It's January, winter has settled in, and it seems there isn't much gardening work to be done. Ironically, this is perhaps the most crucial time of year for gardeners. It is time to order seeds! But why now? There are still four to six months before they can be planted outside. Believe me, you do not want to be lax on this task. After all, it's the seeds that make the garden.
Why order seeds in January?
At the end of December and beginning of January, all the seed companies publish their catalogs. They contain all of the seed selections available for the upcoming year. Some of these seeds are extremely limited in quantity. New cultivars and heirloom specialties are especially prone to limited amounts.
Small seed companies often don't have a lot of seeds to begin with, so you have to get in early to get any at all. Big seed companies often have plenty of stock yet lack variety.
The saying is true, "If you snooze, you lose.” If there is a particular type of seed you want, you need to get it now or risk not getting it at all.
Why is the source of seed important?
Not all seeds are the same quality. It isn't hard to acquire tomato seeds at any time of year. In fact, there are hundreds of companies willing to sell them without concern as to whether they're going to grow you five or fifteen tomatoes.
Imagine getting your seeds, spending hours filling those little seed starter trays, carefully placing seeds in the soil, watering the seeds daily, and monitoring their warmth and light, only to have less than a quarter of them sprout. Frustrating, right? And a waste of time and money.
Don't let this be your experience. A garden needs productive seeds.
Using a reputable company with high standards is essential for the success of your garden. Quality seed companies test germination rates, test for purity, inform you where the seeds originate, and stand behind their product.
• Germination tests determine the average percentage of seeds that will sprout. For example, an 85% germination rate means 85 out of 100 seeds will sprout reliably. Seeds lose germination quality as they age, some faster than others. All vegetable seeds must meet federal germination standards, which vary by type. Flower seeds are not regulated. Unfortunately, there is not much enforcement, and disreputable companies will ignore rules and standards.
• Purity tests determine that a seed is going to grow true to type. Some seeds are easily cross-pollinated and won't produce the same variety as the parent seed. Squash and melons are particularly prone to cross-pollination, and if they aren't tested, it's anyone's guess as to what that seed will actually produce. Not to mention, whether or not it will be edible.
• Seeds companies acquire seeds to sell from several places. Many grow the flowers or vegetables themselves and save the seeds for sale later on. This isn't practical to do for all the seed varieties, though, especially for smaller companies. Even larger companies don't grow all their seeds. Local gardeners and farms are often contracted to produce seeds. Bigger companies use large farming operations. A reputable seed company will list where they sourced the seeds. For example, FedCo Seeds annotates each seed listing with a supplier code, so you know whether it originated from a small seed farmer, a family-owned operation, or a multinational company. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange provides a list of every single farm they contract with for seed production.
Where can you find quality seeds?
Every gardener has their favorite source for seeds, and there are many companies from which to choose. For the best quality seeds, investigate companies that specialize in your region. Many seeds are adapted to specific climates. Folks in the Northeast US can rely on Fedco Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and Johnny's. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Seed Saver Exchange are excellent sources for the Southern US. In the Western US, Territorial Seed Company, Victory Seeds, and Uprising Seeds are good places to start.
Who do you order seeds from, and what do you like about them?
We are always interested in learning about new quality seed sources!
Blog by Jenny Dunklee, Senior Plant Expert, BloomCatch