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The Gardener’s Calendar begins in January

How to use seed catalogs to best advantage

The seed catalogs have been coming in the mail since early December; most will have been mailed by mid January. Many of the catalogs offer bonuses if you order early. You can save money by purchasing early, and you are guaranteed against having to accept substitutions.
    Concentrate on the same catalog to save money on packaging and shipping. If you examine servicing charges closely you will notice that as the sub-total increases, the packaging fees decrease.
    But you won’t necessarily be able to purchase all of the desired varieties of seeds from a single catalog. Compare catalogs to select one that offers the greatest choice at the best prices.
    You’ll want to closely compare seed catalogs that make similar offers. Look for differences in the amount of seeds they offered per packets of the same varieties. Some seed companies will offer almost twice as many seeds as others for the same price.
    Many catalogs offer special sales on certain seeds. Most of these lists do not include the number of seeds per packet, which makes it difficult when estimating the number of seeds needed. Since most seed catalog companies package their own seeds, you can obtain some of that information by referring to similar varieties in the same catalog.
    Most seeds lose viability with age, so do not order more seeds than you can use in one or two growing seasons. Some seeds have a longer shelf life than others depending on how they are stored. It’s best to store seeds in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Storing seeds in their original packet in a drawer under the kitchen counter is not a good idea.
    Symptoms of lost seed viability include poor germination, delayed germination and distorted seedling growth. Because it is impossible to look at seeds and determine if they are good or bad, the law requires that all vegetable seed packages indicate percent germination and the date of testing. The law does not require the testing of flower seeds or seeds of perennial plants, but most good seed companies provide date of testing and percent germination. This information is not published in catalogs but only on seed packages.
    Knowing percent seed germination is important when sowing seeds. Seeds with a high percent germination are spaced farther apart in the rows than seeds with a low percent germination. Sowing seeds based on percent germination reduces the need for thinning rows of seedlings as they grow.
    Order seeds for the fall garden at the same time you order your spring seeds. Store those seeds in the refrigerator and they will maintain their viability. By ordering fall vegetable seeds now, you will be guaranteed the varieties you selected and will not have to accept substitutes, which is likely to occur if you elect to order those same seeds in mid-summer. Most seed companies do not have an endless supply of seeds. Thus the later you order seeds, the more likely you may have to accept substitutes.
    Don’t hesitate to try new and improved varieties. I try to include one or two new varieties and compare them with my standards. In next week’s Bay Weekly, I will compare some of the new varieties that I grew in 2011 and comment on some of the new varieties that I will be testing in 2012.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected]. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.