Tips for Buying Garden Seed

Happy St. Patrick’s day from the Houligan Homestead!

I know that I may be just a little late, but I have finally started to pick out my seeds for the season. The garden plans this year are going to be be very simple, and I will only be growing a few basic things. Anything that needs to be started ahead, like tomatoes, we will have to buy the seedlings. I may attempt a mini greenhouse to start some seeds, but nothing substantial. Even if I am only planning a simple garden, there are a few important things that I will focus on when I buy my seeds.

Most importantly, I live in Maine and have a rather short growing season. The seeds I pick have to have a shorter growth period than if I lived in Florida. Sounds obvious, but it hasn’t always been something I really noticed. Seed catalogs list how long it takes a plant from start to when it is producing. I also buy from a Maine seed company that provides seeds that do well in Maine. It is sometimes hard to find a good local seed provider, but look around to see what you can find. You can also sometimes buy local seeds at the farmer’s market, local farmers, and even try your neighbors. Another excellent solution is to save seeds.  I got a batch of accidental giant pumpkin seeds from a friend a hope to get some awesome giant jack-o-lantern pumpkins for the fall.

Once you have found the best local seeds you can find, now you need to pick the best seed they offer. I use Pinetree Gardens, who has a safe seed pledge and offers many open pollinated varieties. Open pollinated is very important if you want to save seed for the next year, or if you want to save seeds for a seed exchange. I hope to host a seed exchange on “Seed Swap Day” over the winter next year. Open pollinated seeds will produce viable seeds so that you have some to save. Hybrid varieties may not produce “true” offspring or any seeds at all. There will not be good seed to save.

Another consideration when saving seeds is cross pollination. If you grow two different types of tomato next to each other, the offspring will not be “true” to what you planted. You have to learn what can be planted next to each other and what cannot. Some things, like corn, have to be spaced very far from each other to prevent cross pollination while something like squash can be grown closer together if you plant different species. Saving seed is an excellent option, just be sure you do some research before you start getting crazy mixed up plants. Don’t forget: you can purposely cross different varieties of plants just to see what happens. I plan to try this with gourds, save the seed, and see what I get. Should make an interesting item to swap!

Finally, when I buy seeds, I take some companion planting into consideration. Some plants grow better, or worse, when planted near other plants. Carrots and radish can be planted together because the radish sprout before the carrots and break up the ground for the carrots to sprout. Marigolds and nasturtiums are excellent pest deterrents and can be planted all throughout your garden.

This is a very short and basic idea of how I pick out what I plan to grow. I plan to go into more detail on each of the crops I plant throughout the spring. If you haven’t already purchased your seeds, keep in mind that you should try and save some seeds for the swap! I plan to do some posts on seed saving as well, so there will more information as we go. Happy growing!

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