Seed Catalog Troubles

While children trumpet the news of retail store Christmas displays in October, people of a certain age cringe at the unabashed consumerism and may resent the obvious effort to expand the holiday buying season into the Halloween time frame. I’m beginning to feel the same way about seed catalogs.

Last year I shared my thoughts about the excitement of receiving the first seed catalog of the season. That was in December. Along with the holiday gift circulars and catalogs arriving in the mail and newspaper, I’ve always felt a little giddy as I intersperse dreaming of new seeds along with the surprises to come under the Christmas tree.

After the excitement of the holidays, many gardeners begin planning the next season’s gardens, choosing seeds, and preparing for growing plants inside just after the new year begins. Though winter is just beginning to deepen, spring will soon be a reality. Perusing the seed catalogs of December is timely.

Imagine my consternation when the seed catalogs began arriving in October, along with the Christmas displays creeping into the toy and candy aisles of local stores. At first it was just a curiosity because one of the first catalogs was from a company I hadn’t done business with before. Then like feral cats at the back door of a generous old woman, another catalog appeared. And another.

The second week of November four different seed catalogs were delivered in the mail on four different days. Granted, I buy a lot of seeds and am probably perceived as a good customer. But my knowledge of marketing tells me that my good name was sold to new merchants who are now trying to beat their competition to the cash register by inundating me with new, glossy pages filled with enticing gardening pictures.

That troubles me. First, they’re too early. I’m still cleaning up beds and putting away tools and lamenting the fading green of the last stalwart plants. It’s not time to think about what seeds I’ll be planting six months from now. Second, I like to think of myself as a loyal customer to quality companies and the obvious ploy to steal my loyalty by these new pretenders is an affront to my character. Then again, it had to be at least one of those quality companies that sold my name in the first place.

Most troubling is that some of the catalogs are appealing. There are interesting, new opportunities. The catalog from “Totally Tomatoes” is filled with a few hundred choices of, you guessed it, tomatoes. “Pinetree Garden Seeds” has 130 pages of everything imaginable that is garden related including soap making supplies, an arena in which my wife is actively participating.

Intertwined with the excitement of considering the possibility of trying a new hybrid tomato is the annoyance that I’m thinking about it in early November, a full five months before I can even begin to sow seeds indoors, and at least seven months before warm season plants stand a chance of surviving in my garden outside.

I’m a creature of habit and there are things that I prefer to do at certain times. The gardening calendar year has been pretty consistent for me over the years and it seems to be working fine. I’m always willing to try new things and strive for experimental gardening opportunities each growing season, but I have little control over the weather and climate. Asking me to purchase seeds before Thanksgiving, before the twenty-first of December, doesn’t work for me.

There are other gardeners with a different gardening calendar than mine. Many regions warm earlier and plant sooner. November and December seed buying may make sense for them, but it doesn’t for me.

I like to think that a seed company with my best interest in mind, with the truly personal service that so many of them espouse, would know that my Colorado address cannot support tomato considerations six or seven months early. Gladly, I haven’t received seed catalogs from the companies that I was so pleased with last year.

I ordered most of my seeds online last year from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company and Territorial Seed Company.  While some of the plants didn’t perform as well as hoped, I was very pleased with the quality of their seeds. Neither has sent a catalog yet and I appreciate that. They may not be the culprits who sold my name to another company. I also ordered seeds from Gurney’s, and Gurney’s has already sent me two catalogs, one the same week as the other new ones. That is suspicious activity.

As I usually do, I’ll begin looking at seed catalogs a few weeks before Christmas and start developing my garden plans in January. The new seed catalogs will be in a pile waiting along with all others that arrive in my mailbox between now and then. I’ll try not to feel too much animosity toward the seed companies that tried to get me to act impulsively too soon. I recognize that they’re trying to make a buck in a tough business.

A point to all of this is that a gardener shouldn’t feel pressure to disregard proven gardening timelines, especially by unknown companies that suddenly pop into the mail delivery. Glossy catalogs and fancy claims are designed to get us to act impulsively. While they may have quality products, aggressive tactics should be seen for what they are. Buy from proven providers, online and local. Recognize when a source understands about you and your specific gardening needs.

I look forward to seed catalogs each year just as I look forward to the Christmas season. It sure would be nice if both didn’t begin in October.

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