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Seed catalogs

02/06/04 12:00AM By Ron Krupp
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(Host) For a little mid-winter pick-me-up, commentator Ron Krupp says it's hard to beat a seed catalog.

(Krupp) One of my favorite wintertime activities is collecting and reading garden catalogs. When I look at the pictures of flowers, fruits and vegetables, they remind me of seasons to come and gardens to plan. Perusing them on a snowy winter's eve is like playing in my winter sandbox.

There are catalogs of every size and description, full of gardening information to go with the pictures. You can learn about days to maturity, frost tolerance, the sweetest tomato, disease resistant varieties, and open pollinated and hybrid seeds. There are the "big boy" publications like Burpee's, Stokes, and Parks, and the smaller companies like High Mowing Seeds in Hardwick, Vermont and Turtle Tree Seeds in New York, which carry only organic and biodynamic seeds. There are specialty seed businesses that offer ethnic and heirloom varieties like those found in Native American, Amish, Mennonite, Hutterite and Cajun communities.

Also, there are catalogs from companies that sell unique garden tools and supplies -- like Lehman's in Ohio, which carries everything from cover-alls to kerosene lamps to tools for the farm. Many Amish families purchase from Lehman's because they sell only non-electric items.

There are more than 1,000 mail-order garden suppliers in the U.S. and Canada to choose from but there is a dark side to this bounty. Only 2 to 4 percent of mailed catalogs produce an order. And they all end up in our landfills. This may be one of our most wasteful endeavors - second only to Sunday newspapers with their reams of glossy ads.

Did you ever consider all the trees, ink, and fuel used to print, assemble, sort, label, bale and truck and deliver them to your home -- not to mention the added cost to recycle them after they've been brought to the dump -- or what we now cleverly call our Sanitary Landfill.

So what's a gardener to do? Some gardeners don't use catalogs at all but wait for garden and farm store sales in May and June. Of course, some of those seeds may not have such great germination rates but who cares, just plant a little more heavily. The other alternative is to start saving seeds as I do. It's easy to save tomato and pepper seeds, and the same is true for beans and peas.

Some catalogs, like Maine's Fedco garden and farm catalog, are published on newsprint so they can be recycled in the outdoor privy or used for starting fires in the woodstove. As for the rest, sharing helps to ease my guilt. I give lots of surplus catalogs to friends and to the dentist.

This is Ron Krupp, the northern gardener.

Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay.


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