Reading catalogs in January is a perfect pastime. It lets you calm down after the rush of the holidays and think of warm hours in the garden while you are actually trapped inside or limited to winter sports. It also lures you into trying new things. With unlimited time on your hands, your imagination soars as you read catalog copy about heritage tomatoes and new varieties of sugar snap peas.

This year, I am limiting myself to Maine catalogs. For the next few years, I want to ignore the world at large and follow Garrison Keillor’s suggestion to tend the garden and drink craft beer. Buying from Maine companies will boost the state and help me tune out the rest of the world.

Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester is off to a good start in 2017. Thomas Christopher lives in Connecticut and is co-author with Larry Weaner of “Garden Revolution: How our Landscapes can be a source of environmental change,” which I wrote about last year. He had high praise for Pinetree in his post on Garden Rant, my favorite gardening blog.

“I’m going to cap the cost of my seed expenditures by indulging my impulse purchases at Pinetree Garden Seeds,” Christopher wrote, praising the quality of the seeds and Pinetree’s low prices.

Business was good even before Christopher made that post Jan. 4. When I submitted our order on Jan. 2 – to take advantage of free shipping – the purple-podded Sugar Magnolia snap pea, a new offering, was already sold out. My rule of not looking at catalogs until after the holidays cost my wife and me this time.

Some new Pinetree offerings were still available. The Early Giant Leek can be grown from seed instead of with live plants, as I have done in the past. This will be a good experiment and less expensive – if it works.

I am also going to try the Wonderful Pineberry, which isn’t listed as new, but I didn’t notice it earlier. According to the catalog, it is a hybrid of strawberries, but white with tiny red seeds and tastes a bit like pineapple. It is ever-bearing, so should produce from late spring until first frost, and self-pollinating – but does better if you have regular strawberries nearby.

Pinetree is also selling ramp seedlings for the first time, priced at $9.50 for 10 plants. A few years ago, I planted some of these wild leeks, which I purchased from an out-of-state company. They haven’t done well, but I think the location was wrong. Our ramps haven’t died, but they aren’t happy with their position in life.

Fedco, the cooperative based in Clinton, has ramp seeds, which it says could produce seedlings in either the first or second year. That would be an alternative way to experiment with ramps, and at $3.50 for a packet, a good return on a small investment.

Fedco is fun for its political activism, as well as its good seeds and well-written catalog. This year, it is promoting the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI), in which buyers and sellers promise not to restrict seed-saving, reselling, creating crosses or other activities in perpetuity. It is selling what it calls the Freed Seed Collection, which includes several OSSI-pledged varieties including lettuces, greens, calendula, leeks or onions and more.

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 10.30.25 AMI didn’t think you could grow rice in Maine, but Fedco is offering Akamuro rice, which the catalog says will grow in Maine – Zone 4B and warmer as transplants, and 5A and warmer from seed. The hulls are burnt orange when mature, so it is an ornamental as well as a food plant.

We will try the Little Dipper butternut squash, a new Fedco offering, which is resistant to powdery mildew. The catalog says it got 22 fruits of 2 to 3 pounds each from three plants when all of the other plants in the trial succumbed to mildew.

The catalog for Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow is a joy to look at, with excellent photographs and design on glossy pages. I can spend a day leafing through the pages and dreaming about not only the plants but what I could do with the well-built tools and other equipment the company designs and sells.

A plant that grabbed my attention is Patio Baby, apparently the perfect eggplant for growing in pots. The bright purple flowers serve as an ornamental, and later you pick the dark purple fruits – which will produce throughout the season – when they are 2 to 3 inches long.

A tool that will tempt some home gardeners is the Wheel Weeder, which is human-powered and pushed at “fast walking pace.” It targets both small and established weeds with the motion of a stirrup hoe and comes in three models, 5, 7 and 11 inches wide, costing $269 to $299.

Wood Prairie Farm is a company that sells organic seed, with a specialty in organic potatoes, all produced on the family-owned farm in Aroostook County. The prices are higher than in some other catalogs, but the quality is excellent. Red Cloud is a new offering. It’s crimson, uncommonly dry, delicious baked or boiled, and a good keeper, the catalog says.

The company also offers a potato experimenter’s special: four varieties with a total of 12 tubers for $19.95.

These are just a few things that jumped out at me while I was going through the catalogs. I will be ordering a lot more from all of the Maine catalogs than the small number of plants I’ve mentioned here. If you don’t get the catalogs from these Maine companies in the mail, you can always check their websites.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: [email protected]

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