All About Seeds – Part 3! Selecting Varieties for Planting

Hooray! You’ve made it to week 3 of All About Seeds. Now that we’ve learned how to decipher a seed packet and understand some of the lingo, we can get down to business. It’s time to choose your varieties!

Here are some things to consider:

 

Step 1: Finalize your planting list

Decide what types of plants you want in your garden.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What do you have space for? 
  • What do you/your family eat the most of?
  • What might be tastier grown at home rather than buying from the store?
    • What bruises or goes bad quickly after being harvested?
  • Which items have a big mark-up at the store that you could grow more cheaply yourself?
    • Berries? Rare veggies? Spices? Herbs?
  • Which company (or companies) do you want to buy from?
    • What’s in stock?
    • Can you buy all your seeds from them and get a discount or free shipping?
    • Who’s got the best prices? (Don’t forget to take into consideration the unit/weight for each seed pack)
    • What’s their lead time on shipping?

Step 2: Determine your seed “rules”

Selecting varieties can be overwhelming and it’s easy to over-buy. So create some rules for yourself before you even crack open a seed catalog or peruse a seed company’s website. Here are some examples of rules that you can use or adjust for yourself:

  • I’m limiting myself to x number of varieties of the same plant (i.e. 2 tomato varieties)
  • I’m limiting myself to varieties that are bred for containers (dwarf size)
  • I’m limiting myself to varieties that support my convictions about GMO vs. Non-GMO, Organic vs. Non-organic, and/or Open-pollinated/Heirloom vs. Hybrid.
  • I won’t pay over $x per packet of seeds
  • My total budget is $x, and I will stick to that number

Are all these rules really necessary? The Big Lebowski

Yes, yes they are. Because you’re about to…


Step 3: Crack open a seed catalog / seed company’s website

Now you’re armed with some defenses against overspending on seeds. Here’s an example of a spread you might see (this one’s from Baker Creek):

Baker Creek Seed Catalog - Example of Bean Options

 

It’s so alluring, am I right? The photography is on point – look at all those beautiful green beans you could have in your garden!

 

Thriller - I'm just here to watch people in denial rationalize their excuses

REALITY CHECK. Your garden is not a farm. Your plants will not look like these pristine, beautifully arranged specimens. So let’s keep it real, shall we?

  1. Go to the section for the first type of plant you want to order. 
  2. Immediately mark out any varieties that break your rules. If you’ve got a physical copy of the seed catalog, mark it out with a big X. I’m not kidding. If you’re looking at the website, write down the “hard no’s” on one side of a sheet of paper. 
  3. Assess what’s left. Of the varieties that are left, which ones will work best for you and your garden? You can compare the following to help you further narrow the list down:
    • Is it appropriate for your growing zone? (ex: “long day” onions do best when grown in zones 6 and colder)
    • What are the # of days to maturity? Do you prefer an earlier or later harvest?
    • Does it have any special advantages over others (ex: resistance to verticillium wilt in a tomato variety)?
    • Are there any disadvantages? (ex: beans that need to be trellised vs. ones that grow in a “bush” habit and don’t need support)
  4. Put your final “yeses” in your online shopping cart or write them down on the other side of your piece of paper that had the hard no’s on them.

Step 4: Wait 24 hours

Have a neutral third party (spouse, friend, mail carrier, local dog-walker) review what you have in your shopping cart. Give them permission to gently remind you of your seed rules and which selections might be breaking those rules. Get real with yourself. Have you gone over budget? It’s time to make some hard choices. YOU CAN DO THIS! Just don’t be like Cindy:


Step 5: Place your order

Enter that credit card info and click submit. Now sit back, relax and get ready for the next step in the process – preparing your planting area for your seeds or transplants! But before we do that, we’ve got some pruning to do…

 

Coming up:

Sunday: Pruning Time!

Next Wednesday: We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for Pruning – It’s Not that Hard!

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Where to Start? Nursery Transplants vs Direct Sowing vs Indoor Seed Starting

Spring is just around the corner! It’s hard to believe, but in just a few short weeks, it will be planting time. Have you thought about how you plan to start your garden this year? Here are some tips for choosing between Nursery Transplants vs Direct Sowing vs Indoor Seed Starting, including a run-down of the pros and cons for each option, with a handy flow chart to help you make your decision.

 

Nursery Transplants

Pros: 

    • Least amount of work. The nursery has done the hard work for you! You don’t have to deal with planting schedules, germination fails, and plants keeling over/getting leggy because they don’t have sufficient lighting (no, putting your plants in a windowsill is NOT enough light for baby seedlings… you need a fluorescent or special spectrum LED light to mimic the sun – I’ve learned this the hard way in growing the world’s floppiest tomatoes)
    • No waste! Did you really need 45 lettuce seedlings? That’s what you’re going to have when you sow indoors (lettuce seeds are TINY, betcha can’t plant just one!). Have you thought about how they will fit once they are full-size? At proper spacing (4 per foot in the Square Foot Gardening method), you’d need 11 square feet (close to three-quarters of a 4×4 ft bed) to plant all those lettuces. And I’m guessing you probably wanted to eat more than just lettuce this year. Plus, if you’re like me, you hear Sarah McLachlan’s “In the Arms of the Angels” every time you have to cull a perfectly good seedling because there is no room in the inn.

I have to make fun of it': Sarah McLachlan on the intense power of Angel, the unofficial song of sorrow | CBC Radio

    • Simple transplanting. Pop them out of their containers, dig a hole in the ground, and pop them in. Voila! You have plants!
    • Supporting a local business. After last year, we should all be supporting these entrepreneurs as much as possible. PREACH.

Cons:

    • Fewer variety options. You probably can’t get that super specific Russian tomato that you’ve been eyeing in the seed catalogs at the nursery. BUT the nursery will have at least 12 other varieties you can try that probably aren’t all that different. 
    • Slightly higher cost than seeds. But realistically people, it’s less than a latte. If you’re really nickel and diming it, get seed packets, but keep in mind that 4- or 6-packs of veggies or herbs at the nursery are usually only a couple bucks. Your sanity and time ARE worth something. Better yet, split that cost with a neighbor who only wants 1 or 2 plants. Now you have a neighbor with the same plants in case your plants fail. And you get to know your neighbor. Win-win.
    • Transplant shock is possible. You need to acclimate your nursery plants to their new home by leaving them outside for gradually longer amounts of time each day (over the course of about a week). If planted out immediately into new surroundings without this acclimatization, Your plants might not survive. 

 

Direct Sowing

Pros:

    • Strong plants. Plenty of sunlight and wind ensure your plants don’t end up leggy and weak.
    • No transplant shock because there is no transplanting! This happens if you don’t acclimate your plants to their final planting location (usually nursery plants need to be set outside for progressively longer periods each day for about a week before you intend to plant)
    • Low cost & low waste. You don’t have to buy potting soil or seed-starting mix.
    • Wide variety of seeds available
    • Some varieties must be direct sown to avoid root damage that would occur if transplanted. These include root vegetables like beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, and radishes. Other types of plants that don’t transplant well are beans, peas, squashes, cucumbers, melons, and corn. 

Cons:

    • Some babysitting required. You need to keep on top of watering so seedlings don’t dry out.
    • Uneven spacing in your beds is a thing. You aren’t going to have Martha Stewart picture perfect photo spreads of your garden. It’s going to look a little higgledy-piggledy. 
    • Thinning required. You have to pull/snip baby plants that are too close together. Cue the sad violin. (OR look at the bright side and enjoy some homegrown microgreens!)
    • Not appropriate for slow growers. Look at the “days to maturity” on your seed pack. If it’s longer than your growing season is (days between your average last and first frost dates), then you’ll need to start with transplants or by starting indoors.

 

Indoor Seed Starting

Pros

  • Wide variety of seeds available. You can grow any variety you want! As long as you can source the seed packet, you can make it happen
  • You have complete control over the growing process
  • Satisfaction/bragging rights of having grown your own plants from seed to harvest
  • You can observe and learn a lot about plant growth – nutrient needs, wind
  • Get a head start on plant growth (can start plants inside when it’s too cold to start them outdoors) – earlier harvests, potentially more rounds of succession planting

Cons

  • Requires expensive equipment to do it right, including seedling heat mats, domed trays or soil blockers, fans, LED/fluorescent lights, bakers racks, plus the actual seeds. This is easily a few hundred dollars in start-up costs. This method won’t pay for itself unless you’re using it for many, many growing seasons or planning to sell your seedlings
  • Wastes a lot of potting soil/seed starting mix. I see this as an unnecessary extra expense.
  • Plants must be hardened off before transplanting into the garden. This means acclimatizing seedlings like you would transplants from a nursery (gradually more time outdoors each day over the course of a week).
  • Dampening off / other fungal infections more likely indoors.
  • It’s a much bigger time commitment than transplanting or direct sowing. With great power comes great responsibility – you will be babysitting these plants, tending to water, heat, and light until it’s time to plant out. 

Here’s a summary of the points above:Plant Starting Pros & Cons Chart

Still not sure what to do? Use this decision guide!

Plant Starting Decision Guide

What are your thoughts on choosing between Nursery Transplants vs Direct Sowing vs Indoor Seed Starting? Are there criteria I missed that you think should be included in deciding? What did you decide? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Coming up:

Sunday: How to Achieve Your Goals This Year + My Goals for 2021

Next Wednesday: Step-by-Step Planting Preparation Guide

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