The parade of glossy seed catalogs has begun at my house. It can be overwhelming, trying to choose between all the different varieties and all the different companies. So, here are some tips, for those of you who may be new to the gardening-for-the-end-of-the-world club.
Shop Local – You’ll have better luck with seeds grown in a region that’s similar to your own. I buy 99% of my seeds from a seed seller here in Iowa. I know they contract out seed growing to farmers in a 10 mile radius from their farm. Their seeds always grow really well for me. There are seed growers in the arid Southwest, and seed growers in New England, and seed growers in Texas. I think it’s worth the effort.
Make a List – This one is so hard. But, you have to make a list, BEFORE you open the first catalog. Plan out your garden plot, what do you have room for this year? Are you working with a square foot system in a 100 foot raised bed? Watermelon might not be the best use of space. Do you have way more dirt than you can manage to plant? Then go ahead and get a watermelon, plus a couple varieties of winter squash. The list will help keep you focused on what you actually will use and what you actually need. Use a good book, like Seed to Seed to help guide you in spacing and placing.
Pack or Pound? – The seed companies sell seed in different sizes, it makes sense, the window box farmer doesn’t need the same amount as a market grower. It can add to the confusion though. A small packet, usually 25-150 seeds, depending on the seed size, is a great way to test out a variety. That can usually be enough for a couple of test plots. When you find a variety you like, abandon the packet mentality and start thinking in pounds. I have a few varieties that I do that with. Swiss Chard, Royalty Purple Podded bean, and Cherokee Black beans. I eat a lot of greens, and I eat a lot of beans, and I like those varieties, they grow well for me. So, with your garden plan that got made in the previous step, (you made that plan right?) run some numbers with your seeds. Let’s say you have 20 feet allotted for climbing green beans. With a bean every 3 inches, you’ll need roughly 80 beans, more if you want to sow extras to account for some percentage of lost seedlings. One packet of bean seed usually only has 50 beans in it, so you either need to buy two packs, or up your order to the pound, and make sure you store the seed right. Upping to a pound also gives you the security of knowing your entire crop could fail, and you have enough seed to restart. It gives you the peace of mind of knowing you have a few years worth of seedlings, if you need it. Seed by the pound is a must when you grow for market. If you have to buy it, plan for more than you think you’ll need. Saving seeds is also viable option and needs to be taken into consideration.
Save Money, Save Seed. – Some seeds, like beans are easy to save seed from. I’ve planted several crops from the original pound of bean seed, yet I still have around a pound of that bean seed in my stash. I make sure to collect seed, it saves me money, when that’s one less pound of seed I need to buy. Some plants, like the Swiss chard, it’s really hard for me to collect seeds from. But, the seed stores really well. So, the pound bag makes sense, because I’m probably never going to get my own seed and I can safely bet I won’t loose much potency if it takes me 5 years to work through the whole bag. Tomatoes are easy to save seeds from, as are peas, lettuce and squash. An investment in the original packet can yield a yearly planting, barring disaster/crop loss.
Sometimes its Not a Seed – Garlic is sold in heads (or by the pound) and planted as cloves. Sweet potatoes are sold as slips. Potatoes are called Seed Potatoes, and you are actually buying little potatoes to plant. See post for more about potatoes.
Hopefully this helps. Shout out in the comments if you have questions about seeds or varieties you recommend.
– Calamity Jane