I usually think of browsing through seed catalogs as a solo event, but I’m here to advocate for making it social. I gathered with a few friends from the Oceanside Crop Swap online to look through the San Diego Seed Company website and the online catalog from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and it was FUN! Here are a few things I learned from making this a group event.
- Take note of the catalog icons and read the definitions. You can learn a lot from reading the little icons next to vegetable listings in seed catalogs as well as the definitions of certain phrases.
When we were looking at cucumbers together (I shared my screen so we could all view the same part of the catalog at the same time), one little icon indicated the variety was “parthenocarpic.” One of my friends asked, “What does that mean?” Being the awesome gardener I am, I breezily said, “I think it means it’s a burpless cucumber.”
Wrong. We read the definition in the catalog and it said “parthenocarpic” means the plant doesn’t need pollination to bear fruit. (By the way, non-burpless cucumbers are high in cucurbitacin, another awesome word.) Also, we learned the meaning of gynoecious, which means the plant is bred to produce more female flowers than male, which means more fruit! So right there I learned a LOT that helped me pick varieties that best suit my needs. I chose a variety that is both gynoecious and parthenocarpic and I have high expectations of cucumber yields this summer!
- Team up in buying and exchanging seeds for an awesome variety. Tracy and I did something really cool. Between the two of us, we agreed to purchase Eight Ball, Cue Ball and One Ball squash seeds. These are three varieties of zucchini that form cool balls the size of baseballs or softballs if you let them grow a little long. Each is a different color–dark green, light green and yellow. When you mix the three together in a bowl or basket, it looks gorgeous. But why buy all three seed packets when you can buy one or two and exchange with a friend or friends who buy the others? Seed exchanges are nothing new, but we formulated a very deliberate plan from the outset.
We took the same approach for tomatoes, which means we’ll have a mix of different-colored brandywine tomatoes this year. Good luck to Tracy in growing big tomatoes along the coast! She’s a brave soul with a green thumb.
- Talk about your favorites. We also talked about which varieties were our favorites in 2020, which helped guide some of my decisions for 2021. I know that some of my favorites include Citrine and San Marzano II tomatoes from Johnny’s as well as Dunja zucchini, though it was good to learn that those zucchini plants didn’t work as well for Deanna, who’s closer to the coast. Another one of my favorites is the Purple Opal Basil from San Diego Seed Company. For a full list of the 2020 winners, you can read my blog post about it.
- Create a fun project together. One other thing we learned about each other: we’ve been having trouble growing melons. Each year, there seems to be something we try to grow that perplexes us, and for many of us this year, it was melons. So, I volunteered to purchase a big pack of hybrid melon seeds, of a variety that’s supposed to be easy to grow and productive, and we decided to invite everyone in the Crop Swap to try and grow the variety.
Our plan is to share the seeds with everyone and invite people to bring their best melon(s) to the swap in summer 2021 to see how we fared. Even though we know that Liz, one of the co-founders of the swap, will likely “win” the melon-growing experiment of 2021, we figured if we can even grow one melon it will be a success. Plus, we’ll all be growing the same variety and will be able to compare notes and coach each other.
If you’re part of the crop swap and want to join us, the melon in question is Honey Blonde, an F1/hybrid seed that’s supposed to be strong and vigorous and disease resistant. I will be sharing seeds (I bought a packet of 100) at the swap in February or March.
Like many things, seed catalog shopping can be even more fun to do with others, especially with those who share a love of gardening. I’m noodling other social gardening activities for the future. Let me know if you have suggestions!