Planning Your Garden – Garbage in Garbage out! Part 3: Deciphering the seed catalogs

Embed from Getty Images

A few people have asked me how I find out so much about the seeds that I plant. Simple. I read the seed catalogs. One of the reasons that I am so fond of companies like Johnny’s Select Seeds is that their catalogs (and website) are a wealth of knowledge. Let me give you an example. Let’s say that I am looking for a new bush bean. I go to the section of the catalog on bush beans, where I will find a general statement about Phaseolus vulgaris, the bush bean. There will be general information there on planting the seeds. How warm should the soil be? How far apart should the seeds be planted? How far apart should the rows be? What diseases are they susceptible to? What insects are they susceptible to? What sort of crop rotation is recommended? Then each variety of bean is listed. If you are online, all of this information is also available – just click on the variety that you are interested in and then “more information”. The individual varieties will have information on disease resistance, days to maturity or bloom, and any other details specific to that variety.

Some seed catalogs, both online and paper, will make suggestions about which varieties to choose, based on your zip code. This worked very well for me in Massachusetts, but it is often a total fail for where I live in AZ. It is usually five to ten degrees warmer in the summer and 10 degrees colder in the winter at my garden location than at the closest weather station. Most of the suggestion systems do not take into consideration the changes in elevation. I am 1,500 feet higher than the town south of me, and 1,500 feet lower than the town east of me. Having been out to the weather station, I would guess that we are about 800 feet higher than the station. That can make a big difference in your weather patterns.

I planned to give you a list of reliable seed companies that do not sell GMO seeds and are privately owned. And then I found this article about exactly who does own the seed companies. The author is not correct in his statement that all the seeds are the same, but buying seeds is not as simple as it used to be. I buy most of my seeds from Johnny’s because I am comfortable with their guarantees.


Burpee – They carry a wide variety of seeds and plants.

Johnny’s Select Seeds is an employee owned company based in Maine.

Lehman’s – Lehman’s now carries heritage seeds that are used by the Amish. ( A dangerous site for people who like independent living products.)

Seed Savers Exchange – A non-profit organization specializing in selling heirloom seeds.

Sustainable Seed Company – A family owned company specializing in organic heritage seeds.

Territorial Seed – A family owned company in Oregon.