Traditions sometimes come to an end. My refusal to look at seed catalogs or buy any seeds until after New Year’s is a personal tradition of mine that is now history.

Several things led to the change: First, my wife Nancy – she never followed what she considered my “silly” rule – informed me that some items we wanted were already out of stock. She worried that even more would be gone soon. Next, seed companies sent email notifications of price discounts for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Frugal Mainer that I am, I couldn’t pass those up. Finally, this fall has often been too windy or rainy to rake leaves, the Patriots have been too lousy to watch, and it’s too early to care about basketball and hockey. In other words, I’ve been looking for something to do.

I’ve limited my suggestions to Maine-based companies, where Nancy and I do most of our online shopping: Fedco, Pinetree Garden Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Wood Prairie Farm. We do most of our in-person seed shopping at Allen, Sterling & Lothrop in Falmouth.

A major change this year is that Fedco has dropped all seed varieties from Syngenta and its subsidiaries because the company manufactures neonicotinoid pesticides, which are toxic to many beneficial insects, including bees. The decision means that a few popular seeds, including Super Sugar Snap peas and Silver Queen corn, are gone, but Fedco offers alternatives. None of the Maine companies sell GMO (genetically modified) seeds, but dropping products from an entire large company is a step beyond.

Wood Prairie Farm, based in Bridgewater in Aroostook County, is a potato farm and specializes in organic seed potatoes. But it also sells many other organic vegetable seeds. Unusual varieties, such as “Atomic Red” carrots and “Kew Blue” beans, are fun for adventurous gardeners looking for a change from orange carrots and green beans. While you’re shopping for seeds, sign up for the Wood Prairie newsletters, which make for good reading all year long.

Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester (which also has an interesting newsletter) is one of our go-to options for both flower and vegetable seeds. The company offers seeds in small packets, which lets us try new things and have room to plant without being stuck with leftover seeds each year. Pinetree sells a changing variety of live plants, as well. We ordered a witch hazel this year. The website handily allows you to search by New varieties, All-America selections, or specific vegetable or flower species.


An employee boxing seed orders at Johnny’s Selected Seeds shipping warehouse in Winslow is shown in this file photograph. Morning Sentinel file photo

Johnny’s Selected Seeds is the best known Maine seed company. Its breeding program has produced 13 All-America Selections varieties, including the Sweet Jade kabocha squash that won that distinction last year. Johnny’s produces many new offerings each year, and by looking at the “New Developed by Johnny’s” section of the catalog, you can make mental bets on whether any will be any All-America winners.

Breaking my no-seeds-until-January-1 policy also allows me to search the garden catalogs for holiday gifts. I suggest you avoid seeds or, especially, plants unless you know what the recipients want and have room for. But tools and other equipment, as well as flower arrangements, make for nice gifts.

Nancy and I especially like Pinetree’s hand pruners. They work almost as well as pruners by Felco and other higher priced brands, and at about $9 are a bargain (handy for me considering how quickly my hand-pruners seem to disappear).

A North Spore mushroom growing kit for inside. Garden columnist Tom Atwell suggests giving a kit to any gardener in your life suffering from wintertime gardening deprivation (not an actual diagnosis). Photo courtesy of North Spore

The mushroom kits from Maine-based North Spore make good gifts for the gardeners in your life impatiently waiting for the ground to thaw and gardening season to start. I also like the kits for growing microgreens – a step more complicated than growing sprouts in a jar – and tasty on sandwiches and in salads.

The best gift may be the gift of safety. Ticks – and the diseases they carry – are a potential problem for every serious gardener. L.L. Bean sells socks, slacks, shirts and more that protect people from ticks. I wear the socks and slacks every day I am in the garden. Nancy tells me she has ordered a shirt for me, as well. Find Bean’s anti-tick apparel by searching “No Fly Zone” on the Bean website. The company offers clothing for both children and adults, all treated with permethrin, a synthetic form of a naturally occurring bug killer. You can also buy spray bottles of permethrin at sports and outfitting stores in Maine, which your recipient can spray on their own clothes to make them protective.

Nancy resprays my jeans after they have been through the laundry seven times, the period of effectiveness according to the label. It’s good that she still takes care of me after all these years.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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