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I MISS HOW seed catalogs used to clog the mailbox every January. Springtime jumped off their pages with all those photos and descriptions of carrots and cosmos, peas and poppies.

But nostalgia doesn’t get the seeds ordered. And whether you’re turning pages or scrolling down websites, narrowing down the choices is the challenge.

It reminds me of the early stages of a home or garden renovation, when everything is delightful possibility — until the cost estimates come in. Seeds are like that — tiny kernels of pure potential. In the midst of winter, that potential stirs our imaginations, and all too often we end up ordering way more seed than we can use.

Really, who can resist this description for Heirloom Pepperbox Poppies from Renee’s Garden Seeds: “Nodding, papery-textured blossoms in rich purple, deep red and pale lilac pink . . .” I’ll take a dozen packets! Or the 14 kinds of radishes, including “Easter Egg” and “French Breakfast” in Territorial Seed Company’s catalog?

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Determined not to order more seeds than I have room to grow or time to tend, I sought counsel from seasoned gardeners. What plants did so well for them last summer that they’ll be growing them again this year?

I asked Lorene Edwards Forkner, author of “The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Pacific Northwest,” what vegetables excel in her little West Seattle garden. She called out Mexican sour gherkins, a prolific cucumber she says looks like a Barbie-and-Ken-sized watermelon. Chocolate cherry tomatoes, which she describes as “not just a pop of sugar,” were a favorite for their rich, savory tomato flavor. Both are from Territorial Seed.

Edwards Forkner recommends pole beans as the perfect small-space crop. She grows Barlotti beans for their pretty raspberry-and-cream markings on pods and beans, and because they’re delicious eaten fresh or dried. I’ll be sure to go for her other favorite bean, the Lazy Housewife green bean, an heirloom that stays tender and stringless even when the beans grow large (Seed Savers Exchange).

Colin McCrate, of Seattle Urban Farm Co. and co-author of “Food Grown Right In Your Backyard,” also named the Mexican sour gherkin as a go-to crop that produces consistently for more than four months. He also had good luck with Sweet REBA acorn squash. It performed better than most acorn squashes in our climate, holding out against powdery mildew. McCrate found that Andover parsnips germinated well and are the best-tasting parsnips ever. He buys all three varieties from Fedco Seeds.

Thelma Sanders sweet potato squash (Seed Savers Exchange) is a favorite of Bill Thorness, author of “Edible Heirlooms” and “The Cool Season Gardener.” Thelma is flavorful, stores well and is a generous producer. Other favorites he’ll be growing again this year are Copra onions, Roma cherry tomatoes and Roodnerf Brussels sprouts, all from Territorial. Lettuces? ‘Little Gem,’ a small, bright green romaine that is especially succulent and reliable.

If you’d like to learn how to save seed from your favorite food and flowers, this coming Saturday is National Seed Swap Day. And for the first time we have a local event.

The new King County Seed Library is hosting. You’re encouraged to bring your own seeds to contribute, with the goal of protecting genetic diversity and the overall health of our local seed stores. It’s a free event, starting with a seed-saving workshop at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 25, in Room 202 at the Good Shepherd Center (4649 Sunnyside Ave. N.). Learn more at

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at