"There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter. One is the January thaw. The other is seed catalogues."
I am not sure where that quote originates from, but I came across it in our Farmer's Almanac Calendar. A good quote, considering we've just had our thaw, and I just finished ordering our seeds for the new year!
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and I could not recommend them more highly. According to Wikipedia, an heirloom vegetable is an "old cultivar that is still maintained by gardeners and farmers particularly in isolated or ethnic communities." These varieties are ones that have not undergone any significant changes in the last 100 or so years, and are therefore free from any genetically modified variations. If they have, it is from the tried and true natural selection method (choosing those plants with the desired traits and then only replanting their seeds), and not in a lab using DNA from a foreign species.
They are most often no longer used in commercial agricultural production, and in many cases have become quite rare. Another benefit often not discussed is that they still all have the ability of their seeds to germinate. Many commercially sold fruit and vegetable seeds available today have either had the seeds removed, or have been modified such that the seeds produced will not germinate and produce plants. This ensures that the consumer/farmer relies solely on the seed company for renewing their crops each year.
Other than herbs (and that I assure you, was quite by accident. My dill and oregano just decided one year to take over the entire bed!), I have had no experimentation in seed collection and replanting. I hope to have that change some point in the future, but as I lack the proper place to store seeds at home, I've had to rely on the above company to keep us stocked.
If you want to purchase seeds from Baker Creek, it can be quite overwhelming at first. They carry so many varieties of each vegetable, fruit, flower, and herb you might have a hard time deciding which varieties are well suited for you and your garden. Yet if you take your time and do a little research, I promise it will be worth it. In our experience the seeds have been top quality and the service excellent. The shipping is quick, and relatively inexpensive considering they come from the United States. And yes, I know it would probably be better to purchase from a Canadian company. When I find one with the quality and quantity of seeds offered through Baker Creek, I'll make the switch.
Baker Creek also publishes many newsletters, recipe books and publications, all focused on sustainable, non-GMO plants and their uses. They have also begun a new campaign entitled "The Botanical Explorer" where they've teamed up with a food plant ecologist to bring new seeds and plants from all over the world. I have not yet tried any, as I'm not sure how they would do in our climate, but for the more adventurous gardener I would encourage you to try them out!
For the upcoming year, we will be planting the following:
Sugar Ann Snap Peas
Little Marvel Garden Pea
Early Wonder (beetroot)
Detroit Dark Red (beetroot)
Golden Wax Bush Bean
Blue Lake Bush (green bean)
Extra Dwarf Pak Choy (bok choy)
Berticum 2 (carrot)
Cosmic Purple Carrot (doesn't that just sound amazing? The skin is truly purple!)
Golden Bantam 12-row Corn (yes, I said corn. I do not expect much or a yield, if at all, but want to try out the "three sisters" method of planting)
Boston Pickling Cucumber
Parris Island Cos (romaine lettuce)
Early Scarlet Globe (radish)
Black Beauty (zucchini)
New England Sugar Pie (sweet pumpkin for eating)
Table Queen Acorn (squash)
Fordhook Giant (swiss chard)
Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach
Onions (usually of the cooking variety or multiplier; we get the bulbs from our local greenhouse and have not yet tried from seed)
Potatoes (we also just buy a bag of Yukon Gold from a local farm in Lafountaine, let a few sprout, and then plant those)
Last year I moved the herbs to the large cedar pots I have at the end of the garden, and plan to use them again this year. It worked well to keep the plants contained, and was near enough the front door to make it convenient for cooking. This year I will be increasing the varieties which will include basil ("Emily," a broad Italian leaf variety, and Thai Sweet), chives, dill, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme.
I had such luck with growing and drying the herbs for myself last year that this year I would like to take it one step further and begin to make different meat rubs and herb combinations, possibly to sell. I suppose it all depends on the yield I get this year.
Normally we get our tomatoes and peppers from Chris' Uncle Ed but this year we are going to try them from seed ourselves. I have not yet ordered the seeds, but I've narrowed them down to 4 tomato varieties (Chadwick Cherry, Bonnie Best, Moneymaker, and Roma) and 3 peppers (California Wonder, Emerald Giant, (both red peppers) and an Anaheim variety).
Any of the above should do well in our zone (hardiness zone 5a) and if you have questions regarding growing, don't hesitate to ask! In a further post I will begin to go into growing and harvesting details regarding each plant, so keep a look out!
Update January 23, 2014:
I have gone ahead and ordered the seeds for the tomatoes and peppers! They should arrive in a few weeks; enough time to begin them indoors and have the plants well established before we have to transplant them to the garden. Here's to much fruit!