Buying seeds for your garden

It's that time already! (Does that excite you or scare you?)

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 If you're planning a garden for the spring, now is definitely the time to start deciding which seeds you will buy, and go ahead and order them. Many warm weather seedlings, like peppers and tomatoes, need a really good jump on the growing season (6-8 weeks minimum) unless you live somewhere very warm. That means being prepared to plant some of your seedlings by the end of February or beginning of March.


Ordering online or from a seed catalogue will usually require a 2-4 week wait for your seeds to arrive (always double check when ordering). Considering it's the middle of January, I'd say it's time to get moving, wouldn't you? 🙂

A few things to consider as you decide on your seed varieties and quantities:

1) Choose only vegetables that your family really likes. Much as green beans sound like a fun and easy crop to grow, if you really don't care to serve them more than once or twice a summer, save your seed money and garden space and just get some from your farmer's market instead! On the other hand, if your family just can't enough fresh snap or snow peas, or cherry tomatoes, make sure that you are prepared to grow plenty of those.

2) Consider buying heirloom seeds. For amazingly different, delicious and intriguing types of vegetables (pink or striped tomatoes, purple cauliflower, lemon cucumbers, etc.) and a variety that will make your local garden center absolutely pale in comparison, heirloom seeds win hands down. If you're unsure of what heirloom seeds are, try reading Heirloom Seeds, and Why it Matters to Buy Heirloom. Check out my very favorite seed company, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, as well as Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, and Salt Spring Seeds (a Canadian company).

3) Always double check what you have left from previous years.
If your seeds have been carefully stored away from moisture and warmth (I keep mine in a ziploc bag in my fridge), they should last you for several years. A few days ago, I sorted through all 37 packages (yes, that's right- 37 and I'm still buying more!), wrote out a detailed list of what I had and whether I needed to buy more seeds. To check whether your old seeds are still viable, try this germination test.

4) Decide on any new varieties you will try, or vegetables you haven't grown but feel ready to try your hand at.
This year, I am replacing my basil and trying a new lettuce, since I didn't love what I grew last year. I'm also adding a few herbs (chives and lavender), some more carrots and peas because I'm running low, cauliflower (a deep red-purple Italian variety with good insect resistance), and a new tomato (Tigerella, just for fun, because 5 other varieties aren't enough for me!). Here's my list of which seeds I loved, liked and am leaving, from 2008. What's yours?

5) How much of each seed is needed? With things like winter squash, your seeds will likely go bad before you use up the entire package, as you only need just a few each year (remember- 1 squash plant can easily yield from 4 up to around 10 squash!). One package of carrot seeds, however, will likely only last you one season, and you may need even more than one package depending on how thickly you plant them and if you're planting for both spring and fall. Most seed companies tell you how many seeds come in each package (it varies depending on the vegetable), so pay attention and make your decisions accordingly.

6) Don't be overzealous. It's so easy to want to overbuy on seeds, because they're just, well, tempting! If it's your first year gardening, choose varities that are known to be easier to grow, or stick with the more common varities that you know your family will enjoy (save that funky squash or red oriental cucumber for next year, when you're feeling more confident, and instead go with standard Butternut and a long, green cuke). Also, take into account the size of your garden and how much you can realistically grow. Remember, you can always add a few things to the garden as the season goes on, or try something new in the fall after you've already had the spring to figure some things out. Plus, there's always next year!

Happy Seed Buying!

Any other tips to share with the rest of us? Have you started deciding on your seeds for this year's garden? Have you beat me to the punch and ordered already (I'm ordering this afternoon!)?

Visit Works-for-me-Wednesday for oodles of other great tips!

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  1. Oooh, you’ve got me drooling! Here on this snowy winter day, how fun to dream about spring’s garden! I like your mention of heirloom seeds … I’ve read about them, but never tried them. What things do you buy heirloom for?

  2. I grew up on a farm and wanted to perhaps help you with the hay/ weed problem you talked about in your November post. Using straw (the yellow “stuff”) is better because it doesn’t have the seeds that hay has. We also put several layers of newsprint or cardboard under it. Good luck this summer! Now, on to more past posts- I’m loving your site!

  3. All great tips; especially #1! And, if there is only you and your spouse, there *really* isn’t a need for a doz. tomato plants! Unless, of course, you’re planning on supplying the neighbor with sauce and salad all summer long!! LoL

    Happy Gardening!

  4. Susan, I’m glad I got you drooling! 🙂 I buy heirlooms for anything I can buy in seed. The only things I’ve bought from my regular store are strawberry plants and onion sets (you can buy heirloom onion seeds, but I have more luck with sets). Also, this year I’ll buy seed potatoes, and I haven’t yet figured out a good source for those.

    Teresa, thanks for the tip and welcome!

  5. Great tips! Thank you. I had to laugh though when you suggested planting in February or March. If I did that I would have very leggy transplants by mid June when I can plant them outside! I am considering trying some form of protection to see how it works on a few things to get them out a little earlier. But this year won’t be one for lots of new experiments.

    I am focusing on what does really well in my climate this year. The cool weather crops (they do well ALL summer here). I still have lots of seeds so I will be doing that germination test to see how they are doing. Thanks for that idea!

    I want to do so many new things but I know I need to resist and do it next year instead. 🙂

  6. Great advice. Once you buy heirloom seeds, the real magic begins. Save your own seeds from the individual plants that do best in your garden. Save the best of your efforts from year to year. Rejoin the seed saving ritual, the ritual one can argue, that made civilization possible over the past 10,000 years. Help save genetic diversity.

    Start a new tradition. Organize a pot luck dinner each fall. Price of admission: seeds you have saved from your own garden. Trade those seeds for what you need. Make your region self-reliant. Collectively select better varieties adapted to your specific climate.

    You can find detailed online seed saving instructions on the website of the 20 year-old non-profit:


    My favorite heirloom seed company turned 25 this year:


  7. I’m drooling with everyone else, only from my apartment with no yard. 🙂 We are considering buying a small house this summer, and I’ve been dreaming about planting a fall garden when we move in. No tomatoes perhaps, but pumpkins, spinach, squash…. Yum!

    Funny how even eyeing seed catalogs can be an area to practice contentment, huh? 🙂

  8. I just love to grow things and then eat them!! I live in a very different climate and am just beginning to think about growing anything beyond herbs, peppers & tomatoes. Thanks for a great, informative post!

  9. Mo, that’s so true! 12 tomato plants is a lot! That’s how many I had, for my family of 4, and I planned on canning a lot, so I’m sure it was way too many for a family of 2!

    Nola, yes, I suppose those in Northern climates will want to wait on their seedlings a little while longer, LOL! Actually, I probably won’t do my tomatoes, etc. until more like mid-March, ready to go out mid-May with some protection. But lots of my readers live farther south than me. 🙂 Although, broccoli and cauliflower need to be started early for spring planting, even in a climate like yours, so there’s that to consider.

    Cindy, I just listed a couple favorites. Baker Creek Heirlooms are my very favorite (linked to under #2). I have also bought quite a big from Heirlooms Evermore, which I didn’t mention. Smaller selection, but great company and really good prices. I buy mine through Azure Standard, but they also have a website here:

  10. Oh my goodness! Thank you so much for this post! I just told my husband last night, “You know, I really want to plant a vegetable garden this year now that we have a yard. I wonder when I need to start?”

    Are there any other resources you can direct me to for starting my first garden?

    Thanks again! 🙂

  11. Do you know much about container gardening? We live in an apartment and have a porch, but no back yard. What kind of containers to use, what is best to grow, an anything else that might be helpful! We live in OR if that makes a difference. Thanks so much!

  12. Ooooo, I love gardening posts!

    I think we did beat you; Dad has tomato seeds planted in the basement already.:) I think he and I were drooling over seed catalogs before Christmas. He came home from work today with Zinnia seeds, just for me, ’cause he knows I want to try them this year.:) Have you ever grown them? We’ve done lots of veggies, but I’m new at herbs and flowers.

    We’re using a heat plate turned on its lowest setting to keep the tomato seeds warm in the basement. That was Dad’s idea, and I think it’s smart. We have a greenhouse for the first time this year, and can’t wait to use that when the weather gets a little warmer! We hope to get 18′-20′ high tomato plants this year, and starting early helps.

    You have encouraged me to try saving seeds from our plants. I’ve never done it, but I would love to get some heirloom plants and try it.

    Have you heard of compost tea? We’ve been researching it the past few days, and I’m thinking about writing a blog post on it. It sounds very beneficial; the man who made it popular has over 200 blue ribbons for his produce, and grows strawberries the size of watermelons, 35lb. cauliflower heads, and gets about 40 potatoes per potato plant!

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