It never fails. Every year between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the first seed catalogs show up. Every year I say, “I will not go overboard on seed buying.” But alas, my eyes are bigger than my garden. I am enticed by the pictures of luscious tomatoes, sweet crunchy peppers, fiery Chiles to give my salsa extra zing, and visions of a bountiful squash harvest to make into soup and desserts. Being a gardener is hard this time of year, ripe with expectation of what is to come.
Isn’t it easier to just buy young plants at a nursery? Yes. So, why would you want to start your own seeds? Retailors have limited shelf space, and will go with what is familiar to consumers. But there are hundreds more options when you start your own seeds. There are more than 5,000 tomato varieties to explore. There are many varieties, all colors of the rainbow, and sizes ranging from thumbnail, to as big as a softball. A plethora of different cultivars exist within each flower, vegetable, and herb type. Once you discover the treasure trove of options, it is a slippery slope.
One of the most compelling reasons for me to start my own seeds is the intimacy of your relationship with the plant from its infancy. In late March you put the tomato seed in its little plastic cell. By August your tomato vine is more than six feet tall. The satisfaction of biting into a perfectly ripe heirloom tomato is hard to beat. You began this process in March, holding the tiny seed in your hand. Now you are eating the fruits of your labor. If you want to take it a step further, you can save the seeds from the same plant to continue the process next year (more on this in a future post).
Another reason to start your own seeds is that you can control the conditions in which the plant was raised from start to finish. Big retailers have thousands of plants to raise, and they cannot give careful attention to each plant. You however, are in control of when each plant is gradually introduced to outside, how it is fertilized, how consistently it is watered, when it is moved to a bigger container, and when it is ready to be put in the garden; you can do it without delay. Many plants I see at a nursery are often root-bound, and stressed out. Many never fully recover. I have to sort through plants to find one in acceptable condition.
You will probably have seeds left over, depending on how much you plant. Seeds are alive, and lose life and vigor the older they get. Keep any leftover seeds in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container, or other cool dry place. Germination percentages of onions drastically decrease after only a year. There is an easy way to do a germination test. Moisten two paper towels in a plastic bag. Put ten seeds in between the paper towels. Put the bag in a warm place, like above your refrigerator. After a week, check and see how many seeds have sprouted, and note the percentage. Adjust your planting rate based on the percentage of seed sprouting. When buying seeds, there will be a percentage of expected germination on the packet. Companies are required by the government to sell seeds with a certain percentage germination rate.
Following is a link from High Mowing Organic Seeds with a chart for seed viability: https://www.highmowingseeds.com/blog/seed-viability-chart/
This year consider starting some of your own seeds. Now is the time to order on-line. A few good places to start are Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Territorial Seeds, Johnny’s Select Seed, Adaptive Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, and High Mowing Organic Seeds. You won’t regret it. When you see the multitude of options out there, you won’t go back.
In an upcoming post we will explore the importance of buying organic seeds, if you strive to garden organically. Also, in a future post we will explore the significance of soil that is alive and how to make your soil exuberant.