Read up on raising plants before the spring showers start to fall

Want to become a better gardener next spring? Start reading about it now.

No, seriously.

The most common winter gardening activity is reading. The cheapest source of information is seed catalogues – they are packed with inspiration.

I learn so many new things from catalogues. According to The Baker Creek Heirloom seed catalogue , 300 independent farmers grow and supply their seed; tulip flowers are edible and delicious when stuffed and baked; there are at least 15 kinds of orange tomatoes, and; Peru is a domesticated crop hot spot.

Although I’ve always been a gardener and reader, I just recently started the seed catalogue-sharing scheme by sending my kids gift certificates along with seed catalogues as gifts.

I highlighted the names of plants I liked in the catalogues. If I tried and liked something, it was highlighted yellow. If I wanted to try something, it was pink.

I don’t really know how the kids used their catalogues and gift certificates, but it created a lot of chatter and interactive discussions throughout the holidays.

Some of my favourite seed suppliers include the certified organic William Dam Seeds in Ontario , West Coast seeds in Langley, B.C., and Renee’s in California.

I’ll be studying and considering Baker Creek seeds going forward because it doesn’t matter where the seed retailer is based. Most seed sellers buy seed from other farmers even if they grow some of their own.

Among the plants I love this year include zucchini – as usual. However, I discovered I preferred the dark green types over the pale green, so will order Black Beauty in 2015.

I also fell in love with soft tender “lettage” cabbage last year – soft like lettuce but tastes like cabbage – so I will order Tiara cabbage again this winter.

I love butternut squash, but couldn’t see any difference in the types I tried so I will keep looking for the shortest to maturity variety listed.

Note to self: even though zucchini produce like crazy all summer and a few plants are enough, butternut squash mature later and only yield about six squash per plant. I will need about nine plants next year to get enough for most of the year.

Getting our hands dirty in spring and practising what we’ve read helps the knowledge gel. Brain and brawn come together and suddenly we are gardening with confidence. Ordering free seed catalogues or looking at them online can be a great reading head start.

Donna Balzer is a garden writer and speaker. Check out her blog at or follow on twitter