Are you stepping into the magical world of veggie seeds for the first time?! After great soil, choosing perfect seeds, vibrant with life, great producers, is an exciting step! They are all so differently shaped, many sizes, colors! Many are so beautiful; others are strange and marvelous, humbly do their job.
Seed catalog season starts in December! Would you believe nearly 70 percent of gardeners have said they buy most of their seeds from mail-order vegetable seed companies? Oh, Lord, do you have budget and the space to plant all the ones you would like to try?! Happiness torture.
Your locality is one of the most important things to know first. Updated USDA Zones Map as of 2012
- Cold/hot temps ranges, temperate/extremes, sunny/semi shady, wet/dry – rainy or desert, clay/sand soils. Is your area mixed, varies per year?
- Do you have the right soil, amount of water and sunlight required.
- Will you be gardening in the ground or in containers?
When to Plant Select seeds with the proper day length! Onions are sensitive to day length. Get the varieties that suit your purpose. Strawberries are June bearers, or ever bearers that produce whenever conditions are right for them, most of the year!
Depending on where you live, you may have one small planting window, and you better pounce on it or build a greenhouse or cold frames. If you are in desert land, winter planting is your time. In southern areas you might be able to plant all year and have two distinct ‘seasons’ with summer plants, and winter plants. That’s true in coastal Santa Barbara CA. We can plant 3 rounds of both summer and winter type plants! Our winter plantings start in August! With planetary weather pattern changes those dates may be becoming different now. We do have to factor in day length. So know that some plants can be planted early, but still won’t produce until all conditions are right.
Plant Footprints! Do you have space? How many of those plants will fit there? Will you plant dense then thin, put in smaller but fast growing plants in the spaces between for until the others get their mature size? If so, you will need seeds for those filler plants too. What is the return per square foot of your planting choices?
- If you are on a balcony, patio, doing containers, get the lovely smaller varieties – dwarf, patio. Rather than tall pole varieties that may topple in the wind, get bush varieties, determinate tomatoes.
- Tomatoes – Determinate grows to a certain height and quits. Indeterminate vines forever and ever! You can plant 3 rounds of determinate tomatoes depending on your temperature zone.
- Varietal differences – ie Broccolis can get 5′ tall or 2′. Some are known for sideshoot production while others make a huge head and that’s about it. Some brocs make large sideshoots; others make minis.
- Colors – You may be astounded at your options! Some are more nutritious for different purposes. Yellows and oranges, more Vitamin A. Red, blue, purple for antioxidants.
Dates to Maturity One of the biggest planning choices is based on how long a plant takes to mature in your climate and time of year. In the north and colder areas, there may be but one choice, hope for a huge crop, and preserve like crazy! You need to choose varieties that mature sooner than later. In SoCal, you are deciding how many rounds you can plant of your favorites to keep that fresh food on the table all year!
Special Features! AAS, All America Selections, are just about synonymous with great plants! If you see an AAS designation, that tips the scales in its favor as a choice you can trust!
- Heat/cold tolerance are critical to your location. Some plants thrive in cold, like Brassicas that don’t mind a light frost at all. Tomatoes, peppers and strawberries stop producing in heat. Lettuces head better in cool weather, and there are heat tolerant varieties for summer growing.
- Disease Resistance/Tolerance Wilts and fungi drive us crazy. Certain pests are locality specific. Your nursery can advise you and getting seeds of plants that have resistances is so more satisfying and productive.
- Bolt resistant Lettuces and cilantro bolt commonly, bless them. Temp changes and changes in day length are triggers. So, clearly, know the right times to plant your seeds, and if bolting conditions occur, be ready to plant another round. In fact, keep rounds going anyway. What you don’t use you can give to a happy recipient. Bolting in Veggies
- Heirloom or Other? This choice depends on what you want to do. Some heirlooms are not very disease resistant/tolerant. Some hybrids are marvelous and rather than saving seed and not knowing what you will get next time, you will simply buy more true seed each year. That cost is not great. Try them and see for yourself. See Seed Swaps
- Organic? Of course! New Mexico-based Seeds of Change has a fine reputation.
- Non GMO
Viability Current?! Seeds vary in the time you can keep them and they will still germinate. A year to 5 years is possible if you store them properly. If you are at a seed swap, be sure to check for viability. If the seeds aren’t labeled, inquire. See the storage instructions and this viability table at High Mowing in Vermont. Check the pack date on seed packets; buy from reliable seed sellers. With viability years in mind, check out end-of-year specials at various seed houses, up to 50% off!
Seed Strips? Yes! Buy them or make your own! They save seed loss and spacing is perfect!
If you are a beginner Choose easy-to-grow basics, like cherry tomatoes, beans, lettuce and spinach, cukes and zukes, peppers and eggplants, beets and chard, carrots and radishes! And, if you have space, try at least one radical experiment! Choose something exotic, maybe foreign, or a different color! Have fun with your gardening as well as superb nutrition! Many seed companies have learning pages. Check those out. You may enjoy some of Renee’s Seeds variety packs. Renee’s is in Felton, CA (Santa Cruz County).
For unusual plants, check out reliable seed trade sites like the Seed Savers Exchange. It is likely the most well-known of the heritage seed companies, a nonprofit organization that operates the largest nongovernmental seed bank in the United States. It sells heirloom vegetable seeds to nonmembers, but if you join you gain access to an additional 12,000 varieties. It also provides instructions on how to save your own seeds!
Seed Saving and/or Who to buy from?! If you save seeds from your best plants, you know you have the best for your micro niche. Your local nurseries that operate farms and sell bulk seed will have seeds best adapted to your area. If you buy from an out-of-your area specialty farmer that grows perfect plants of the kind you want to grow, again you have the best from their area. If you buy from a seed company, know your USDA zone and the zone of the company you will be buying from, the zone where the seeds you are buying from them come from. At first this may sound a bit overwhelming to you, but in time it will become second nature. The more you save seeds, choosing your favorite plants, adapting them to your soils and ways, your plants will be adapted not only to your area, but to your tastes as well!
The very best to you with your seed hunting and saving! Seeds make the difference!
“I have great faith in a seed.” THOMAS JEFFERSON
Political Statement! Sad to report that several seed companies we have trusted now carry seed owned by Monsanto. Either specifically inquire or don’t by any seed from them.
* Territorial Seeds
* Totally Tomato
* Vermont Bean Seed Co.
* Cook’s Garden
* Johnny’s Seeds
* Earl May Seed
* Gardens Alive
* Lindenberg Seeds
* Mountain Valley Seed
* Park Seed
* T&T Seeds
* Tomato Growers Supply
* Willhite Seed Co.
* R.H. Shumway
* The Vermont Bean Seed Company
* Seeds for the World
* Seymour’s Selected Seeds
* Roots and Rhizomes
* McClure and Zimmerman Quality Bulb Brokers
* Spring Hill Nurseries
* Breck’s Bulbs
* Audubon Workshop
* Flower of the Month Club
* Wayside Gardens
* Park Bulbs
* Park’s Countryside Garden