My rule has always been that people shouldn’t look at garden catalogs until the new year. The year coming to an end should be dedicated to finishing up fall chores and enjoying the holidays.

I have to stop living in the past.

With supply-chain issues and shortages of everything, including seeds, you probably should have put in your seed orders by now. I confess to adding to the problem: I did some early ordering.

When the Fedco Trees, Shrubs and Perennials catalog showed up, I checked immediately to see if it was offering Red Astrachan apple trees. It was, so my wife, Nancy, and I spent a rainy day going through the pages, selecting what we wanted and putting in our order, including the Red Astrachan.

Because they carry so much enjoyable information, I will spend some cold January hours reading the other Fedco (Seeds and Supplies) and other catalogs regardless. But if you will be severely disappointed if the particular seeds or seedlings you want are sold out, order quickly!

Wood Prairie Farm, an organic farm in Aroostook County that specializes in potatoes, attends the same old school as me – or maybe it’s just suffering from pandemic delays. In mid-December, the farm told its customers by email that it was working on its catalog, which would be mailed soon.

Sunflowers are among plants that attract pollinators, according to field trials by Wood Prairie Farm in Aroostook County. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

The catalog will have a new section offering organic beneficial flower seed. The company ran field trials to determine which flowers provided benefits for bees, non-bee pollinators and other insects that attack predators of potatoes and other crops. The new section includes 25 beneficial flowering plants, such as sunflowers, zinnias and nasturtiums.

As it does every year, Wood Prairie has a new potato variety, too “Baltic Rose,” which has red skin and golden flesh. Fedco is offering ‘Baltic Rose” for the first time, too.

This image is a composite design created over several years by members of Fedco’s catalog production team: Laura Childs, Elizabeth Smedberg and Yvonne Montpelier. Originally, the river driver was a public domain image of a log drive with no background and no mountains. Montpelier turned the logs into potatoes. Seven years later, Smedberg joined the team, rediscovered the image and added some of the background and moonscape. This year, Childs completed the scene by adding life to the water and transforming the image into the catalog cover. Maine Gardener Tom Atwell, for one, appreciated the team work. Fedco Seed & Supplies cover courtesy of Fedco

The catalog I spend the most time with each year is Fedco Seeds & Supplies, because it is packed with entertaining tidbits and so much good information. I like the pen-and-ink drawings, and especially enjoyed the river drive of potatoes on the cover.

This time, I was pleased to find a list of about 50 seeds that are produced within 100 miles of Fedco headquarters in Clinton, and another 50 within 500 miles. It also has supplier codes, with No. 1 being small suppliers, including Fedco staff, and No. 5 being multinationals engaged in genetic engineering. Syngenta, a manufacturer of neonicotinoid pesticides, gets its own No. 6.

Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester is more straightforward than other local catalogs. Except for the cover, it is printed on newsprint – such as you are holding now if you get the dead-tree edition of the Press Herald – and includes clear, precise descriptions of each item, next to a photograph.

In addition to flower and vegetable seeds and garden supplies, it has sections on containers and the best seeds for them, bee-friendly seeds and supplies, gift items, books and – in something of a leap they’ve made for years now – teas, knitting and soap making. We order from the catalogs I mention in this column almost every year, but Pinetree is the one we go to when we discover midseason that we need something.

Old catalogs from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Jeff Pouland/Morning Sentinel archive photo

Our Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog for this year has yet to show up, but its website is easy to use. Johnny’s is a premiere seed company, having introduced many All-America Selection flowers and vegetables over the years. On the website, the home page lists new varieties for 2022, some 223 items including vegetables, flowers, farm seed, fruit, herbs, organic plants and tools and supplies. The company is local – it’s based in Winslow. Another reason to shop there? It is employee-owned.

Let me mention three out-of-state companies that Nancy and I use.

Old House Gardens, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, specializes in heirloom flower bulbs. We have a collection, of sorts, of antique bulb plants on our property, many of which came from Old House. We visited the company a few years ago when our niece got married in Ann Arbor. It is a tiny operation, headquartered in a (relatively large) garage, and with fewer than 10 employees, all of whom are friendly and helpful. The company offers great bulbs for all seasons, many produced by small farms around the country, including at least one from Maine.

We also buy from Kitchen Garden Seeds, which stocks a good variety of items, especially flower bulbs. Located in Connecticut, it’s almost local.

Dixondale Farms, an onion specialist from Texas, has a lot of good information, and I’ve been ordering onion plants from them for several years. This year, its catalog noted that the old stand-by Copra onion has been phased out, replaced by Patterson. I checked Fedco and Pinetree, and saw that they’ve also dropped Copra. I missed that, but fortunately, we use Cipollini as our white keeper.

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


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