At the root, technically before the root, of all gardens are seeds. For those looking to grow vegetables on any notable scale or without dropping a fortune on seedlings, seeds are going to hugely factor into a garden project. But, that doesn’t just mean that any seed will do, because, in fact, seeds are not all created equal. Some seeds are going to be better for your particular garden.
In the olden days, farmers used to grow and harvest their own seeds, and that’s still a great — the best — idea. However, we all have to start from somewhere. In other words, hopefully by next year, many of the seeds being planted in your garden have come from your garden, but this year the goal will be to purchase the ones most suited for the soil, climate, and ambitions.
While many supermarket shoppers have become enamored with size over quality, really big vegetables should probably not be the objective of a garden. Instead, a veggie patch is probably at its best when it is low-maintenance (no need for fertilizers and biocides), nutrient dense (big veggies aren’t always the most nutritious), and diverse (a mix of crops is best.) Here are the types of seeds that’ll best get you there.
Seeds get lots of labels: open pollinated, hybrid, heirloom, organic, non-GMO. Each of these denotes something very specific, but to break it all down quickly, organic heirloom seeds are likely the most expensive and the ones to buy.
Because they are heirloom, they’ve likely been open pollinated and can’t be from GMO sources. What it means, for sure, is they have been saved for generations, and that signifies these crops are survivors. What’s more is that, because they are organic, they’ve not relied on chemicals to reproduce, and that’s a good sign as well.
Choosing between heirloom and organic is a little different. For those looking to garden long-term, heirloom is the better choice. The seeds are time-tested, and though they might not be from USDA-certified organic sources, next year’s seeds will be organic for sure as they’ll be from your own home garden. Organic does guarantee they are not GMO, but they may not have the same wherewithal for survival as heirlooms.
Finding locally sourced seeds is much more relevant than simply supporting local businesses, though it is a great thing to support these local businesses, especially small-scale agricultural ones. Rather, seeds from local sources are better for local gardens.
It works like this: seeds grown and harvested in the immediate region come from genetic lines that have slowly adapted to the climatic, even soil, conditions of the area. Local gardeners, then, are at an advantage using them because those tomatoes or that kale has adapted to growing in similar circumstances.
Go with the local seed sources first, and if that fails (if those sources don’t have the desired crops), look for them in larger, reputable companies known for seed quality. For example, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Seed Savers Exchange are two worthy places to import seeds from.
There are other things to consider with seeds, namely choosing what’s right. What’s right is to grow things you’ll want to eat and things that are proven winners for where you are. This seems like common sense, but sometimes beginning gardeners need a reminder.
There is no point growing cucumbers if nobody around wants them. Doing so would likely result in a garden that is rarely tended to and falls quickly into disrepair and rampant weeds. Likewise, choose what historically works in the region. Start with the types of crops the area is known for and branch out from there.
Fitting personal taste and environment are beyond relevant. Frequent trips for harvesting and easy-growing crops are two of the surest ways to ensure a successful garden.
Mix It Up
One of the most important things when choosing seeds is to mix it up. Gardens shouldn’t be limited to one crop, and not every crop will grow in the same conditions.
It’s best to grow a variety of crops (and not just a variety of the same crop, such as twenty types of tomato.) Biodiversity prevents pest problems and soil degradation. A diverse harvest also means that a wider range of vitamins and minerals will be on the dinner table.
It’s also important to realize that all seeds don’t work the same at all times of the year. Some want it hot, others cool, so gardeners have to propagate mindfully. Organize planting times to fit the seeds, and plant seeds in small batches every couple of weeks to extend the harvest.
Ultimately, at the end of each crop’s growing season, it will be important to leave some choice vegetables and plants to go to seed and produce the bulk of seeds for next year’s garden. Creating a seed bank at home saves gardeners loads of money while continuing to acclimatize their selections into crops ideally suited for their exact location. That makes for a very healthy and happy garden.
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