Seed catalogs welcome sight on cold, winter days

Jerry Apps
Colorful seed catalogs are a welcome sight during the cold February days of winter.

Starting in late December, and continuing through January and into February, the garden seed catalogs began arriving. One, two a day....until I had a pile of them. 

They come from all over the country—east, west, south and, of course, from Wisconsin.  Sort of fun to see all those brightly colored vegetable photos on a cold winter day.

As we have done for several years, my farm garden managers, Steve and Natasha, and I met for lunch and an extended discussion around which vegetable seeds to order this year. We have a map of what we planted last year, and where it was planted in the garden as our guide.

We try not to plant anything in the garden where it was planted last year. Cuts down on disease problems.  We also try to order vegetable varieties that have done well in recent years.

We have the most fun trying to decide on tomato varieties—of course, we always go with the old standbys, Wisconsin 55, Early Girl, and Big Boy. We usually plant five to seven different varieties. 

After the old favorites we read tomato descriptions: “bursting with flavor,” "biggest tomato ever,” “incredible tangy flavor,” “savory old-fashioned flavor,” “hands-down champion,” and much more. One catalog had 39 pages of tomatoes. Which ones to choose?

Our second interesting discussion revolves around sweet corn varieties. We always have trouble deciding on which to order. Here are some of the descriptors: “most widely used hybrid in the world,” “delectable describes its taste,” “filled with 14 to 16 rows of tender, creamy kernels,” “phenomenal eating quality,” “explosively crisp, sweet flavor,” “sweetest of all,” and much, much more.

Of course, there is always discussion around each of the other vegetable varieties we should order—beans, carrots, kale, lettuce, etc. sometimes jokingly— “Which will the rabbits leave alone?”

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Ordering garden seeds is a peek into Spring.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to