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Don Kinzler, Published January 10 2014

Growing Together: Sowing dreams of spring: Seed catalogs take edge off winter chill.

Seed catalogs have much in common with priceless Monet paintings. His art, often depicting nature, became famous for the ability to capture the viewer’s mind and transport one mentally into the scene.

In the depths of winter, spring seed catalogs have a similar effect. Even if circumstances prevent active gardening, dreaming while studying a seed catalog is constructive “thought gardening.”

Seed catalogs in mid-winter contain photos to inspire, information to educate and seeds to purchase. Catalogs can be ordered and received in January to allow time to study and make selections. Seeds requiring an early indoor start can be ordered in February for starting in March and April. Seeds for planting directly into the vegetable garden can be ordered later.

Doesn’t this undermine the local garden center industry as we purchase materials elsewhere for starting our own plants? No. It adds to it. Increased horticultural activity becomes contagious. Well-planted yards inspire others, and the entire industry is elevated and benefited as more become involved.

Here are 10 favorite seed companies that offer free catalogs.

1. Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Winslow, Maine (www.johnnyseeds.com)

A wide selection of vegetables, herbs and salad greens has made Johnny’s one of my favorites. Their growing season is somewhat like ours, and their information is solid based on variety trials and research.

2. Burpee Seed, Warminster, Pa. (www.burpee.com/seeds)

Large selections of both flower and vegetable seed have made Burpees popular nationally for years.

3. Park Seed, Greenwood, S.C. (www.parkseed.com)

A very colorful catalog stimulates spring fever for vegetable gardeners and flower growers.

4. Pinetree Garden Seeds, Gloucester, Maine (www.superseeds.com)

Seeds are available in small quantities at reasonable prices for gardeners who want to try numerous varieties but have limited space.

5. Totally Tomatoes, Randolph, Wis. (www.totallytomato.com)

An entire catalog devoted to hundreds of tomato and pepper varieties includes hybrids, non-hybrids and heirlooms ranging in maturity from 50 to 100 days. Tomato growing information and tips are included.

6. Gurney’s Seed and Nursery, Greendale, Ind. (www.gurneys.com)

These catalogs have been in nearly every mailbox since great-grandma’s day. Some of their marketing claims are a bit iffy, but I am still growing the deep red rhubarb my grandma ordered from Gurney’s 75 years ago.

7. Harris Seeds, Rochester N.Y. (www.harrisseeds.com)

Provides a good selection of melon and vegetable seeds plus some flowers.

8. Jung Seed, Randolph Wis. (www.jungseed.com)

This solid Midwest company offers both flower seeds and adapted vegetable varieties.

9. Stokes Seeds, Buffalo N.Y. (www.stokeseeds.com)

A popular old company with seeds of all types.

10. Osbourne Seed, Mount Vernon, Wash. (www.osbourneseed.com)

Interesting selection of vegetables and a nice assortment of herb seed.

You can order most of these catalogs online. Most also have online catalogs for viewing, but having the actual catalog to enjoy with a cup of coffee is a better experience.

Given the huge quantities of varieties available from seed catalogs, it can be difficult to choose. North Dakota State University published a nice list assembled by Extension Horticulturist Tom Kalb for 2014 based on home-garden trials by over 500 regional gardeners. The list can be downloaded at www.dakotagardener.com/trials/recommendations.pdf.

Now that we’ve got our seed catalogs ordered, I’ll give a personal update:

Following our Oct. 24 house fire, my wife Mary, sons Isaac and Jacob and I are comfortable in an apartment. All contents of our house were completely removed for cleaning and storage except for our grouping of houseplants, which seem to miss Mom and Dad, but we didn’t want to risk moving them in cold weather.

Top priority is being given to maintaining the house in 1895 condition, except with updated wiring and plumbing. The original light fixtures, woodwork and flooring will be fine with some reconditioning. Water damage to ceilings and plaster is being repaired. The burnt roof is being re-built as weather permits. We hope to be back home by April.

We realized our blessings when visiting with the first fireman who arrived on the scene. He later told us his initial reaction upon seeing the flames was that the house would probably burn to the ground, given its age and the extent of the fire.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com