There is nothing like planning your vegetable, herb, and flower garden over a cup of hot mint tea and with the latest seed catalogs, preferably in front of a log fire. By learning a little bit about seeds and their terminology, you can be informed about what you are buying and prepared to order seeds that will thrive in your garden.
Types of Seeds
When deciding between F-1 hybrids and open-pollinated seeds, which should you choose? There are a couple of things to consider. Do you want to save seeds from the vegetable or flower to sow next year or to share with friends or family for a friendship garden? If you want to save seeds, don’t choose a hybrid. A hybrid is a new and distinct plant resulting from a cross between two species or varieties. An F-1 hybrid refers to the seeds taken from the first generation after the cross. Plants grown from hybrid seeds often do not produce seeds, and even if they do, the seeds will be sterile, meaning they will not grow new plants. Hybrid plants are often preferred by commercial growers because they are more vigorous, higher yielding, and uniform, meaning all plants of the same variety will mature all at once.
Open-pollinated seeds (seeds that can reproduce themselves), on the other hand, are not hybrids, so you can save seeds from them. Many open pollinated varieties are also heirloom varieties that have been traditionally grown by gardeners and passed down through generations. These heirlooms are usually tastier, interesting, and more nutritious than hybrids. Heirloom seeds that have been grown and harvested for generations in your region will become adapted to the area and become stronger generation after generation. Chose both hybrid and open pollinated seeds to ensure success.
Should I Grow Organic Seeds?
With the choice of hybrid, open-pollinated, and heirloom seeds, it is one thing to know what the terms mean another to know how they will grow. Is there any point for example in getting organic seeds if you want an organic garden? The answer is yes, if you want to support seeds grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. However, if the parent wasn’t grown organically but you grow the seed organically, you will have an organically grown plant. The choice is yours.
With heirloom seeds the story is a little different. These varieties are usually pretty resistant to pest and disease. It makes sense, given that they have been grown for a long, long time. They would not have survived if they were not tough. However, all varieties, no matter how old or how they were grown, will benefit from companion planting.
Speaking of pollination, difficulties of cross pollination can affect the planting plan and the seeds you buy, so the planting plan is also an essential part of the seed buying process. For example, if you want to save seeds from a particular variety of zucchini, you should not plant any other varieties of zucchini or other summer squash. The reason is that these vegetables will cross-pollinate (plants from one variety pollinating another variety) resulting in new varieties. They will look and taste like zucchini but if you grew out the seeds next year they would not look like your typical zucchini. So plan your garden accordingly. You might even enjoy growing your own varieties, and with some plants, such as squash, it’s much easier to do this than it is with others.
How to Select a Seed Company
If you are like me, you end up with a mountain of seed catalogs and no idea where you should be getting your seeds. Over the years I have found that I can trust a few simple rules of thumb.
- Buy from regional seeds companies that are in your area. This is a great way to guarantee that the plants will thrive in your climate. And many national companies will list for which areas a particular seed is good.
- Stick with tried and true varieties. If it has worked for you in the past and you love to eat it, then grow it again.
- Still be open to new and interesting varieties that look as if they may do well in your garden or that you would like to eat. And finally, order open-pollinated seeds if you want to save seeds from them.
If you still have seed packets left over from last year, look at the dates on the package to make sure the seed isn’t too old to germinate. It doesn’t hurt to quickly check the seed packets you’re buying this year either, as some stores unload old stock! If the seed is more than three years old or did not do well for you last year, you might want to pay some attention to the germination rate. If it’s not high, the problem might not be you or your soil but the quality of the seed. Time to cut down on your order from that supplier and try a different one.