Going to the mailbox is becoming more and more fun lately because the seed catalogs are rolling in every day now. Last year, I got on some new mailing lists for seeds, plants, equipment, etc. and some of those have arrived. I haven't even opened a single catalog yet because I want to sit down and just start going through them one at a time until I have perused them all. Usually I open them as they come in but thought I would do something different this year.
Ordinarily, I would not order a paper catalog (tree hugger, remember?) but I can't compare varieties, etc. using the computer. I have a big old oak library table where I do my paperwork and I can spread about 10 catalogs around and flip one to the other. Since I am mostly looking for ethnic, open pollinated and organically grown seeds, I start there but if I see a variety that is not being produced organically I have a whole other process I have to go through. We are required to use certified organic seed (no GMO allowed in certified seed) unless we can verify that we checked all sources available to us and did not find the variety produced that way...that is a job when you grow over 100 different varieties. Also, we only use seed sources that publish a "safe seed" pledge if they are not organically produced varieties.
Sometimes, I get heirloom seeds, organic or not, from seed savers like myself and from all over the country. One particular seed friend that I trade seeds with is in Southern California, almost down to Mexico. She grows all kinds of native Mexican chiles and loves to get our southern varieties, especially okras, in trade because they will grow in her hot dry climate. Sometimes they do better, too, because she doesn't have to deal with the humidity like we do (fungi are a problem for her). She turned me onto a Chocolate Chile that has become a favorite with us and a variety I have never seen in any seed catalog. It is dark brown, mildly spicy and tastes like it was smoked, even when eaten fresh! Gotta love that! But back to the subject I was on before I took that little trek off path.
Once I get a feel for anything new that I think we might want to grow, I research the varieties more thoroughly online (the blurbs in seed catalogs are meant to "sell" on on a variety, so I like to check out the real skinny on them by looking at online blogs and forums that discuss the realities of them. Don't always find them but I would say that 8 out of 10 times, I do. Then I have to present my arguments to the Farmer for his approval (sometimes he sees something I totally missed). There is a lot more to what we do here than just picking up some seed packs at the local seed store and sticking them in the ground. It actually takes us about 2 months of research and planning to get our farm plan like we want it.
Soil and field prep will start as soon as the ground dries out enough to get anything done. Right now the ground is "sticky" meaning that it sticks to hoes, plows, etc. and makes getting any field work done nearly impossible. There was an announcement last week that the drought in Rowan County was just declared officially over (in December...) and so we will be scrambling in February to get things prepped for planting. That is also about the time we will start out seedlings for planting out in April (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, herbs) once it is warm enough to set them in the garden without fearing a hard freeze. April planting will becomes the June/July/August crop of those items.
The good news is that we have lots of things in the ground that will "winter over" and pop up out of the ground and/or start growing again, as soon as we start having warmer days, usually in mid-February. We learned our lesson a couple of years ago, when the winter was so wet we had trouble getting anything planted in time to start our season on time. We were about 2 weeks late on planting and that put us behind until summer. One thing about farming is that there are continual lessons to be learned and if you don't pay attention, you will suffer later. The weather in this region has become so unpredictable in spring and so extreme in summer that some of our growing methods have changed radically in the 10 years we have been doing this. Maybe since the drought has broken, the summer will not be so brutal in 2009. Keeping my fingers crossed for that.