How to Choose Seeds for your Vegetable Garden

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Growing your own food can give you a better life and seeds are where it all begins. But how do you choose seeds for your vegetable garden? It’s a great place to start for beginning gardeners.

Growing your own food can give you a better life and seeds are where it all begins. But how do you choose seeds for your vegetable garden?

Homegrown food can help you avoid toxins and chemicals that lead to disease. But what are the easiest plants to grow? What are the steps to starting a garden? And what KIND of seeds should you buy? If you have ever looked at seeds, there are at least ten kajillion kinds of tomato seeds alone.

How do you know the best tasting ones? How do you know what will grow where you live? What does hybrid mean? What about open-pollinated, conventional, heirloom, organic, natural?

The first place to start is either a “green” plant store or a seed catalog. It’s tempting to buy everything that catches your eye, but you have to ask yourself some questions.

child saving okra seeds while adult holds the pod steady over a bowl

Choose seeds that are right for you

I am guilty (and trying to recover) of hoarding seeds. I want them all. The weird, the fun, the yummy, the brightly colored. But, you only have so much space and so much money for your garden, so stay focused and don’t get distracted.

Seeds don’t last forever. Some last longer than others. To find out how long seeds will last in storage, check this out. But assume you should buy for this year only so you won’t waste money on seeds that you can’t use in time.

Figure out the necessities. Why are you growing this garden? What do you want to eat? What does your family like?

Set your budget. Stick to it. You can easily waste hundreds of dollars on seeds you don’t need. It’s fun and it’s addicting, so be strict with yourself. If you already have some seeds, go check what you do have before you allow yourself to buy any more.

I keep a list in my desk drawer that says, you have: and you already ordered: This keeps me from as much disaster as I ran into at first. When I see a seed I want to buy, I tell myself, check your list first girl!

Now, how much space do you have to grow? Most people don’t have unlimited choices. So, draw a map of the space you have ready and look at how much space each item needs to grow. Then you’ll know what your limits are on what you can use at one time.

Then find out what will grow in your area. If you live in the north, you’ll have to be more selective than we do down here in the 8-10 months of summer every year region. Check the maturity time and compare that with your growing season.

If the packet says 100 days to maturity, you’ll need about 4 months to get any production you can eat. Three months for the plant to mature and then time to set fruit and ripen.

You can find your growing season or first average frost date and last average frost date here. The first average frost date is the first time in fall or winter you usually get a freeze or light frost. And the last is the last one in spring. The time between spring and fall is your growing season.

packet of seeds laying open with seeds spilling out

What do you want to do with your harvest? Are you growing to can or pickle? Are you just wanting a few fresh things to pick for dinner? Do you want a ton of excess harvest to save for later? Choose varieties and kinds of seeds that will give you what you’re looking for.

Another important thing to consider is how much time do you have to devote to your garden? Make sure if you only have a few minutes a day, that you choose low maintenance plants like radishes and sweet potatoes.  Plants like tomatoes need more care and attention, so make sure you have the time to devote to them.

Seeds growing

There are three main types of garden seeds. Hybrid, open-pollinated, and GMO. Most seeds you find at the big box stores are hybrid seeds. They are varieties that are crossed together to make the best possible plant. Such as a strong stem with tasty fruit.

The problem with hybrid plants is you can’t save the seeds to use because they most likely won’t be true to what you produced this year. You never know what you’ll get from hybrid seeds. They are two plants that are cross-pollinated and the seeds are collected from the vegetables that grow. They are bred for success, so they may be the right way to go for you.

GMO seeds are genetically modified and you never want those for many reasons. They are not available in seed packets for the average gardener at the store. Don’t worry about that. They are also called bioengineered.

GMO seeds are produced by splicing two organisms together. This is done to make the plants resistant to sprays and other chemicals. It’s also done so the plants will self produce pesticides such as Bt.

The other kind of seeds are open-pollinated or sometimes called heirloom because their seeds can be saved over and over again and you’ll get the same fruit from the plant. Open-pollinated plants also mean that wind, insects, birds, and so on can spread the pollen from plant to plant to pollinate them.

Open-pollinated seeds are a bit more expensive and they are harder to find. That’s why I suggested shopping at a “green” plant store. I only have access to one here and it’s over an hour away, so I usually shop from seed catalogs.

The other terms such as conventional, organic, and naturally grown seeds are less about the kind and more about the label. Conventional and naturally grown mean nothing. These aren’t terms that are regulated in any way. They just use them to attract buyers.

Organic on the other hand are seeds that are harvested from certified organic plants. These usually have the USDA label on the package. Many small growers grow organically but don’t pay for the label. So, you may get organic seeds and not realize it. That’s a good thing.

Most gardeners grow a mixture of hybrid and open-pollinated seeds. That’s what we do in the Little Sprouts preschool garden. They are mostly open-pollinated, but we grow a few hybrids that we love.

The other perk to seed catalogs is they are super informative about the plants that will grow from the seeds. I love pouring over them for hours.

Select seeds

The more locally the seeds were produced, the better. If they are local, they will be likely to perform in your area. When I buy online, I buy from The Seed Guy and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds because they are both in my region. I live in Oklahoma and the Seed Guy is in Arkansas while Baker Creek is in Missouri.

These are the closest places I know of that produce seed. I like the Seed Guy the best and it’s about 2 hours from me but Baker Creek has more variety even though it’s about 4 hours away. I have studied heirloom seed growers from all over to find this out.

I know when I buy seed from them, they have been produced closer to me than other places so they may have a better chance of growing well here. 

One more thought on selecting seeds is to make sure you choose plants that are not invasive. Invasive plants will take over your yard, the neighbor’s, the neighborhood, the community, regions. So, we need to be careful not to cause harm to the environment.

Invasive species can be a big deal. It’s annoying because they are still sold at some garden nurseries. So do your research before you buy plants and seeds and make sure they aren’t going to take over the area and destroy habitats and crops.

All seeds will not germinate. It’s not 100% rate on any seed. The better you store them and the fresher they are the better. Give yourself the best chance for success by using fresh seeds. If you’re not sure, put some on a moist paper towel to test them. If they don’t germinate, throw the package out. If they do, give them a try.

If you’d like to check out what seeds Little Sprouts preschoolers have saved from their garden to raise money for garden supplies, check out our Etsy shop here

Prepare your soil and make sure it’s soft and broken up. If you mulch, pull back the mulch and it should be ready. If you don’t, you may need to do some tilling. Click here for secrets to soil success.

Make a row in the soil twice as deep as the width of the seed you’re planting.

Drop the seeds in the row as far apart as the seed packet recommends.

Place the soil back over the top of the soil and pat it down no harder than you would rub your eye.

Water well and keep the soil moist until the seeds sprout. Click here for how to measure your water and make sure you use enough. Then make sure they get at least one inch of water per week.

Keep the weeds away from the plants by picking early and often.  Click here for how to keep weeds at bay without chemicals.

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