Ray's Garden Rows: Seed catalogs herald new growing season

Ray Mueller, Correspondent

It's that time of year again — in addition to Christmas, that is. I'm referring to the stuffing of mail boxes with many seed catalogs, which promise a new year's harvest of bountiful and beautiful vegetables and fruits.

If nothing else, garden seed catalogs, all affiliates of Jung's in this group, add color to the winter season.

I receive quite a number of them although I've purchased something from only two or three of them in recent years. Among the company names are Johnny's Selected Seeds, Harris Seeds, Jung's, Burgess, Gurney's, Gardens Alive, Stark Bros., Indiana Berry, Irish Eyes – Garden City, Pinetree Seeds, SeedsnSuch, Totally Tomatoes, Vermont Bean Seed and HPS, which is a new one. The latter three are affiliates of Jung's in Randolph.

Ordering history

I've ordered from a few of these over the years. I place orders every year with Pinetree Seeds in Maine for beets, carrots, radish, cucumbers, spinach, lettuce, and Swiss chard. For the most part, Pinetree's prices are reasonable and the service is good.

My Pinetree catalog didn't arrive on schedule this year. It was apparently misdirected in the mail. I'm hoping that my call to the company will result in a catalog arriving this week. Last year, I placed my order on December 22.

After not doing so for a few years, I ordered two varieties of potatoes — those not available at local outlets — from Pinetree in 2016. They were pricey — $9.50 for one pound of German Butterball and $5.99 per pound for two pounds of Adirondack Blue — but worth it.

I'm going to order three pounds of German Butterball (price per pound will drop some) and two pounds of Adirondack Blue for 2017. I have a few loyal farmer's market customers for those varieties, which were very productive when grown in new soil for potatoes this year.

A number of years ago, I ordered several varieties of potatoes from Irish Eyes in Washington. Its current seed prices are also high: $8 per pound for the wonderful Warba potato and $12 per pound for fingerlings.

Earlier this year, I ordered 24 black raspberry plants (three varieties) from Stark Bros. Except for one plant which was damaged in shipping, all plants are alive going into the winter and promising to be productive in 2017.

Ordering exceptions

I have no need to order green, yellow or purple beans or garden peas. That's because I've built an extensive stock of home-grown seeds.

Among the green beans, I have four different varieties. One of them is very dependable and productive. I have no idea what variety it is but it could be Kentucky Blue.

With the peas, I encountered many years of poor germination of seeds obtained from several suppliers. When compared to the seeds which I'd begun to save, I decided to plant only the seeds which I've saved from my own plants and haven't had any problem doing that.

For radish, I order some new seed mainly to enable cross-pollination with my existing perennial population carrying mainly Spanish winter radish traits. This limits me to production of quality radish during the autumn but the entire cycle of the cross-pollinated radish growth is attractive to honeybees, well into November of 2016.

Additional sources

There are also a few other wonderful sources of garden seeds. Among them are Seed Savers Exchange at Decorah, IA, the Missouri-based Baker Creek (, and Rutgers University in New Jersey.

I was a member of Seed Savers for a few years. It publishes an extensive catalog in which members list seeds that they have for sale or exchange. The entity also has its own vegetable and fruit seed production facility in northern Iowa.

On its website, Baker Creek indicates that it has an inventory of 1,400 heirloom plants. Its founder gathered them from around the world. About 10 years ago, I ordered Turk's turban squash and a spectacular small pumpkin or gourd like plant. I don't recall its name and I can't find it on the website today but I believe it came from Thailand. Neither species was edible.

Tomato revival

One of the best decisions I ever made occurred in 2008, when I bought hybrid Moreton and Ramapo tomato seeds (only $4 for a packet of 20 to 30 seeds) that were revived by Rutgers University. A friend started them in a greenhouse and I enjoyed my most productive tomato crop ever.

Moreton and Ramapo are now available through some commercial outlets. Information on how to obtain them and many other tomato varieties is available at You won't find them in the Totally Tomatoes catalog.

Other publications

Although they are geared to commercial production and a national audience, the Vegetable Growers News and Fruit Growers News published by Great American Media at Sparta, MI are good sources of information on growing practices and dealing with food plant problems. They're readily available online under those titles. Part of their value comes in the ads by multiple garden suppliers.

Other than the online websites for nearly every seed and garden product supplier, another relevant publication with many good ads is Country Folks Grower, which has a Midwest edition. I've been receiving it for many years without sending any money.

Members of the Master Gardener organizations which exist in a majority of Wisconsin's counties are a good source of gardening information. Another excellent source is the weekly gardening program hosted by Larry Meiller on Wisconsin Public Radio at 11 a.m. on Fridays (repeated at 7 a.m. on Saturdays and available as an archive).

Whatever one's source, there are plenty of ways and places to obtain seeds and other hints for growing one's own food