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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gardening: Weed out overly generalized seed catalogs

The rush of Christmas is over. For many gardeners this means the real winter has settled, and it’s time to haul out the stack of reading material that has been accumulating since last spring. In between the books and magazines we have to catch up on is a growing stack of seed and plant catalogs that began arriving in late November.

There are a lot of catalogs out there to choose from and over the years I have settled on a few as my favorites. In my book, a good catalog has several characteristics. First, its variety descriptions are detailed with solid growing information and no hype like “you absolutely can’t fail with this variety.”

Second, the catalog needs a wide selection of short season varieties that ripen in less than 75 days. Our growing season is short here, and we often don’t get weather warm enough for tomatoes and peppers until mid-July.

Third, I prefer catalogs from companies in the Northwest or at least from the northern tier of the U.S. These companies run seed trials in our type of climate, and the seeds are more likely to perform better than seeds from southern companies.

Lastly, quality seed is worth paying a fair price. Low-cost packets of seed often contain more broken or smaller sized seed that may have a lower germination rate.

So, who are a few of my favorite seed catalogs? Here is a partial list.

Tops is Johnny’s Select Seed out of Maine. This catalog features dozens of varieties of vegetable, flower and cover crop seed. It is the go-to catalog for many small-scale vegetable farmers in our area. Johnny’s tests all its seed in its short-season Maine trial gardens before the seeds are released. At the beginning of each vegetable section, it offers in-depth growing information for that type, including charts of preferred germination temperatures. My favorite thing about this catalog is the pelleted seed offerings for small seeds like lettuce, carrot and onion. Pelleted seed is seed that has been coated with clay to make it larger and thus easier to plant.

The Territorial Seed company based in Cottage Grove, Oregon, has many of the same characteristics of Johnny’s, but it’s a little bit closer to home. Its trial beds are in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range where the mountains create some challenging growing conditions. Its growing suggestions often note if a variety does better in areas with cooler nights like ours.

Lastly the Irish Eyes Seed based in Ellensburg is a family-owned company that offers a wide range of organic and conventional vegetable and flower seed as well as garlic, organic potatoes, and fruit plants. The company’s knowledge of our area is reflected in the catalog descriptions. It carries several unusual varieties of garlic including Ellensburg Blue and dozens of unusual varieties of potatoes including one called the jelly potato. It even has some varieties from the South American Andes Mountains, the original home of the potato.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for over 40 years. She is co-author of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook” with Susan Mulvihill. She can be reached at