Buying garden seeds doesn’t sound like it’s that complicated but you have to know what to look for. On the surface, buying garden seeds doesn’t sound complex. It’s a small investment and doesn’t require any special supplies or resources. There are dozens of seed companies with multitudes of seeds, all ready to be purchased. But, with such vast options, and so many kinds, it’s challenging to know which one to trust.
There is much to think about when buying seeds beyond which flower and vegetable varieties to purchase. Successful gardeners research and buy seeds from a trustworthy seed company because they understand good results start with superior seeds. There are a number of things gardeners need to consider to produce plenty of food to harvest.
Whether you’re a new or seasoned gardener, it is essential to practice good seed-buying methods to ensure your garden is a success. Not all garden seeds are the same, and one needs to exercise discretion when ordering from seed catalogs and companies. For beginners, these things may be overwhelming. This guide will help you make choices that are best for your family.
The Five Kinds of Seeds
- Open Pollinated- These are seeds that breed “true-to-type.” This means they produce plants that are identical to their parent plant. Open-pollinated seeds are pollinated by the wind, bees, birds, and other natural methods. Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated types. One great thing about open-pollinated seeds is that they can be saved from the plants year to year, reducing the need to buy new ones every season. For example, you can plant open-pollinated tomatoes, harvest and extract the seeds, and grow them the following year.
- Heirloom- An heirloom seed is identified based on its history. In general, heirloom seeds must be over 50 years old with a documented history to be considered heritage-worthy. All heirloom varieties are open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated seeds are heirloom seeds.
- Hybrid- Hybrids are created by people purposefully crossing the pollen of two different plants to create a unique variety. Usually, this cross-pollination is done deliberately to create an end product with specific traits. Desired traits include disease resistance, greater productivity, hardiness, and higher quality produce. For example, San Marzano tomatoes are a kind of hybrid variety bred to be resistant to tobacco mosaic virus, fusarium wilt, and nematodes. The downside to hybrids is that they cannot be saved for replanting. New seeds must be ordered every year. The amount of hybrid plants available increases every year. Many are adapted for a specific soil type, season, or faster days to maturity.
- GMO- GMO (also labeled as “BE” or Biologically Engineered) seeds cannot happen naturally. They require a lab and gene-splicing, and this technique produces garden seeds with altered DNA. They are significantly different from hybrids because gene-splicing happens between kingdoms, not just between species. For example, the tomato hybrids result from years of farmers breeding different types of tomatoes together and cross-pollinating only with tomato plants. On the other hand, GMO seeds are often spliced with pesticides to make them pest-resistant. If an insect eats the plant, it will die. Or, the GMO seed is mixed with specific bacteria to make them immune to herbicides. In this case, a farmer can do extensive spraying of herbicides to kill weeds without harming the vegetable plants. Like hybrids, GMO types cannot be saved for future planting. Currently, only corn, soybeans, sugarbeets, alfalfa, papaya, zucchini and summer squash, canola, cotton, potato, and apples have GMO versions.
- Organic-All organic seeds come from certified organic plants. The parent plants must meet specific standards from the US Department of Agriculture certification program before they can be labeled as organic. Organic certification is expensive, and many small farmers can’t afford to complete the process. So, even though their seeds may be organic, they are not labeled as such. It’s up to you whether you trust the farmer or supplier in these instances.
You’ll notice the terms “natural” and “conventional” are not included in the list. These terms have absolutely no oversight, and they don’t mean a thing when it comes to seed quality.
Can You Grow Vegetables From Store-Bought Produce?
Yes, for sure! Only use organic vegetables, though, preferably from local farms. Some vegetables are treated with chemicals that may inhibit their ability to regrow. Spuds, in particular, are treated by grocery stores, so they don’t develop sprouts while on the shelf. You may find it a hit and miss with grocery store produce since so much depends on the original grower and seeds. The vegetable variety may not be one that is suited to grow in your area.
Five Guidelines To Buying Garden Seeds
Before you order anything, consider these factors so you can make informed choices. All the information you need should be easily accessible from the company or on the seed packet label.
1) Look at the Label
Now that you understand what all the labels really mean, you can determine which kinds you want to plant in your garden. Buying seeds is the easy part. Figuring out which ones work for you is more complicated. If your garden or climate is particularly susceptible to a specific pest, finding a hybrid that combats that issue is valuable. Always make sure to choose non-GMO varieties to keep your garden chemical-free and people-safe. It is up to us, as growers, to make responsible choices for our families. Labels usually list seed origin, sunlight requirements, watering guidelines, soil preference, the best season to sow, and how many days to maturity. Read the descriptions before buying anything!
2) Know Your Climate Zone
Every seed packet lists the ideal USDA climate region or zone in which the plant will grow. There are 13 zones across the United States, and it is essential to figure out which one you fall under. Zones are crucial because all plants won’t grow everywhere. There are heirloom varieties of cucumbers that grow better in cooler climates as opposed to hot climates. When you are looking through the seed catalogs, pay attention to the zone. The gardening season will start off a lot better if you start with the right varieties. It’s frustrating to start seeds only to realize they won’t reach maturity because the weather or season isn’t ideal. Don’t let frost times catch you by surprise!
3) Only Buy What You Need
One of the main reasons we end up with old seeds, wondering about their viability, is because we over-purchased the year (or years!) previously. When those seed catalogs start arriving with their glowing descriptions, they’re hard to resist. But, we must exercise some restraint. Look through the seed varieties that you have already, and only buy what you need for this season’s planting. Are you looking for herbs for cooking, or do you want to freeze or dehydrate them as well? This makes an impact on how many you plant.
Many last for years, so be sure to take that into consideration, as well. Don’t let the seed catalog tempt you into growing more plant varieties than your garden can handle. If you already have a bunch, don’t let them go to waste. Use them or share them with friends and neighbors. One of our favorite recipes for making new friends: share some seeds!
4) Plan Your Garden, Plan Your Seeds
It’s easy to get swept away by pretty catalog pictures and dreams of glorious harvests. It would be amazing to plant ten different varieties of tomatoes, but is there space in the garden for all those plants? Make a list of what kind of vegetables you want to plant. Use the catalogs for inspiration. Next, mark your favorite ones. Assess your area; how much space do you have to plant? How much sunlight does each area receive? How many seedlings do you really have space for?
Are you going to use the whole backyard or just a portion? Is there greenhouse space to utilize as well? Draw up an outline, indicating where you will plant each one. Finally, make a realistic list based on how much space is available and what kind of flowers and vegetables you want to plant. This may mean ordering from several catalogs. That’s great; variety makes gardening fun.
5) Understand Your Land
The soil, sun, and zone elements of your site are among the things you need to understand to grow veggies and flowers successfully. If the soil lacks nutrients, it doesn’t matter which seeds you sow; they won’t produce anything. Plenty of gardeners must put extra work and love into the garden by adding compost to improve the soil, in order to enrich growing conditions. Some herbs, like mint and rosemary, are extremely hardy and will grow in imperfect soil. If there are problems with pests that affect growth rates, it’s important to take that into consideration. If the yard won’t grow a great crop, grow lettuces, culinary herbs, and small veggies in containers. If you want to attract more beneficial insects to your land, invest in bat or bee houses.
Do I Need To Buy New Seeds Every Year?
Yes. And, no. It depends on what ones you already have on hand, how old they are, and how they’ve been stored. Following these tips will help you determine if you need to buy new seeds or not.
All seed packets should have a date on them. This is the year they were packaged. Some are great for many years, while others lose fertility rates after only a couple of years. Most seed varieties are good for at least two years, so if you have some from the previous season, go ahead and use them. If the seeds are several years old, though, consult the guide below to see whether they’re worth putting in the ground or not.
Seeds That Last 1-2 Years
Seeds That Last 3-4 Years
Seeds That Last Four+ Years
How To Store Seeds
Seed viability is greatly increased with proper storage. All seeds need to be stored in a cool, dark, dry location. Never put them where they will be exposed to sun or light. Place each variety in an airtight glass container. And, make sure you label it! A canning jar is a great choice for this purpose. A sealed plastic bag inside a container also works well to store seeds. The best place to put these jars is in the refrigerator or freezer, so they stay below 50F. If that isn’t an option, store them in a cool basement, cellar, or garage. They must be kept away from sun, water, and heat, as these elements deteriorate the seed life.
How Can I Tell If My Seeds Are Good?
If you can’t find dates on the seed packets, or you’re unsure whether they will germinate, there is a simple test to do to find out. This germination test is easy and effective. It can be done with just a few or a huge bunch. This is also the best way to figure out if it’s worth planting those old seeds.
- Layout a moist paper towel or coffee filter on the counter. It should be damp without being soggy.
- Place the seeds on it without letting them touch.
- Fold up the paper towel, and put it inside a plastic bag.
- Set the bag in a warm location. If there isn’t a good warm spot to place them, put them under a grow light. Don’t put them directly in the sun, though.
- After three days, check the seeds to see if they sprouted.
- Lightly spray the paper towel with water, as needed, to keep it moist.
- Check them every other day until you see them germinate. The seed packet should indicate how many day it is expected this takes.
- Count how many germinated.
- Calculate the germination percentage by dividing the number of seeds that sprouted by the number that were tested.
- If a germination rate is listed on the packet, compare the percentages to determine how well yours will perform.
- If the rate is low, you’ll need to look into buying new seeds.
How Do I Know If My Seeds Are Old?
Look for the date information on the seed packet. If that isn’t available, do the seed germination test.
How Do You Revive Old Seeds?
You can’t. Old seeds may still produce vegetables without a problem. But, if you do the germination test and they don’t sprout, there is no way to force it. Seeds are living things, and once they die, there is no coming back to life. However, don’t throw out those old ones without checking first! It can’t hurt to see if they will produce a few plants.
Our money-saving tips: If you have the garden space, plant the beet seeds or herbs, or whatever you have, in the ground, and see what happens. Worst case scenario, you get no seedlings. Best case, you end up with an extra harvest of beets. Gardening is an adventure, and there is no reason not to take a chance.
Where Is The Best Place To Buy Vegetable Seeds Online?
Everything you need to know about the veggie or flower, including type, variety, and source should be readily found on the website. If the online seller isn’t disclosing this information, it’s best to avoid buying from them. Paper catalogs are nice, but the ease of searching online is often even better. Plus, it’s better for the environment not to print all those catalogs!
Here at Naturezedge, we ensure all our seeds are non-GMO and sourced from the best suppliers. We understand the importance of safe home gardening practices and do everything in our power to offer products that meet the highest standard. Our garden is our resource for food and sustenance; we do not take that lightly. Before you plant anything, make a list or two of what matters to you, and begin the process of becoming a responsible, mindful gardener.
Some of our favorite sources for vegetable, fruit, and flower selection include:
- Seed Savers Exchange — An amazing source of heirloom veggies, from tomatoes to arugula, the varieties are endless. If only we had the space to plant them all!
- High Mowing Seeds — Great seed catalog featuring 100% organic, non-GMO vegetables, flowers, and cover crops.
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange — Featuring over 800 varieties of vegetables, flowers, and herbs with an emphasis on those that grow well in the southern USA. Many are organic and sourced from local gardeners.
- Naturezedge — Featuring American sourced, non-GMO flowers, veggies, and herbs with excellent packaged deals for the new gardener.
What Are The Best Garden Seeds To Buy?
Always buy non-GMO seeds, preferably sourced from local gardeners in your home country. Organic ones are even better, but often they are significantly more expensive. Purchase a mix of heirloom types. Include some hybrids to create a successful, diverse garden area, and to have the best growing experience.