After a weirdly mild December, 2016 has kicked off with chilly weather that actually feels like winter. I hate winter; I admit I was hoping we’d just skip it this year.
Winter has one thing going for it: it’s when seed catalogs start arriving, and gardeners curl up in front of the fireplace dreaming of summer with highlighter and dog-eared pages in hand. As hard as it is to believe when it’s freezing outside, spring gardens are only about 5 weeks away from today for gardeners in north Alabama. If you aren’t planning your garden yet, you need to start thinking about it.
Gardens don’t happen without seeds. Where should you get yours?
The Budget Gardener
Budget gardeners have a passion for growing fresh foods, but hold themselves to a tight budget on the money side. Instead, they are willing to work a little harder. If you are an experienced budget gardener, you have probably already bought your seeds last fall on the clearance rack. If you are buying older seeds from last season or want to next year, be sure you understand seed longevity and storage so you don’t waste your money. We have a handy guide here to get you started.
If you are a new gardener on a budget, there are some strategies to extend your seed money:
- If you can find a buddy gardener, share seed packets. Most seed packets have more seeds than you’ll need for many years.
- Discount seed racks: If you have a good grasp of which varieties do well in your region, you can often pick up good ol’ standard heirloom varieties for quite cheap, like Black Beauty Zucchini and Sweet Banana Peppers. Not sure which ones you need? Ask us; we can help.
- Learn to save seeds. A variety that you nurture from year to year pays you back in free seeds for you, plus seeds you can sell or trade for others.
The Practical Gardener
Practical gardeners may grow a few plants or they may grow many, but they want to get the most food with the least effort expended in time, space and materials.
- Stick with well-proven commercial varieties. Today, most commercial varieties are hybrids, and that means a higher seed cost to cover research. In return, you get better disease resistance and productivity. My favorite commercial seed company that sells direct to individuals is Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
- Visit your local farmer’s co-op or feed and seed store. They usually sell bulk seeds by the ounce, and only carry seeds that perform in your region year after year.
- Stay regional. Companies like Southern Exposure Seed Exchange don’t stock a hundred varieties of squash, they just stock the ones that perform well in the southeastern United States.
- Consider buying transplants. If your garden is small, buying transplants from your locally owned garden center may be more cost effective and take up less time than setting up a seed starting station of your own.
The Sky is the Limit for Your Garden
The grocery store is down the street, so this gardener wants to grow things they can’t buy and are willing to take the risks it won’t pan out. If the appearance and flavor of a tomato is more important than the quantity, even if you only get one or two all season, you are a Sky is the Limit gardener.
- Like the budget gardener, you should learn to save your own seed and even breed new varieties in your back yard. A successful and stable open pollinated seed variety won’t make you rich, but you will be able to grow and trade something utterly unique.
- Seed swap! Exchange your leftover seeds for another gardener’s, and pass the experiment on.
- Companies like Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed offer seeds gleaned from seed savers and exotic locations. You may find yourself attempting to grow something totally inappropriate for your climate, but supporting seed farmers helps preserve genetic diversity and traditional crops. Sometimes you get a surprise winner: I grow a cold climate melon that produces ripe fruit before our standard regional varieties are ready. It burns up when hot weather hits, but I have melons a month earlier than the farmer’s markets.
Whether you grow one plant or hundreds, the right seed is a step you can’t skip. Choose wisely to achieve your garden goals.
The author is not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned.