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The most exciting January event for me is not the most obvious.

The thing that thrills me each and every new year is when my old-school seed catalogues start arriving in the mail. I read them in the car as we travel or by the fire as we visit. I lay them out side by side with friends and compare listings. I highlight, circle and make notes as I go. Seeds bring the promise of flowers and food in the future, and the catalogues are the vehicle that delivers that promise.

The care and attention offered in the seed catalogues makes me smile and teaches me new things. Consider the lowly radish: “Most radishes get bitter and brittle, but Rover keeps its cool,” according to the catalogue from T&T Seeds. Meanwhile, I discovered why my Brussels sprouts were soft instead of store-bought tight when I read in the catalogue from West Coast Seeds that too much nitrogen makes them loose.

Another nugget of wisdom, this time from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, is if you plant cauliflowers when the seedlings are more than four or five weeks old, they don’t perform as well. This is because old plants form buttons or tiny heads, instead of large, white heads. The various company catalogues give you their best tips and reading more than one catalogue offers gardeners a wealth of free information and enjoyment.

For comparing side by side, there is nothing like getting together with friends over coffee, where everyone brings their highlighted and underlined names of cucumbers or cabbage to share and compare. Later, you can also share packets ordered, so there isn’t such a huge amount of seed for each tiny garden.

Converting seeds into carrots or cauliflower is a magic trick only gardeners can accomplish. As a bonus, the paper catalogues can be used to line your compost bucket or mulch your garden later this spring, so all that paper will be used more than once. Go online to order, but request paper catalogues first for the most fun this winter.

You can request your seed catalogues here:

Johnny’s Select Seed: johnnyseeds.com/catalog-request

Baker Creek Seed (also called the Whole Seed Catalogue, it costs US$9.95, but delivery to Canada is free): rareseeds.com

William Dam Seeds (both organic and conventional seeds): damseeds.com

West Coast Seeds (organic seed): westcoastseeds.com

T&T Seeds: ttseeds.com

Lindenberg Seeds: lindenbergseeds.ca