Buying Seeds

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seed emergence

The seed catalogs are pouring in and it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. Before you start placing your order, take the following thoughts into consideration.

First, read the label and determine whether the seeds will need an early start indoors. Cool season crops like broccoli and cabbage benefit from being started indoors so they are large enough to be transplanted out in the garden. Warm weather crops like tomatoes and peppers need to be started under lights inside so they are ready to go in the garden when the soil has warmed up and the last frost is past. If you aren’t up for starting your own seedlings indoors, you will want to wait and buy these plants as transplants. Vegetable crops that grow best when they are directly seeded in the garden include vining crops like beans and peas, root crops like radishes and carrots, and corn. The cucurbits (cucumbers, melons and squash) can go either way.
Next, determine how much you need to buy. This will be dictated by the amount of garden space that you have and the spacing of the crop. It’s ok if you buy a little extra. Fast-growing vegetables like lettuce, radish, spinach and beans can be planted several times throughout the season. If you have extras, many seeds store well from year to year but there are some exceptions. It is best to buy garden pea and onion seeds fresh each season. Store excess seeds in an air-tight container in a cool, dark, dry location.
Consider your space. In a small garden, avoid space-hogging vegetables like sweet corn, pumpkins and watermelon. Instead, focus on higher-yielding, more compact vegetables like leafy greens, tomatoes, beans, herbs and peppers. For even more compact plants, look for varieties listed as bush, dwarf, patio or good for containers.
While you are choosing varieties, consider the differences between heirloom, open-pollinated and hybrid varieties. If you want to save your own seed, heirloom and open-pollinated varieties will grow true from seed, year after year (as long as they are properly separated from other varieties of the same crop). New varieties are often hybrid varieties. This means that the variety was produced by crossing two distinct varieties. Hybrid varieties often have increased vigor, yield or disease resistance but you if you save the seed, you will not get consistency in the next generation. I know that many people are concerned about GMO-seeds. Right now, there are no GMO-seeds readily marketed to homeowners. You aren’t going to accidentally buy them while cruising through your favorite homeowner seed catalogues.
Look for disease resistant varieties, especially if you have had problems in your garden in the past. Most varieties are not resistant to all diseases, just to some. So make sure that you have disease problems accurately diagnosed. In our area, tomato spotted wilt virus and nematodes are common problems – so look for tomato varieties with resistance to these problems. However, we don’t have any readily available varieties that are resistant to southern bacterial wilt. If this disease has been a problem in your garden, you will want to move your tomatoes to a new location or consider growing them in containers in a clean potting mix.
Check the ‘days to harvest’ information for each variety as well. In our long growing season, a mix of short, mid and long season varieties will extend your harvest window without multiple planting dates.
You will want to include some flowers in your planting plan. Flowers add color and interest to the garden while serving as an important source of nectar and pollen for pollinator insects as well as the beneficial predatory insects that feed on problem insects in your garden. Cosmos, zinnia, marigolds, cleome, morning glory and sunflower are just a handful of the flowers that are easy to grow from seed.
Sit back, enjoy reading all of your seed catalogs, develop your wish list and start coming up with a plan for this year’s garden. Because it’s time to order some seeds!
For information about starting your own seeds, check out the following resources: