Planning Your Garden – Garbage in Garbage out! Part 2: Picking our seed varieties

So this week we are going to talk about picking our seed varieties. Before we get into those details though, I would like to make a point about seeds.

Do I save seeds? Yes, from heirloom plants that breed true with very little variation. My Violas, Hollyhocks, California Poppies, Calendulas, Coreopsis, Marigolds, and Bachelor Buttons are all from saved seeds. I carefully harvest, or distribute, these seeds after every growing season, and store the harvested seeds in well marked plastic prescription bottles.

In addition to my flowers I also have a selection of perennial herbs that come back by themselves every year, and occasionally need to be beat into submission so that they do not take over the world.

I am not currently saving vegetable seeds, with the exception of teppary beans, peas, beets and parsnips. Why? It takes more effort than I currently have time for. I know how, but right now purchasing quality seeds is just easier for me.

So back to choosing seeds. I recommend purchasing your seeds from a reputable seed company. While I have occasionally had good luck buying no-name brand seeds at a home improvement store (that is where my California Poppies came from) most of my seeds come from just a couple of major seed suppliers – Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Totally Tomatoes. Why? Excellent quality seeds with very high rates of propagation. That means that if I plant 20 seeds I will usually get 18 plants (and sometimes 20!). I start most of my seedlings on a rather tight timetable because of my regular business events, so having to replant can be a problem for me.

These two companies are obviously not the only seed companies out there. There are lots of reputable companies, many of which specialize in seeds designed for specific areas of the country. When I lived in Massachusetts I also bought seeds from Shephard’s Seeds (which no longer exists), Burpee, and others. I had a very fertile garden there, full of humus and very productive with very little help. When I moved to northern Arizona I found that I needed to be much pickier about my seeds and what varieties I planted. I live at 5270 feet above sea level and our weather and soil conditions are extreme.

Before I go any further I should mention that I have a garden diary. Every year, for over twenty years, I have kept a record of what was happening in my garden. I record the seed varieties that I am using, what company they came from, when I started them, how they were started (flats, plug flats, biodegradable pots, plastic pots, or in the garden), what sort of results I got, how and when the plants were posted, what amendments were added to the soil, any unusual extremes of weather, insect pests or diseases, and what sort of production I got from the plants. Having this information allows me to remember exactly what worked well, and what didn’t. I don’t have to guess which seeds worked for me, I know what varieties were the best.

Next week: Part 3 Deciphering the seed catalogs