Press-Republican

January 28, 2013

Time to peruse seed catalogs

By AMY IVY
Press-Republican

---- — It’s time for me to get my seed order in. 

Though lots of seed packets are sold in stores beginning in late winter, if you want to grow particular varieties or unusual types of plants, you may only be able to find them in seed catalogs. I like to get my order in early before my chosen varieties are sold out. Some types will also need to be started indoors pretty soon.

For many years now, I’ve been starting our onions and leeks indoors from seed. This takes quite awhile, so I try to get them planted by late February. Other vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers do not need to be started so early, and in fact will suffer if they are. Onions, leeks and shallots, however, need plenty of time to get started from seed.

If you want to grow onions or leeks but don’t want to bother with starting the seeds indoors, you can also buy them as young plants from many seed catalogs. These come in bundles of about 50 bare-root plants, which means they have no soil around their roots. They are in a semi-dormant state and look half dead when you receive them. But fear not; they will perk up within a few days of being planted in your garden. Bare-root plants are a big improvement over growing onions from sets.

I will also be ordering seeds of my favorite variety of cucumber, “suyo long.” This is a long, thin, rather funky-looking cucumber that grows easily for me and tastes great. Once I figured out a simple way to set up a trellis for them to climb, cucumbers have become one of my favorite crops.

I love growing sugar snap peas, too — the kind with the edible pod. I eat most of them right in the garden while harvesting, so by the time I get indoors, I have only a handful left. I like them better raw than cooked, so eating my salad on the run like that works out just fine for me. Many types of peas like to climb up a trellis the way the cucumbers do. Some bush varieties are available, but growing them up a trellis is so much easier and takes up less space in your garden. Peas are an early crop that is usually finished by late June or early July, so you can follow the peas with a late planting of cucumbers if you like.

Peppers and tomatoes need warm weather to grow, so you have to set them out as transplants after the last chance of frost in your area. I used to start my own plants from seed indoors, but since I need only about six to 12 of each, I’ve taken to buying them as transplants from local growers. I like to grow one each of several varieties of tomatoes, so rather than buying a seed packet of 150 Brandywine seeds to grow just one plant, I buy a variety of single plants at local greenhouses and farmers markets.

Back to the seed orders, I also buy quite a few flowers from seed. Seed packets of common zinnias such as “state fair” are easy to find in grocery stores, but in order to get my favorites, including “profusion,” “Zahara” and “Benary’s giants,” I need to use mail-order catalogs. If nothing else, it’s a treat to peruse those colorful catalogs in late January when spring still feels pretty far away.

Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, Clinton County. Office phone numbers: Clinton County, 561-7450; Essex County, 962-4810; Franklin County, 483-7403. Website: www.cce.cornell.edu/ecgardening. Email questions to askMG@cornell.edu.