Believe it or not, spring is just around the corner. Have you been dreaming of planting your vegetable garden, but overwhelmed with what garden seeds you should get? I don’t know about you, but with the rows and rows of seeds in the store, I could honestly spend HOURS searching for just the right ones. And browsing a seed catalog? Forget about doing anything else for the rest of the day!
Picking out your seeds shouldn’t be difficult, but if you don’t know what you’re looking at, it can be very confusing. Heirloom or hybrid? Determinate or indeterminate? Pole or bush? What’s my hardiness zone? And is my growing season long enough to grow these?
Well, my friend, if choosing your garden seeds seems more difficult than it should be, I’m here to help!
Determine your hardiness zone and growing season
Before you even THINK about browsing for your garden seeds, you need to determine a few things. You need to know your hardiness zone, and your last spring and first fall frost date.
In this age of technology, it’s easier than it’s ever been to find out both of these. In the “good ole days”, we had to ask local farmers and gardeners, or try to find our spot on the Hardiness Zone map. Now, you can simply enter your zip code to find what zone you live in.
To find your first and last frost dates, almanac.com is a good resource. Again, just enter your zip code to learn your last and first average frost date. This website also gives you the number of days in your average growing season.
For me, here in southwest Idaho, I am in Hardiness Zone 7a. My last average spring frost date is May 9th, and my first average fall frost date is Oct. 6th. This means that I have a growing season of 149 days.
Seed packets normally list the number of days to maturity. Knowing the length of your growing season will help you make sure you have enough time to grow that vegetable.
If you’re planting closer to the end of your growing season, it’s helpful to know how many days you have left of the season. I like to use Time and Date to calculate how many days until my first fall frost. This helps me make sure I’ll be able to get a harvest out of my desired seeds.
Decide if you want heirloom or hybrid garden seeds
This has always been a tough one for me. How do you decide between heirloom and hybrid? Well, let’s first talk about the differences.
Heirloom garden seeds
Heirloom plants are grown from seed that has been saved and passed down for generations. These seeds are open-pollinated, which means that they self-pollinate without the help of humans. Heirloom plants also grow true to seed. This means that the “daughter” plant will be just like the “mother”, as long as it hasn’t been cross-pollinated with another variety. Heirloom seeds are the only types of seeds that you should save from your plants for future planting.
The fruit from heirloom plants tend to be a little “erratic”. Heirloom tomatoes, for example, have unusual colors and shapes that you won’t find in most grocery stores. Most people find, however, is that the taste is much better from heirloom plants than the ones at the mainstream grocery.
Hybrid garden seeds
Hybrid plants are simply crosses of two or more compatible plants. Hybridization is done to combine the desirable qualities of one variety, with the desirable qualities of another variety. Saved hybrid seeds don’t usually grow true to seed. Seeds saved from hybrid plants will most likely not result in the same variety, although they may after several generations.
The fruit from hybrid plants are usually very uniform. With tomatoes as an example, these will be your perfectly round, red fruits. Lots of hybrid plants are actually patented, so the “average Joe” is not legally allowed to reproduce those hybrids. It should be noted that hybrid plants are NOT the same as GMO plants, where some chemical and genetic alterations have been done.
So which one should you choose? There is nothing wrong with either one. It all depends on your intentions with the plants you are going to grow. If you are growing plants to sell at a Farmer’s Market, heirlooms are very popular. If you want to save seeds from the plants you grow (so you don’t have to buy more next year), you should grow heirlooms. On the other hand, if you have a lot of disease problems, hybrids might be the best choice for you, as some are crossed to resist particular diseases.
Decide between determinate and indeterminate
Determinate and indeterminate are terms usually used to describe tomatoes, but can also be used to distinguish other types of vegetables. Cucumbers, potatoes, peas, beans, and strawberries can also be classified as either determinate or indeterminate.
In a nutshell, production on indeterminate plants doesn’t stop during the normal growing season. They will continue to grow and produce as long as the growing season allows them to. A plant that is labeled “vining” would be an indeterminate. Indeterminate plants can get very large, so keep this in mind if you’re short on space.
Determinate plants typically produce fruits that are all ready at about the same time. Once the fruit is mature, the plant can then just focus on staying healthy, but will no longer produce. A plant labeled as a “bush” plant is actually a determinate. Determinate plants tend to stay more compact, so they fit into a small garden better.
If you enjoy eating your produce fresh out of the garden throughout the season, you will want an indeterminate variety. However, if you intend to can or preserve your produce, you should stick with determinates so you have a lot ready to harvest at the same time.
Purchase your garden seeds
Now comes the fun part – start shopping for those seeds! You should start choosing your seeds in early spring. Make sure you get the seeds started at the ideal time. I don’t know how many times I’ve bought seeds too late and thought – “I’ll just plant them anyways and hope for the best”. Just FYI, it doesn’t usually work!
If you plant your seeds too late, your growing season might not be long enough to grow mature vegetables from them. Or, if you try to plant a “cool season” crop too late and it’s already too warm, your plants will suffer and you might get no harvest at all from them. Try to follow the instructions on the seed packets to time your seeds properly.
Another thing to keep in mind is whether the plant can be direct sown or if it should be transplanted. The seed packets will tell you whether to sow directly outside, or to start seed indoors. Tomatoes usually need to be started inside prior to the last frost, due to them needing a long growing season. Corn, beans, and peas typically can just be direct sown.
Make sure you test and amend your garden soil before putting plants in the ground. A good garden needs a good foundation!
So, what are the best garden seeds for you?
I am definitely not a purist, I love variety in my garden. But since I am a self reliance advocate, I tend to shoot mostly for heirloom seeds, since you can save the seeds to perpetuate your garden year after year. And I definitely try to stay away from GMO garden seeds!
If you want more gardening inspiration, be sure to follow my Gardening for Beginners board on Pinterest!
After you purchase your seeds, you need to start them! Starting seeds indoors is the best way to get the earliest harvest possible. Find out how to do that here! Start seeds indoors easily.
Not sure where to buy seeds?
I highly recommend Mary’s Heirloom Seeds. They are a “mom and pop” business that sells the heirloom varieties that she grows in her own garden.
This company has signed the Safe Seed Pledge. The Safe Seeds Pledge states “Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms poses great biological risks, as well as economic, political and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately healthy people and communities.“
You can check them out here: Mary’s Heirloom Seeds
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