Seeds. So tiny, and so confusing. When starting the task of planning your garden it can be slightly overwhelming. Simply looking through the tomato varieties is enough for me to go cross eyed. Why are there SO many different kinds, colours, and tastes? And how do you choose the right ones? For a perfectionist like me, making such a decision carries great weight.
First thing to do is to reminisce about last years growing season. Close your eyes, feel the sun. Feels good don't it? Now focus and think about what you enjoyed, ate tons of, or didn't eat at all. What was hard to grow? For me, cucumbers prove to be an elusive creature. Because of this, I will choose an older variety that is familiar and been around the block in the right kind of way.
If you know certain things grow well in your garden, feel free to take a risk and try something new. If you know which varieties create abundant fruit, maybe stick with it. It's all up to you and what kind of chances you are willing to take. And for those items you generally don't have a clue about, here are some tips that will help you to pick the correct seed from the information given on the seed packages themselves.
On the back of each package, and in catalogue or online description, you will see a number like "65 days". If you're looking at radishes it could be as short as 22, or 85 if you're looking at bell peppers. There is some debate about how "days to maturity" should actually be defined, but here's a simple working definition:
- A seedling transplant (like a tomato or pepper plant) should be counted from the days it goes into the ground, so that a 70 day tomato plant should theoretically be ready for harvest just over two months after you transplant it in May or June (so harvest happens in July or August).
- Seeds that are sown directly into the ground (like radishes, lettuce or carrots) should be counted from the day they germinate, so those 22 day radishes planted on April 1st should be ready just right around the end of April.
Part 2. Varieties that Suit your Needs
How boring it would be if tomatoes could only be grown as medium sized, red orbs for slicing. Thankfully they come in many shapes, sizes and types, such as cherry, plum, slicing, and those that are best for making paste, sauce or for dehydrating.
The same is true for most vegetables. Cucumbers can be long slicers, short slicers, mini gerkins, or various sizes of pickling varieties. Carrots are long and skinny, thick and stout, small and gourmet, even short and stubby for container growing.
If you like to preserve and can you want to pick varieties that are conducive to this kind of fall activity. Paste tomatoes make great sauces, Roma's can like a boss, and pickling cukes are a no brainer.
Part 3. Grow What You Like
On the back of each seed package there is a taste description. Usually, these write-ups are fairly good at being spot on, especially if they are a reputable company. If you'd prefer not to trust, and I would understand if you didn't, some sites offer customer reviews. Here you can read what other had to say about it, and you can get the dirt on the real tastes.
Part 4. Open-Pollinated, Heirloom, Hybrid.
If you’ve ever been baffled by the letters OP or F1 in a seed catalog, you’re not alone.
The basic gist of it is that open-pollinated seeds are bred through natural growing and pollinating methods, heirloom are open-pollinated and usually at least 50-100 years old, and F1 or hybrids have been bred artificially using genetics and selective breeding for specific plant traits.
Open-pollinated seeds can be saved and used in your garden the following year, but hybrids must be purchase new each year. Hybrids may be more vigorous and have some helpful traits that have been bred into them, although if you look closely into heirlooms you may find that those traits you’re looking for already exist in these seeds that have been passed down through the generations.
Part 5. Specific Plant Traits.
If you’ve gardened at least one season or more, you’ve probably discovered some of the pests and problems that frequent the area where you live. For me, it’s things like late blight, powdery mildew and cabbage moths. For others it may be potato beetles, squash vine borers or fusarium wilt. If you have no idea what haunts your garden, I would suggest taking a season to find out. Take your leaves and clippings down to Dogwood Nursery on the Westside; they are the cream of the plant knowledge crop.
It took me years to discover the glorious fact that some seeds are actually resistant to some of the plights that my garden was facing! Both heirloom and hybrid seeds have been perpetuated or bred because they showed resistance to particular problems. Of course, it’s important to note the word “resistant”. They’ll perform better than other varieties in the same circumstances, but no variety is truly invincible.
Part 6. How many Seeds should I buy?
The first thing to consider is whether you’re growing a large plant that will produce baskets of produce, or a single vegetables where one seed = one carrot. Carefully stored, you can get away with infrequent purchases of seeds like squash (including summer squash), tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and even larger veggies like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
Other seeds are on my “to-buy” list season after season, especially if I plant them twice a year (spring and fall). Carrots, radishes, peas, beets, and lettuce go a whole lot faster. Even in my small garden, I usually go through an entire pack each year, and with crops like carrots and peas I use multiple packs.
Hope we planted a seed and started you thinking about spring!