How Many Seeds Do I Need?

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

16 comments… add one
  • Rae December 4, 2012, 8:51 am

    I see a lot about saving and storing seeds for a future crap scenario, but being new to all this I am not sure what that looks like. In my limited gardening experience I have just saved seeds like squash, in an envelope and planted them the following year. But do I need to do something different if I am storing for potentially longer term? How long can seeds store for? Is it okay to seal them with my meat saver in the plastic and suck the air out?

  • smokechecktim December 4, 2012, 1:43 pm

    as we enter the wet season in the mountains< I have finally got off my butt and am starting on a small garden. Have to till and set up a fence from my many furry friends and will start with some cold season crops, root veggies and freckled lettuce. Hopefully by spring I will have gained a little experience for the real growing season.

  • Yoda December 4, 2012, 2:43 pm

    Outstanding Calamity Jane:
    In addition to seeds, fertilizer, anti bug, bird and animal stuff, water is the critical component here in Southern California and the Southwest.

    Jeep on keeping on Calamity. You and the Jarhead are helping more people than you could possibly imagine.

    Respectfully, Yoda

    “Yoda’s Little Known Tactics To Avoid Being A Target.”

  • ORRN on LI December 4, 2012, 6:25 pm

    I too have learned to buy locally, first with perennial/shrub/tree. I also try to not only get locally (north east USA) sown seed, I have been paying attention to using non GMO, heirloom items. The heirloom tend to withstand the test of time and are heartier, and better to collect your own seeds to propagate future gardens.

    • D'ja'c December 4, 2012, 8:32 pm

      Also saving seeds from veggies bought at local farmers markets and stands helps. As long as you know the farmer and ask about their growing practices i.e. that they use heirloom seeds.

  • D'ja'c December 4, 2012, 8:25 pm

    Seed saving is a great idea. Having a plan before ordering from catalogs is also a good idea. Sitting in front of the wood stove with a tasty beverage in the middle of winter can lead to problems if you don’t have a plan BTDTGATS. It can lead to more seeds and more work than you can handle come planting time:-). Squash cross pollinates very easily. If you are planing on saving non-hybrid seeds there is a technique. Just before the flowers blossom ID the male and female plants. When they open up pluck a male flower and use it to pollinate the female flower. Then carefully tape the female shut so that no bees or other insects or the wind can pollinate it. When the squash develops and the flower falls off make a marking on it. When it is ripe save those seeds for next year. This is a way to be sure you get the same squash or pumpkin season after season. Or you can experiment with the ones that grow in the compost pile. We have gotten some strange Frankenplants over the years out in the compost pile.

    • gat31 December 4, 2012, 8:33 pm

      this year one of my cucumbers got crossed with a watermelon. It looked like a sugar baby watermelon, but when you opened it up it smelled and tasted like a cucumber. so l hear ya on the Frankenplants.

  • gat31 December 4, 2012, 8:31 pm

    Calamity l agree with you that seeds are important. Since we have horses farms everywhere here, we have feed stores as well. Many of these places have ways to buy bulk seed by the pound,half pound, quarter pound etc. Like many people l like salads and greens and l’m a sucker for sprouts, be they alfalfa or bean or whatever. I just found out you can make the sprouts with broccoli seeds in 3 to 4 days and they have a higher iron count then some items. So even though l have some for growing, l’m buying the pound for sprouts as well. (they are cheaper than alfalfa too)
    Another place to get cheaper bean seeds is your local grocery store. Those bags of dried beans for a buck or two a pound will grow just as well as those from a catalog or feed store.

  • Another Brandon December 4, 2012, 10:37 pm

    @ Brandon- Thanks for the advice. Do you (or anyone else) have anymore recommendations of harvesting seed from plants?

    On a side note: I’m still new to this whole survival/prepper concept (thanks to Neil Strauss and then Rawles), and I wanted to take some training. I found a Surival school nearby and wondered if anyone here has heard anything about it? It is called Sigma III. Here is their page:

    Thanks for any feedback!

    • Brandon December 5, 2012, 8:59 am

      Every plant is different but they all have the same goal…..grow and reproduce. Saving lettuce, arugula, kale, tomato, cucumber, melon, squash, radish, and turnip seeds are all easy.

      For the greens, radish, and turnip just leave a couple plants alone. You will see stalks grow and produce flowers that will eventually have seed pods below them. Leave the seed pod alone until you can shake the stem or pod and hear a rattling noise. Then you can snip off the seed pods into an envelope.

      Good luck!
      For squash, melons, and tomato you need to clean and dry the seeds after you scoop them out of the fruit.

      • Another Brandon December 5, 2012, 5:10 pm

        @Brandon- Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad kale and tomatoes are easy (they are my favorite!) :)

  • Babycatcher December 5, 2012, 12:46 am

    To save lettuce seed, let the plants you want to harvest from go to seed in the summer. Once the plant blooms and the blooms die, take a paper bag and place it over top of the future seed head( tie it under the seed head on the stalk). The seeds should fall off into the bag, and you can dry and screen for defects later. This is only one of several techniques, but it works with all the lettuces, cabbage family,chard/beets, and other greens. Also many Herbs…
    Google saving seed, there are tons more tricks.

  • Charles,,,, December 5, 2012, 1:30 pm

    GAT 31, ya got me giggling, recalled the first year I planted cantulope and cukes in the same garden and they cross pollinated, I had the prettiest orange melons that tasted just like cukes, ughhhhh, my point, learn now while you can, gardening isn’t as pretty as the photo’s show…. Now’s a good time to hit feed stores, garden shop’s etc., they have 2012 seeds on sale from last year, 2011 that they reduce as the new crop of seed is being ordered and one can pick them up way cheaper, 5/$1.00 and such…. I use my relatives to give me their prescription med bottles to store seeds in, they seal tight and arn’t so big that a shoebox cannot stack a horde of them, do label and date each with regular tape and a sharpie tho, lasty, I never feel like I ever have enough seeds, so I keep collecting/using/giving to others that which I have.

    • D'ja'c December 8, 2012, 7:58 am

      I’m guessing all these strange hybrids people are getting are from saved second generation seeds. It doesn’t seem right that plants are doing that first generation, unless the are “just a bad seed”.

  • Kirk October 18, 2016, 1:22 pm

    Any personal favorite as a “survive the apocalypse”? It is one of those things that probably depends heavily on what part of the country you’re in, but there’s gotta be a favorite.
    There’s lots of good info about survival (like here: but I think seed storage is something that is often left out.


    – k


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