Although some seed catalogs show up in our mailbox in mid-fall, my advice has always been to ignore them until the new year. The celebrations are over then, and people have time to concentrate on spring.

That might have been a mistake this year. First, there have been a lot fewer celebrations. Second, and more importantly, several of the catalogs I perused mentioned that they sold out of many products last spring and that there could be shortages again this year.

Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester specifically apologized for having to shut down its website for a while and advised early ordering.

Anyway, 2021 is here, and I would suggest getting your spring seed orders together and submitting them as soon as possible. Yes, travel and gatherings might be more frequent this year, but I think we have all enjoyed the pleasure, release from tension, exercise, fruit, flowers and vegetables that a successful garden can provide. We will want those joys to continue.

A staple of our vegetable garden for decades has been Sugar Snap peas. We eat them as snow peas when they are young and flat, raw with dip when they are fattened out a bit but still tender, sautéed with mushrooms and onions and, if they get a bit large, as shelled peas.

This year there is a choice. Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow and Fedco in Clinton are selling both the traditional Sugar Snap and the newer Super Sugar Snap, while Pinetree is going all-in, selling only Super Sugar Snap.

The Super Sugar Snap variety is more resistant to powdery mildew and ripens earlier. The vines also are a bit shorter, at five feet. It has heavier yields than Sugar Snap, but the harvest period is shorter, and the flavor, according to Johnny’s, is “good but not as sweet as Sugar Snap.”

I think, if I were gardening just for my family, I would go with the sweeter flavor and longer harvest time, and stick with the traditional.

But what I am going to do, in my role as investigative garden columnist, is plant both. I owe it to you, my readers, and I’ll report back in my mid-season update in late July.

I had not received a Johnny’s catalog by press time, but all the information – in addition a link to order a catalog “hot off the presses” – is available online.

The company has five new offerings from its plant-breeding program, but one – Abigail tomato, a “nearly perfect pink heirloom-type” – is already out of stock, which supports my suggestion to order early.

The other four new offerings are Equinox spinach, an improved Bloomsdale good both in spring and fall; Goldfinch, a summer squash that grows on a single stem; Cornito Arancia pepper, an orange counterpart to Cornito Rosso and Cornito Giallo, and Igor pumpkin, a 25-35 pound Jack o’lantern type in both treated and untreated manifestations.

Fedco Trees has a change. It won’t be offering in-person pickup, and that change was coming even before COVID – they were just running out of room. As an alternative, Mainers will be getting a flat-rate shipping fee of $10 per order, which for some people will be less costly than the gasoline used to drive there.

Don’t dally with Fedco Trees. The deadline for volume discounts is Jan. 15, and the final deadline is March 5. (The deadline for Fedco Seeds orders is much later, though.)

At Wood Prairie Family Farm in the Aroostook County town of Bridgewater, the catalog is running late. But Jim Gerritsen is excited about one offering.

“We will be offering – for the first time – the French variety Charlotte, which Eliot Coleman has been after us to grow,” Gerritsen said, referring to Maine’s most famous organic farmer. “Along with our Rose Gold, Charlotte is Eliot’s favorite potato.”

It is described as an excellent salad potato, that works well boiled, steamed or roasted.

What I have written so far implies that the reason people look at seed catalogs is to buy seeds. Yes, we readers are going to do that, and companies that produce the catalogs hope we all will buy a lot of seeds – and other products, too.

But they also are pleasurable reading, with excellent photos (or drawings, in the case if Fedco). There is a lot of information about growing plants. And while it is important to educate yourself about growing conditions of the seeds and plants you are considering, there is more than that to reading a seed catalog.

As an example, John Bunker’s essay “The Pandemic and the Ancient Apple Tree” in the Fedco Trees catalog offers a bit of wisdom. Old House Gardens (it’s not from Maine but sells heirloom plants, and I love it) describes how to turn gladiolus cormlets into free glads. And Pinetree has good information how to plant everything it sells.

Reading catalogs closely will make us all better gardeners.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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