The other day someone asked me for some general seed sowing and I realized that I had not yet gone through the whole process from start to finish. I have some scattered information (pun intended ;)) about seeds and seed starting throughout the blog but a complete guide was lacking, until now! Beginning with this post I'll go through my seed starting process. Please note that these post are intended to help anyone who is daunted by the task like first timers or those who claim not to have a green thumb (I think anyone can grow a garden and anyone can have a green thumb) and some of this seed sowing information may be stuff you already know. If that's the case and you have something to contribute about the post subject please do. Also ask away if you need further clarification on anything - please, there are no dumb questions so long as they are about seed starting! And now for today's topic: Selecting Seeds.
Selecting the right seeds is an important part of the seed sowing process. I know from personal experience that it is extremely easy to go overboard on buying seeds. I end up either I don't get all the seeds started or I've ordered way too many. I have fallen victim to the pretty seed catalog syndrome many times in the past and will undoubtedly do so again, the photos and descriptions look so good that I just want them all! Selecting the right kind of seed is also important as sometimes there is confusion regarding the whole heirloom vs. hybrid situation. We'll go over that too!
Finding the Right Seeds
Every winter I'm bombarded with seed catalogs. That's great because I love to see all the new things the seed companies have to offer but it can be overwhelming with all the neat stuff they have. There just isn't enough space or money for everything. When I begin my seed hunt each winter I go through my favorite catalogs and make a mark beside each seed I have any passing interest in so that I can return to it later. Then I map out what I actually need. For my garden I like to grow a few new varieties each year and I want to keep growing some of my favorites like the 'Woodle Orange' tomato.
I usually try to map out how many plants of each I'll need to start by asking myself questions like: How many cherry tomatoes do I need? 1 or less! They come back. How many slicing tomatoes do I want? Several! How many Romas? More than last year! The number of plants you select should be based off of how much time you can spend in your garden and what your family will eat. A family of four has no need of 10 zucchini plants planted simultaneously! Although two plants planted every two weeks for five weeks will insure a good steady crop despite Squash vine borers and other pests.
After I've made a list I check to see what I still have around. I save a few seeds each year from the heirloom plants but also have leftover seed from last year's seed purchase. Many seeds will remain viable for years if stored properly in a cool dark place. This varies as seeds for lettuce and onions will remain viable for a much shorter time than tomatoes or peppers. During this process I also think back to last year's garden and muse on what performed poorly. If the growing conditions were the same as another variety that did better than I know the poor performing vegetable/flower may not be a good one to keep trying and it's time to find a replacement.
Once I've established what I have I go back to the catalogs and look for my marks. If I already have it I don't need to buy it. Sometimes I choose to try something new to replace a poor performer and I'll write that down on a list with the price. Anything I need to reorder or any new kinds of vegetables also go down on the list with the price! Always keep the price in mind. Most varieties have many more seeds than you actually need so plan on saving them or sharing the cost with a friend. Do you need 30 seeds of Brandywine tomatoes? Probably not unless you are hoping to start selling tomatoes at your local farmer's markets. So split the packets, split the price, or save the seeds you don't need!
Then it comes time to order. I'll go back through my list one more time and eliminate the unnecessary fluff. I compare the price to what I really need and get rid of the excesses of my seed starting imagination...which can be considerable! When I have the cost of the seeds in the budget ballpark I make my order. Where do I order from? I'll share that at the end of this post.
Heirlooms vs. Hybrids
I've seen confusion regarding heirlooms and hybrids on various forums. An heirloom is a plant that typically has been around for a while. It has a history. Like the 'Cherokee Purple' tomato which is said to have been grown by the Cherokee Indians. Not all heirlooms have a colorful history and really it isn't necessary. What an heirloom actually is is a stabilized hybrid. The plant has been cross-pollinated with another to become what it is today. Seeds grown from the heirloom typically come true to type with very little variation.
A hybrid isn't stable. Seeds sown from the offspring of a hybrid might get you a similar fruit or vegetable but are more likely to resemble the parent plant of the original seed. Heirlooms typically were saved because someone thought they tasted great or had a special feature like interesting size, interesting shape, or resistance to disease. Hybrids are usually bred for the same reasons. Hybrids tend to have fewer pest and disease issues due to the focused breeding programs they have been through. This makes them a good choice for beginning gardeners who may need a little help in getting that first garden going!
I prefer to purchase heirlooms for the seed saving capabilities but which ever type of seed you choose make your decision is based on what you need and what will work best for your garden!
Stay Tuned for the Next Post in Seed Sowing 101: The Dirt on Soil!
Labels: Seed Sowing 101, seeds and seed starting