Friday, February 05, 2010

Will Work for Seeds

I'm putting in my seed order today. I recommend Territorial Seeds. Good folks growing good stuff, and they have very quality seed.

Unbeknownst to most folks, the seeds you get in the seed packets at the store are usually low quality seed. The reason is that the seed companies don't make much money off of those seed stands, and if someone complains and asks for money back, it costs them a negligible amount. Compare that to farmers, who will buy many pounds, instead of grams of seed, and if the germination rate isn't great, they'll go to another seed company and spread the word. Some seed sellers who sell to farmers give them the good stuff and put what's essentially iffy or waste seed into the packets for the general home owner who buys from their grocery store.

In come the specialty seed producers and growers. There are lots of things to look for to determine how seriously they take seed sales to us folks buying small potatoes (so to speak.) I look for companies with a variety of packet sizes--everything from under a gram up to selling several ounces or even selling by the pound. I look for germination rates listed in their catalogue. I look for trial information--either on their own site, or other sites. I look for in-house varieties (things that the producer developed through breeding on their own grounds,) and statements about where the other varieties they carry came from. I also like seeing information on disease resistance, not just a hardiness number or recommended planting times that may or may not be variety specific. Good seed producers usually also include the approximate number of seeds per gram or ounce.

BTW, it's easy to just slap the same information on, for example, all carrots, but carrots widely vary as far as what time of year is best to plant them. Some do poorly in summer, some can be overwintered, some love the heat. This is why it's such an advantage to go with a seed producer that actually pays attention to that sort of thing. The difference in price, if you're talking about a backyard garden, will be anywhere from ten cents to three dollars more per packet for some of the really exotic specialty seeds than what you'd find in the grocery, hardware or general store. The difference in quality and the chances of success far and away offset that. All that time and anticipation, anywhere from 20 days from the fastest growing radish to the length of a human pregnancy for overwintered veggies ... to me it makes no sense to get something at the cheapest price and then have nothing come up, or come up only to die or have something else entirely come up after all that waiting ....

On the other hand, if you haven't prepared your soil very well, don't have a pest management plan, or are simply inexperienced, I wouldn't recommend going with a bunch of really pricey, top-quality seeds your first few times around. It might be a good idea to go to a garden center, though, instead of a store that sells only the usual nationwide brands of seeds. Look over the racks that feature local or organic seed companies, and pick a few inexpensive things, both ornamental and edible, that you're interested in growing. Find out what's very simple and fun to grow from the employees.

Some suggestions for first-time from-seed growers:

Radishes--grow fast, very easy sprouters. Pick them as soon as they're ready because we have pests in the soil that mar the skin. The cooler the weather, the better because fewer pests are active in cool soil.  Plant a couple dozen seeds every two weeks and move your planting site around the garden.  Radishes do well between rows of other veggies or even in-between annuals in your ornamental garden, as long as they get enough sunlight.
Zucchini--these will famously grow anywhere for just about anyone. Don't plant all the seeds all at once! Plant two groups of three about 2-3 feet apart, see if they come up. If they don't, try again. (If they don't, it's just as likely that the soil is too cold or they got hit by pests. Try to figure out what happened before you replant.)  Zucchinis don't usually get bothered by birds or slugs but sometimes mice will get them.
Sunflowers--protect them from birds and slugs! Cover the seeded area with netting or crop-covering fabric. Cheesecloth might work fine too. Uncover the seedlings when they've got a true leaf if you're using light-permeable fabric or netting, sooner if you use cheesecloth or other light-blocking fabric.
Oregano, mint or catnip--The seedlings on these are extremely delicate. I start them in ordinary garden pots, planters, or leftover plastic trays from annuals from last year and then transplant them when they're a couple of inches tall. Keep catnip covered or out of reach of cats until its established. Once catnip gets going, a cat can roll around in it and crush it flat and it should come back. Be sure to thin the seedlings to the proper spacing--they'll do much better. You can add the thinned plants to your recipes.  Catnip makes a nice tea.

Pictured: Sweet peas. Sweet peas are extremely fun to grow, and very fragrant. Timing the planting of sweet peas can be tricky, though, for the best show. If you want to try them, space out your plantings about a week apart. Make note of which ones came up best and which ones bloomed the longest.  Large, solid seeds like sweet peas, snow peas, and beans sometimes benefit from eight hours (or less) of soaking prior to planting.  Unless you have very depleted soil from over-farming, you don't need innoculant for your peas.


Kai Jones said...

I went in with some cow-orkers on a big order from Territorial--we coordinated ordering so we could get bigger packages of the same seeds and split them up.

Kami said...

Sweet! That's an excellent way to do it!