Winter Gardening: Organizing and Buying Seeds

seed file box

I spent some time with my seed catalogs this weekend and got all the seeds ordered and bought for the coming gardening season. Woot! None of that business like last year when I didn’t start one seed inside, no sirreee. I learned my lesson as I had to shop at a number of nurseries and stores and still couldn’t find all the varieties I usually plant each year. In the ten years that I had consistently started seeds of tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, etc. I had forgotten what it was like to be at the whim of whoever decides what varieties to offer.

Luckily, last season wasn’t a complete loss since my lovely blog friend, Shannan, shared some of her seeds with me – which coincidentally were mainly the varieties I like, too. Great minds and all that…

So with this experience fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share with you some of the great reasons to start your main garden plants from seed as well as share how I plan and organize, and a few of the new-to-me varieties on my list. I hope you’ll chime in with your thoughts in the comments, too.

Why bother starting seeds?

I wrote all about this last year with links to lots of how-tos. Seems like I needed to be reminded of this, too!

How do you decide what, where, and how to buy?

Here’s what I do:

  1. Make a list of the seeds I have from the previous year. Or two years. *cough*
  2. From that list, write down the seeds I need to buy (like shell pea, or 1 roma tomato).
  3. Go through my favorite catalogs to find the specific varieties I want to try of these and write this on my main “to buy” list.
  4. Take the list to a store offering 40% off quality seeds (that would be Fred Meyer in our neck of the woods – it was unadvertised, but the sale is going on now) in order to get each packet for $1-1.50 each (big savings from some of the $3.99/packet catalogs!). I can’t find all on my list, so I buy what they have and substitute those I’m okay with.
  5. The varieties I couldn’t find and either have to have, or really want, are the seeds that I buy from catalogs. I order online and the bulk of my order is from Pinetree Garden Seeds (who, by the way, I’m not affiliated with at all – I just like their products and prices). I do buy a few from Territorial, but I can get them locally, so that list will wait a couple of days.
  6. This year I also ordered from Gurney’s in order to try out the seed-starting kit with a plugs and water resorvoir. I’ve been wanting to try this for a few years – to compare with my cheapo set-up and see if there is any difference (I’ll report my findings, never fear!). They always offer a “buy $50 get $25 off” coupon, though everything seems to be twice as much as other catalogs to make up for it, harrumph. Surprisingly, they were the only catalog I had that offered two seeds I wanted: Lumina pumpkin and almost seedless Tri-Color mini peppers.
New (to me) seeds I’m trying this year:


  • Fortex pole green bean. Of course I grow a 10-ft. row of Emerite pole beans every year, but I like to try a different variety on another 10-ft. row and I’ve read a lot of good things about the flavor and production of Fortex (a filet like Emerite, which are my favorite). Actually, I think I may have grown it in the distant past, but I can’t remember, so that’s like new – isn’t it? :)

soloist cabbage

  • Soloist Chinese cabbage. When I’ve grown Chinese cabbage in the past they are all ready at once and they are huge, so it was hard to use them before they went bad. These are smaller heads that are somewhat heat tolerant (for a C. cabb, that is) so I think they will be good for early spring and fall production.

early frosty pea

  • Early Frosty shell pea. I already grow Cascadia snap pea and Oregon Sugar Pod snow pea, but I haven’t found a shell pea that I like as well. This pea is good for places with cold springs (definitely the NW) and short seasons (sometimes) yet produces a full-size pod. Now I just have to get them planted early enough!

Jarrahdale squash

  • Jarradale blue/gray squash. I’ve been wanting to grow one of these for years and now that our daughter isn’t interesting in carving pumpkins anymore, I don’t have to grow orange pumpkins and have room for these – along with my favorite white pumpkin, Lumina.

speckled roman tomato

  • Speckled Roman tomato. I actually think I have grown this before, but I read someone’s blog who said this is their staple roma tomato each year, so I’m giving it another go. Plus, it’s so fun looking, isn’t it? And the other new tomato I wanted to try was already sold out (it’s January, for pete’s sake!), so this guy’s it for  a “new” tomato.

So, that’s how I spent some of my weekend (that plus working on my workroom closets – yikes! More on that later…) and now I’m pretty excited about the upcoming gardening season again! What about you – anyone thinking about vegetables, flowers, and herbs?


Disclosure: I’m not affiliated with any of these companies, I’m just passing on information and have had good experiences from them in the past.


  1. Tami says

    I started my plants from seeds last year for the first time…using your directions they did great!
    I also read several places to transplant the tomatoes 3 times in a little bigger pot each time which I did and also put a fan on my seedlings for abit every day. I had nice hardy plants.

    • Jami says

      Congratulations, Tami! Good to hear my blog was helpful to you. I bet you’re hooked on seeds, now, huh? There’s just something about growing the whole plant that makes the fruit that much sweeter. :)

  2. Wendi says

    Thank you for letting me know about the seed sale at Fred Meyer. I went over and was able to get the few seeds I didn’t have already. I am very interested in following your advice on gardening in this area, we recently moved to Oregon (Hillsboro) from the Southwest.

  3. Michelle says

    I am so jealous of those who live in the valley! I am on the “dry side” in Bend at almost 4000ft. Between the really short season, the altitude, the deer and the golden ground squirrels I am lucky to get a raised bed of herbs and a few tomatoes.

  4. Sakura says

    I tried starting plants from seeds last year and they were horrible. My beans and chard well, but tomatoes and peppers were little scrawny plants. I’m going to try again this year but with a grow light, hopefully that will make a big difference.

    • Jami says

      I found that a grow light really made a difference, Sakura – especially when I was able to keep it really close to the seedlings as they grew. Also, fertilizing with an organic formula (or even fish emulsion, just get the deodorized kind or your whole family will complain – of this I know!) helped create stocky plants as well. I find peppers are harder to start than tomatoes and should be started a couple weeks earlier. Glad you hear you’re trying again!

  5. says

    I ordered Fortex for the first time from Osborne Seed online. Also because I read a lot of rave reviews about it. Cant wait to see how they do. Another new one I am trying is Opalka paste tomato. Lots of people raving about this one too. Nice post!

    • Jami says

      Oh, I know the reviews of Fortex are something, huh? It would have to be amazing to make me like ’em better than Emerite, though! I have grown the Opalka and it is good, though I really couldn’t tell the difference between it and Amish Paste. I haven’t heard of Osborne seed before – I’ll have to look them up! As if I need more eye candy…

      • says

        I have never tried Emerite either, i have mostly used Blue Lake,and tried Jade last yr. I am getting ready to make a seed order. What is your favorite tomatoes? I ordered Fortex, Lewis, and stringless blue lake from Osborne.

        • Jami says

          Tammy, I hope to never have a season without these favorite tomatoes: Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, and Pineapple heirlooms, Early Girl hybrid (always a consistent producer no matter the weather!), and one of the big plum tomatoes like Amish Paste or Cuore di Bue along with a hybrid Roma-type. Blight in our area can make heirloom production spotty some years, so I always make sure to grow hybrids as well – usually a 50/50 mix, just to cover my bases. Wouldn’t want to be without, you know?

          Oh, and I did a whole post on Emerite beans and why I love them…maybe next year for you. :)

          • says

            I will certainly try the Emerite, as I had read a great deal of rave reviews about them as well. But the tomatoes seem to be the hardest for me to decide on. Here is a list of the tomato seeds I have and some that I am considering ordering:
            The first time I grew hybrids was in my new potager, and had a sudden outbreak of tomato horn worms, and stink bugs, so it was hard to judge any of them when most were ruined, then last yr we had the drought, and I was away and didnt get anything watered. This yr, I hope to talk hubby into drip irrigation for the raised beds. One of the hybrid tomatoes i am thinking of trying is “Better Boy”. However I am sticking mostly with heirlooms or OP so I can save the seed. Have you tried intensive gardening techniques or do u plant in the traditional garden format? Boy, i am so sorry, i didnt realize I would end up making my post into a full novel,lol.

          • Jami says

            Wow, you have a lot of seeds already, lol! I’ve grown a lot of those, too – your list made me remember that I should’ve added Black Cherry, love that one. Better Boy is another consistent hybrid whenever I’ve grown it – it’s a bit bigger than Early girl, but smaller than the Big Beef types. Loved Black Krim and Mortgage Lifter when I tried those, but when I’m running out of room I stick with my absolute favs. :) Of the varieties you’re looking at: I, too, want to try Ultimate Opener – Pinetree was out and I don’t want to pay more shipping, so I’ll have to look for that on Territorial’s seed racks (always ify, sadly) and Opalka is good – again, similar to Amish Paste in my book. I wasn’t particularly impressed with Kellogg’s Bfst and am always disappointed with Stupice – they are so small and actually not as early for me as I hope. Course, all these may do well in your microclimate and your taste buds and that’s half the fun – trying different types! :)

  6. Amye says

    I just found your blog and I’m in love! I started some spinach and lettuce inside today. Last year I started all my seeds outdoors (final terms of nursing school did not allow me to do much) and it worked well, but I wanted a head start this year. I noticed Walmart has a larger organic section of seeds than they have had before, but I’m definitely going to go check out Fred Meyer. Do you have an organic plant feed that you make yourself or do you buy one from somewhere? Also any idea what would grow well in a rock wall, other than zucchini?

    • Jami says

      Thank you, Amye! I’ll have to check out the Walmart organics. Hard to beat 40% off at Freds and I think Ed Hume seeds are good quality, though not very many are organic. I usually use a diluted fish emulsion (one that’s been ordorized, or whatever, so it doesn’t stink so much inside) about once a week after the two-week mark for the seedlings. I either make an all-purpose fertilizer (the recipe I use is on my Organic Gardening Checklist you can download) or buy any organic one that’s on sale. :) Hmmm, a rock wall, huh? Pumpkins? Cukes? Bush beans? If you keep it watered, most anything I’d think.

  7. says

    I’ve been pouring over seed catalogs for weeks and must get my order sent. Such fun! My worse problem is that I can get too excited and make unrealistic gardening plans!

  8. Sakura says

    Hi Jamie, its me again. If you keep seeds from last year do you have to refrigerate them or freeze them to make them grow this season? Also you should try and pickle your chinese cabbage. My mom does it all the time, it’s a fermented pickle and I think it tastes great with some rice and miso soup. Just a thought.

    • Jami says

      Hey, Sakura! I keep all my seeds in my file box from year-to-year and it lives in our laundry room, so no special treatment. There are a few seeds that are finicky and germination just goes down with any storage (parsnips come to mind…), but most are good for 2-3 years even. When a packet is a few years old I will sow the seeds thicker, just to hedge my bets and I figure whatever sprouts is a blessing! I’ve done this with even 5 yr-old packets and had some germination, as it’s hard for me to just pitch it without knowing. :)

      Nice idea about the cabbage – I’ll keep it in mind!

  9. says

    The speckled Roma’s look very interesting where did you purchased the seeds for them ? And I like the smaller Chinese Cabbage I got regular Cabbage started. I have started some seeds this year last year I didn’t. I did bush gr. Beans, yellow squash, green zucchini, pumpkins for the grandbabies. Purple gr. beans..(which I did do a few seeds last year they were wonderful. Lemon cucumbers and pickle cucumbers. I do need to get my seeds better organized I just have them in plastic bags in a plastic coffee …I need to come visit more often and read more of your post..thank you so much Janice


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