In the dead of winter, while you’re at least partially living off last year’s harvest, is the time to plan out next year’s plantings and fill in any holes left by your seed-saving. I cannot tell you what to order in your location, for your climate or the mini-climate that is your garden, but I can suggested avenues of interest,
1. Inventory your existing seed cache. Before you spend any money, see what you have. And that includes older seeds. Seed meant to be planted in 2017 will still be 80 percent viable in 2018. Heck, I found some black-seeded Simpson lettuce seeds in a packet behind a bookshelf, They were seven years old, yet some of them sprouted.And you’re saving seed, right? If not, its dead easy for many plants; this year, give it a try!
2. What worked or did not work last year? Gardening is a learning experience. For one thing, you learn what you (and your family) will or will not eat. A bumper crop of parsnips will not help you if no one will eat them. And which varieties did better in 2017? Examples: We’ve tried many varieties of kale but the winner is always dragon’s tongue, so that’s all we grow now. Same with the only type of cucumber we grow (West India Burr Gherkins.) Head lettuces do poorly in the south so while we might try new varieties, we’ll stick with loose-leaf lettuces and our usual Red Sails, Oak Leaf, basil (as a salad green!), and black-seeded Simpson (seed saved!). The only bean other than green beans we’ve grown with great success is a lima, and it’s easy to save its seeds. We still have not found a non-hybrid okra we like but we’ve saved seed and will buy new hybrid seed and new heirloom varieties until we do. We’ll just use stored potatoes and sweet potatoes as seed (let them grow eyes, cut out part of the potato with the eye, let it dry out a day and then plant!) We have bell and jalapeno pepper seeds saved, but since out raised beds are exponentially deeper we need full-length carrot seed. That’s some of what worked or did not work for us. Your list will be different.
3. Have you planned your garden out? Don’t just think of your garden in two dimensions, as a plot in the ground…although you have to allow for certain things to spread (like cukes). Think in three dimensions: think of roots. How deep do your plant’s roots go, and if it’s deep or shallow-rooted can it be inter-planted with something else ? (We’re gonna try asparagus interplanted with sunchokes.) And how tall is the plant – will it block sunlight for other things or provide partial shade? Think in four dimensions (time, sequencing): How many crops can you add in succession? Our leaf lettuces, radishes, and lima beans need several plantings, one after the other, overlapping in time. Other things will take up their beds all year. In our garden that means things like strawberries, sweet potatoes, peppers, parsley, and agurula.
4. Go with trusted seed sources. My basic favorite seed suppliers are Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Territorial Seed Company, and a place called R.H. Shumway’s. For specialty items (exotic heirlooms) I like White Flower Farm (I used to like Mt Vernon’s seeds but their webpage is down) and for fruiting trees and bushes I’ve found Stark Brothers has the best quality.