All About Seeds – Part 1! Deciphering Seed Packets

Do seed packets simultaneously inspire you AND overwhelm you? Well, I’m glad I’m not alone! Today, I’m going to show you how to decipher seed packets. If it’s Greek to you now, hopefully by the end of this post you’ll either be speaking Greek or at least be proficient in reading it.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding - Give me a word, any word. I show you how root is greek.

Let’s take a look at a seed packet. Here’s an example of a lettuce mix I got from Seed Saver’s Exchange:

Front of Seed Packet Explained

The front is pretty self-explanatory, with the company name, plant type, and variety/mix name, except for the bottom which says “Always Open-Pollinated and Non-GMO”, which I’ll cover in next week’s post. So let’s skip that for now and move to the back of the packet:

Back of Seed Packet Explained

So at the very top we have “packed for 2019, sell by 10/31/19”, then the product number & lot number, then the number of seeds or weight of seeds that come in the packet. 

“Packed for” and “sell by” dates ARE NOT expiration dates, so don’t throw your old seeds away. Your seeds will still be viable for many years (but fresher seeds always germinate best). It depends on the type of seed, but many stay good for 5-10 years (some shorter, some longer). If your seeds are getting up there in age, you can always sow more seeds than you intend to grow to maturity as extra insurance in case they don’t all germinate.

Then we’ve got the product number and the mix name again, plus the Latin Genus and Species name for lettuce (Lactuca sativa). This is helpful because it gives you a clue about how plants are related. For instance, onions are “Allium cepa”, while garlic is “Allium sativum”. Guess what? They’re related! But that was an easy one. Here’s another neat connection: tomatoes are “Solanum lycopersicum” and eggplants are “Solanum melongena”. Yes – tomatoes and eggplants are part of the same family – commonly called nightshades – and even grow similarly! This is helpful to know when planting so you don’t put cousins right next to each other in your garden bed – they likely have similar nutrient needs (they’ll deplete the same soil nutrients meaning you’ll have to fertilize) and they might even attract the same pests (together, they’ll act like a giant neon “eat me!” sign to any bug in the area). Is your mind blown yet?

Mind Blown
Next, we’ve got a description from the seed company. Since this is a mix, they’re telling us the variety names that they’ve included (some packets for mixes don’t even go this far… it’s a smorgasbord of whatever seeds they had left, so I give SSE props for disclosing their varieties). 

Okay now we get to the VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION.

40-45 days- this is the days to maturity (number of days from planting the seed to harvesting your lettuce). Extremely important information to have so you know when to harvest.

Seed spacingignore the “direct seed” spacing“ if you’re doing square foot gardening. The direct seed spacing information given on the seed packet is how to grow these using traditional gardening rows. This particular packet is instructing you to sow seeds one inch apart, then once seedling sprout, to cut down excess seedlings so that the ones that remain are 6-8 inches apart. It’s extremely wasteful and stupid, in my opinion. However, it’s a great way for the seed companies to get you to buy more of their product. We aren’t going to be fooled by their shenanigans, though.

No, what we’re going to do is look at the final spacing from the “thin” instructions (6-8 inches for lettuce) and think about how many plants with that spacing could fit in a 12” x 12” square. NOW DON’T FREAK OUT. We’re going to do some math. It’s not hard and it’s simple to remember.

Oh No! Not Math! Kitty Screaming Meme

You can do this! I believe in you! Now STAY WITH ME. We do this quick calculation:

  • Width of your planting area (12 inches) ➗ seed spacing (6 inches) = 2 plants across
  • Length of your planting area (12 inches) ➗ seed spacing (6 inches) = 2 plants down
  • Multiply your two answers together to get the total number of seeds to plant per square.

2 x 2 = 4

(see, you can do this!)

ANSWER: At 6” spacing, you can fit 4 lettuce plants in a square foot.

There are also handy dandy charts online with this information pre-calculated for different types of plants.

Planting depth is VERY important. Don’t just shove your seeds as deep as you want. You want them to be close to the surface. Rule of thumb is sow 2 times as deep as the seed is wide.

Germination info is just what you think it is – how long it takes for seeds to sprout into seedlings once planted, in this case 7-14 days.

The instructions section has other notes that might help you like sunlight and temperature needs (does it need full sun or partial? Frost tolerant? Heat tolerant? etc)

Lastly, we’ve got more company contact info should you have questions or problems.

And that’s it! That wasn’t so bad, was it? I’m sure you’re speaking Greek fluently now! And you’re polished up on your multiplication tables. Wondering about some of those buzzwords like “Open-Pollinated” and “Non-GMO” we saw on the packet? If so, great! Because that’s what I’ll cover in next week’s post – All About Seeds – Part 2! Seed Lingo Decoded!

What other seed packet variations have you seen? Which seed companies do you think have the most useful information on their packs? Let me know in the comments!

Coming up:

Sunday: Where are you planted?

Next Wednesday: All About Seeds – Part 2!  Seed Lingo Decoded

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