It used to be that the first seed catalog for the new year arrived the week of January 1st - something to look forward to, to bless the new year. Then they arrived just after Christmas. Now I've gotten my first seed catalogs a few days before Thanksgiving, and a friend got her first one a couple of weeks ago (from High Mowing seeds). Johnny's seeds have been sending me emails with news of the new seed crop for a month or more.
The catalogs that come earliest seem to be the ones from small companies, eager to get a jump on the big guys. I like to support these suppliers of unusual seeds. The number of varieties available to us seems to diminish each year, and the number of breeders - especially breeders who are intentionally creating varieties for the home garden - shrinks each year too. Home gardeners generally want vegetable varieties that spread the harvest over several weeks, while commercial operations are happy to harvest all at once, so they only have to make one pass with equipment or pickers. This makes it important for us to continue to have breeders willing to meet our needs, and I look for that in each catalog.
The first catalog this year was an old favorite, Pinetree Gardens in Maine. My very favorite tomato ever came from them - Yellow Bell. They have discontinued it and I haven't found it anywhere else . Over the years I've discovered varieties here that only later appeared in other catalogs (such as Kellogg's Breakfast, a large orange tomato). They also have a section called "around the world," where they separate out Asian, Italian, etc. varieties. Great selection of books, too.
This week I got a catalog from Vermont Bean Seed (with a Wisconsin address now) with colored pictures. For many years their catalogs were pretty modest. They've got a few things I think I'll be getting.
I also got Totally Tomatoes, largely a tomato and pepper catalog, and with all these varieties it's very hard to resists trying some that are new to me. More catalogs will follow in the next few weeks. Most of my order goes to Johnny's seeds, but I order from these other catalogs too, and Territorial as well. Otherwise, I get some Burpee's seeds 50% off in the local stores (their seeds have gotten too expensive to order). I'll also pick up a few other seeds locally from a few other. For the time being I'll look through the catalogs or peruse the web sites.
Two catalogs are well worth ordering paper copies of, because of the wealth of infomation about growing each kind of veggie (called cultural information): Johnny's seeds and Territorial seeds. You can order catalogs from the web site, or call.