlooms taste best” Some old heirloom vegetable varieties are rare for a reason! People didn’t like them much! Others are fantastic and easy to grow in quantity. Finding which are which is the challenge. Is “mild” flavor better than “rich” or “robust”, or not? Your call.

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