A gardener who reads every word of the garden catalogs that arrive in the mail would have enough reading material to last at least until seedling planting time in April.

The Fedco Seeds catalog, which includes Moose Tubers and Organic Growers Supply, runs 160 pages of mostly tiny type, while a separate book, “Fedco Trees,” adds another 70 pages.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds runs 230 pages, but it has more pictures.

Every catalog has its own style, based on the personality of its owners/managers and the type of customer it seeks to attract.

Fedco, a nonprofit cooperative, is for the back-to-the-land types and their sympathizers, while Johnny’s is for back-to-the-landers who have cleaned up enough to succeed in the corporate world. Pinetree Garden Seeds is for suburbanites who wish they had enough land to farm. Wood Prairie Farm is for dedicated organic people, who especially like potatoes and fighting Monsanto.

These are the Maine catalogs. Others are described in the sidebar at right.


Although I am mostly cleaned up, I love Fedco. It is printed on the same type of newsprint you now hold in your hand – unless you’re reading online – is black and white, has whimsical drawings rather than photographs and has a wonderfully homey touch. It is organically political – and politically organic.

On Page 3, CR Lawn, Fedco’s founder, explains the decision to continue carrying seeds sold by Hild, a subsidiary of Bayer, and Syngenta, two companies that produce neonicotinoid pesticides, including thiamethoxam, used for seed coatings. (Neonicotinoid is thought by some to be implicated in honey bee colony collapse disorder.)

While not all of the seed that Fedco sells is organic, none is coated with pesticides or is genetically modified.

Although Lawn wonders if it is appropriate to support pesticide makers, many commercial farmers need popular brands from those companies, including Raven zucchini, Masai haricot vert (green beans) and Silver Queen corn, to satisfy customer demand. So Fedco lets its customers decide for themselves. Suppliers in the catalog are categorized with a code from 1 to 6, with 1 for small seed suppliers, including Fedco staff, 5 for multinationals engaged in genetic engineering and 6 for producers of neonics.

In the Moose Tubers introduction, Margaret Liebman (an owner of Southpaw Farm in Unity who also works for Fedco) complains that on Saturdays when the Portland Farmers’ Market is open, business is stronger at Whole Foods; the latter may be largely organic, but it is part of the globalized industrial food network, she writes.

The catalog writers love puns, as in describing the new Boldor beet as “bold, bolder, boldest yellow beet” and the Megaton leek as “more consistent than explosive.”

Even the seed descriptions are newsy.

“Our conventional (Red Thumb potato) seed is now grown in Maine by potato diva Sarah Corey, who at age 23 was awarded the Maine Potato Board’s 2013 Young Farmer of the Year Award, the industry’s first female recipient.” I bet that draws some customers to Red Thumb. Many items in Fedco catalogs are marked “ME Grown,” perfect for buy-local clients.


Johnny’s is glossy and easier to use. On Page 1 (which I would call Page 3) is a list of the five new plants Johnny’s developed and introduced this year, including the All-America Selections winner Butterscotch butternut squash. The others are Eros pepper, Clementine orange cocktail tomato, Cargo carving pumpkin and Cinnamon Girl pie pumpkin.

The inside front cover features pictures of 15 other products new to the catalog, including Kalettes, the Brussels sprouts-kale cross I wrote about in this column in October.

The introductory pages include information on Johnny’s philosophy, mission and commitment to traditional breeding methods.

The catalog also has easily accessible information that is helpful to buyers. For example, a chart lists resistance codes for vegetables, so you know what a VFTMVN tomato is – resistant to the fungi verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, tobacco mosaic virus and nematodes, in case you’re wondering.

All new varieties are marked with red oval stickers. And each page has catalog codes at the bottom: scissors indicate seeds should be good for cut flowers, a pot means a plant is good for containers and so on.

Seed descriptions are clear, concise and descriptive and without hype.


Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater has grown phenomenally in the 11 years I’ve been writing this column. Originally, it produced organic potatoes – seed and to eat – period. The farm has since added grains, other vegetables, tools and gifts.

Seed potatoes are well organized in charts indicating early, mid-season and late showing, color of skin, color of flesh and shape of tuber and more. The catalog also offers 10 tips for growing organic potatoes, reasons for buying certified seed and so on.

The catalog is only 40 pages, but it is packed with great products.


Pinetree Garden Seeds is also on newsprint, but has a glossy cover and color photos. This family-owned company is located in New Gloucester.

The catalog is divided into sections, but within sections has alphabetical listings (always a plus), so you have blackberry and blueberry plants placed between beet and broccoli seeds – all falling into the category Fruit & Vegetable Seeds and Plants.

Pinetree sells seeds in small packets, so backyard gardeners won’t have a lot of seeds left over and so they can try several varieties without breaking the bank. The descriptions are chatty, for example on Coco Noir beans: “No, this one is not named for Le Bon Chien du Chocolat, the company dog.”

So, sit back, grab a beverage of choice, start a fire or turn up the heat, and enjoy reading your catalogs. Turn down the page corners on the items you’re considering ordering and read carefully for special early ordering discounts – we’re thrifty Mainers, after all.

If you ask me, an afternoon spent reading the catalogs is better than going to Florida.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

[email protected]

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