Thursday, February 10, 2011

It Begins!

Yes, today is the beginning, officially of my gardening season.  It really began two weeks ago when I ordered my seeds, but today it is official because I planted my first seeds--HOORAY!!  My wonderful mom came over and we set up our planting table out in the garage, scrubbed up seed tray flats, wet down the Redi-earth (our preferred starting medium), filled the trays and planted five flats full of little bitty seeds.  I know that this happens every year, but it is still majic to me.  I hold this tiny petunia seed that is smaller than the head of a pin, really much, much smaller, and I plant it and in a few months if I put three of these plants together they will make the most beautiful hanging baskets--miracle!  We planted about 250 petunia seeds, a couple dozen cherry tomatoes, a few cucumbers and a few trays of bacopa.  In three days I will literally be springing out of bed in the morning to check and see if any seedlings have emerged.  It is a great way to start the day.

I truly am crazy about gardening, but I manage to put it on hold from about the middle of October until the end of December.  Right after Christmas the seed catalogs arrive and I spend hours pouring over them, planning what new varieties I want to try and what new plants I want to experiment with.  Seed catalogs can be a wealth of information.  Let me share with you my feelings on a few of them.
My old standby and still my favorite is Stokes Seeds.  Stokes is great for both vegetable and flower seeds.  They always have a nice synopsis about each entry and their seed packets always have propogating instructions, germination times and days to harvest right on them.  They have pelleted carrot seed, a must if you are growing very many carrots.  If you aren't growing that many carrots, read on to find out where else you can get pelleted carrot seed.   I have never had any luck ordering from their website, but you can call their toll-free number and they are always most helpful in taking your order.  The sales people I have worked with are so friendly by the time I am through placing my long orders I feel like I have made a new friend.

My next favorite seed company, and truly a close second to Stokes is Harris Seeds.  They have the most beautiful catalogs!  I always want to order one of everything they have.  They also have the best prices on pelleted petunia seeds, multi-pelleted bacopa seeds and osteospernum seed.  They are quick to respond to any questions and even though I am a truly small grower, they recognize me as a professional grower and give me the very best service you can imagine.  At the end of the year they email me a list of what I have purchased throughout the year which is very helpful in planning the next season.  Go online and request a catalog, it is truly a feast for the eyes!

Territorial Seeds is a great source.  Their catalog is not glossy or fancy, but they have some great varieties.  They carry Imperial Star Artichokes, the only ones I know that will actually make artichokes in Alaska.  They also have terrific lettuce varieties.  Last summer I discovered thier red iceberg lettuce.  It is just beautiful, like a flower to look at, and also crisp and tasty!  I am definitely repeating that this year. 

Johnny's Selected Seeds has a beautiful catalog.  This year they are offering pelleted carrot seed.  Every gardener knows how tiny carrot seed can be and thus it is impossible to plant them thin enough.  The result is lots of thinning, over and over again.  Pelleted seeds are wonderful because you can sow them thinly.  I never thin my carrots anymore--lovely.  If you try nothing else new in your garden this year, try these carrot pellets.  I am so glad that someone (Johnny's) has finally offered these to the home gardener.  They also have about twenty pages of tools and supplies which are always interesting to browse through and drool over. 

Both Burpee's and Burgess have pretty catalogs but not quite the selection of varieties as say Stokes, but not everyone wants to have so many choices.  I get all of my tomato and cucumber seed from Hydro Gardens.  They are pretty spendy, but I think it's because of the varieties I am buying.

A word about having your seed orders shipped.  Some of the companies will offer free shipping if your order is large enough but of course, sometimes that doesn't apply to Alaska.  I recommend placing you orders over the phone and try to get your seeds sent through the post office.  Usually seed orders are not very heavy and UPS charges are alot more than the postal service for small items.  Case in point:  I just got seeds from Hydro Gardens.  The package weight was .4 lbs and it cost $25 in shipping.  I should have talked them into putting the order in a flat rate box, a small one would do, and it would have been less that $6. 

Now, I hope that I didn't get anyone too excited about planting.  Remember, I have a dedicated plant room, grow shelves with lights and heat mats.  If you don't have these things, it is probably too early for you to start anything.  For you, get out the seed catalogs, place an order or two and start getting ready.  It will be time to plant before you know it.