The seed catalogs arrive and I start to drool. I leaf through Totally Tomatoes coveting the many hundreds of gorgeous types available. Fedco, Baker Creek and PineTree catalogs are my standbys but I sneak peek Italian seed varieties at Gourmet Seeds, or unusual oriental vegetables online at Evergreen Seeds. Those do not even scrape the surface; the choice is overwhelming!
Every year I am tempted to purchase too many packets of seeds. In a previous article I described my 60-40 rule: at least 60% tried and true varieties with 40% new packets for interest and fun. For the beginner or the small gardener, it is best to have a simpler seed purchasing strategy: two or three different varieties of those vegetables your family likes to eat most.
When faced with almost unlimited seed choice, it is important to whittle down your options. Here are some questions to help you choose:
- What varieties grow consistently well in your garden? Always keep at least one good reliable variety each year. Purchase it from the same seed merchant – the same name does not mean the exact same variety!
- What do your gardening neighbors grow and recommend? Each micro-climate supports certain varieties better than others. Always ask the most experienced gardener.
- What is your growing zone and number of days between frost dates? If you have a short growing season, choose varieties with the least number of days to maturity. If you want to spread your harvest, plant varieties with different growing lengths.
- Does your seed merchant specialize in seeds for your particular growing zone? If you are a Northern gardener, purchase form a Northern seed merchant. If you are in the South, choose a Southern merchant. Local seed suppliers may be best.
- Are the seed packets good value? Some companies charge a lot more for the same packet of seed. Ignore the beautiful pictures and look at the price. Check how many seeds are in the packet (by gram or seed number). It is often better to buy less seeds at a lower price than more seeds that may go to waste.
- Are you concerned about the massive corporations that control seed varieties worldwide (BASF, Bayer/Monsanto, ChemChina-Syngenta, and Corteva Agriscience)? Know that most hybrids and many other seeds come through seed merchants from these giant corporations. Choose smaller merchants (not the big catalogs), look for organic and heirloom seeds and check seed growers if you can.
- Do you want to save seeds from your plants? Hybrid varieties are cultivated so that they do not breed true. Choose heirlooms if you want to become seed independent.
- Do you expect to use leftover seeds from the same packet next year? As the packets arrive, put them in a sealed plastic bag with some silicone dessicant in the fridge or freezer. This will greatly extend the lifetime viability of those seeds (see Storing and Saving Seeds).
Even when you have made the best choices you can, probably you will have more seeds that you need. Join a gardening group that does seed sharing and swapping. Then you know none of those precious bundles of life will go to waste.