On a cold January day, take out the garden catalogs you have stashed away and stack them by an easy chair. Leaf through the catalogs and make lots of shopping lists. This is the fun part of vegetable gardening and you should thoroughly enjoy yourself. The real challenge comes once your final list is made and you must then cut it in half to fit everything into your garden space.
Many companies mail their catalogs for free; others charge a modest fee which may be credited against your first order. The books land on your doorstep late December through mid-February, offering everything you could ever want in the way of seeds, bulbs, and gardening equipment.
If you are not yet on the mailing list of garden seed companies, buy a vegetable gardening magazine in December, when most of the seed advertisements appear. You will find a wealth of addresses, web sites and phone numbers.
The big mail-order companies often have the latest pest- and disease-free hybrids. They stay on top of the trends and have a little of everything. Athough their selections are among the largest, they are not always fine-tuned to the needs of specific regions and climates.
The less glossy catalogs mailed by mom-and-pop companies generally reflect someone’s particular passion. Look to the small catalogs for gourmet and novelty items, exotic vegetables, superb flavor, and unusual, imported, and heirloom cultivars. Specialty catalogs, for instance, may offer seeds of European or South American vegetables not available in local supermarkets.
Look to regional catalogs for seeds that germinate and mature reliably in your area. This is especially important if you garden in high-risk climates such as the arid Southwest, the cool, wet Northwest, or in cold New England. Cultivars that originate in your region should do well in your garden.
For an exhaustive review of mail-order gardening sources, look in Barbara Barton’s Gardening by Mail: A Source Book, now in its 5th edition.