One of my favorite winter activities is flipping through seed catalogs, checking out the latest varieties and getting my nerd fix on with old-timey stories about heirloom vegetables and where they came from. A good seed catalog is akin to the fine literature in my world — a well-written varietal description can take you on a journey to another time and place.

Reading seed catalogs isn’t just for pleasure, of course. It’s about figuring out what I want to plant in the coming year. But I admit that I subscribe to far more seed catalogs than my garden could ever require. Here are a few that are typically found in the stack on my kitchen table at this time of year.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Seed catalog time! / Photo by Mona Makela

High Mowing Organic Seeds

This is the rare modern seed company that’s based on a small farm, where they constantly test and evaluate the crops on offer. All High Mowing Organic Seeds are certified organic, with many heirloom and open-pollinated varieties available. They put out a beautiful catalog with lots of photos of their farm in Vermont, plus plenty of nuanced, organic-centric growing information.

Seed Savers Exchange

Seed Savers Exchange is, first and foremost, a seed bank and seed-swapping organization. To take part in swapping, you have to be a dues-paying member. But Seed Savers also makes a portion of its giant seed stash available to the public and has a catalog that’s full of inspiring quotes from notable gardeners, sumptuous photos, quirky factoids and even recipes.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

There is no greater collection of organic heirloom seeds available in one place — the company offers nearly 2,000 varieties. The catalog is a small glimpse into the world of company founder Jere Gettle, an anti-GMO crusader who is fond of pioneer re-enactments. He has created a small empire, with multiple stores and seed festivals across the country, and a growing pioneer village in Missouri, where he lives with his family. When the New York Times showed up to do a story, they found Gettle’s wife, Emilee, “behind a counter in a floor-length dress with an apron and a bonnet…a barefoot Jere, who looks like a young, countrified Elvis (or Donald Trump Jr.), was greeting the curious in a homemade flannel tunic and striped pants.” They have been wildly successful in business while completely befuddling the rest of the organic seed world with their campy antics.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

This is another farm-based seed company that has grown into one of the most prominent suppliers for organic producers nationwide. Johnny’s offers bulk seeds at wholesale prices for professional growers, as well as seed-packet quantities for home gardeners and a catalog that’s unparalleled as a source of technical growing information.

J.L. Hudson

This boutique seed dealer in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California has been at it for over a century. The focus here is on ethnobotanical plants from around the world — think rare varieties of medicinal passionflower from the cloud forests of Ecuador and bizarre vegetables found only in the jungles of Africa. The varietal descriptions call to mind the activities of a 19th-century seed explorer, as do the exquisite black and white botanical drawings found throughout the catalog.