If you are a gardener, a perfect winter evening might involve you sitting by the fire pouring over seed catalogues and dreaming about the season ahead. My kids love looking at seed catalogues with me and if it were up to them we would probably grow EVERYTHING in our gardens! While ordering seeds is exciting, it can also be overwhelming with so many choices and so many terms.
Open Pollinated (OP)
If you are a seed saver then this is what you are looking for! These seeds will grow true to their parent types, meaning you will get the same product year after year.
F1 Hybrid (F1)
These seeds are the first generation of 2 parent lines that have been crossed to accentuate the best characteristics of the parent lines. In contrast to open pollinated, if you like to save seeds you are taking your chances with these ones as future generations of these seeds may not produce a consistent product that is true to type. These seeds are bred for consistency and often produce high yields with great uniformity and may have other desirable qualities like disease resistance and early dates of maturity. If you aren’t worried about saving seeds then these might be the perfect seeds for you.
Heirloom / Heritage Seeds
These seeds are open pollinated seeds that have been saved over many generations. These seeds often were chosen by growers because they possessed a desired trait like taste or colour adaptation to particular growing conditions. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus of how old the varieties need to be to be considered heirloom but it is generally more than 50 years. Heirloom varieties usually do not have as large yields as hybrids but they offer flavours, colours and shapes that are often not found at the supermarket.
Days to Maturity
This is important! If you are direct seeding the seed into the garden (ie. Carrots, beets, radishes etc.) your days to maturity is the number of days from when you plant that seed to when you begin harvesting. If you are transplanting plants into the garden (ie. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants etc.) the days of maturity refers to the number of days from transplanting to when you begin harvesting.
Treated seeds means that seeds have been treated with some sort of chemical, this could be a fungicide or insecticide, but it gives the seed an advantage. It is important to note that these seeds are never considered certified organic, so if you are looking for organic seeds then treated seeds won’t be for you.
These seeds are produced on farms where the plants are grown using certified organic practices. A misconception with seeds often is that heirloom=organic but this is not so. The only organic seeds are those certified.
All vegetables and flowers have growing preferences and vegetables tend to have either a love or a hate relationship with heat. It is important to note that vegetables that are considered “cool season” crops, will not produce desirably or sometimes not at all when planted in the heat. The other trick about cool season crops is that some cool season crops will really only produce in the spring or the fall (this is common with radishes for instance) so it is important to take this into consideration.
My biggest tip for choosing seeds is to choose varieties that look exciting and you will look forward to eating. But to make sure you get the most out of your seeds these would be my other top 5 tips:
- Always sketch out a garden plan first
- How much space do you have?
- How much space does each crop require?
- Are you succession planting?
- Know your growing season (ie. How many days between the last frost in spring and first frost in fall)
- Choose varieties with ‘Days to Maturity’ that are within this time frame
- Look for seed companies that produce seeds in similar growing conditions to yours
- Sometimes these are local seed companies
- Sometimes they aren’t local but they have a similar length of growing season or similar condition such as dry climate versus wet climate etc.
- Try something new every year
- This keeps things fun and may give you a great surprise!
- We had great success with popcorn last year and this year we are trying short season peanuts
- Look closely at varieties
- There are typically many varieties of the same vegetable or flower that all have their own characteristics
- Some are better suited to cooler climates or warmer or being planted at a specific time in the growing season
- Spread out your harvest! We always hear about feast or famine in the garden and there will always be a certain amount of that but if you look at the days to maturity of varieties within one type of vegetable, you can actually spread your harvest out a bit over the season
Where we get our seeds
I spend a lot of time looking for seeds and am always looking for new sources. We have staple varieties of vegetables we grow from year to year but we are always looking for new and hard to find varieties as well. We want to make sure we are buying reputable seed for good economic value. There are many great seed companies out there so we encourage you to take a look around, but if you are interested in knowing where our seeds come from, this is our list for this year:
- West Coast Seeds
- Vesey’s Seeds
- Laughing Swan Seeds
- Fruition Seeds
- Johnny’s Seeds
- Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes
- Stems Flower Seeds
- Stone Meadow Gardens