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The best part of the holidays is when they are over, and I can start planning my gardens. The days are slightly longer, and spring seems near. I look over my notes from last year, and I clean out and organize my seed boxes. I make plans for composting the beds, checking the watering systems and buying potting soil for containers. My favorite gardening activity, though, is starting plants from seed.
Why grow food from seed?
There are many benefits to starting your own plants.
You know what you are getting. When you buy starts in spring, the picture on the label is generic. You may not get what it shows.
You can buy organic seed. You might be able to get organically grown starts, but you don’t know if the seed was organic. Many nurseries do not know (or care!) if their plant suppliers use organic seed.
What is OP seed, and why is it so important?
You can buy open-pollinated (OP) seed. This is the only kind of seed you can save! Seed saving is a crucial part of the future food system, too. Giants like Monsanto are buying up seed companies and injecting GMO seed into their stock. The only way to preserve our varied and precious seed heritage is to buy OP seed, grow it out, and save it. This way, your seeds and plants are acclimated to your region, so you will have more success with them.
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Most nursery starts are hybrid plants for uniformity and high production and a high ROI. You cannot save seed from a hybrid, because the plant is the result of crossing two different plants. If you grow out a seed from a hybrid plant, you will get one of the parents, not the plant you got the seed from.
Seed catalogs and your garden
You have detailed information about a plant’s characteristics and care. Again, a nursery label is generic information. A seed catalog will usually have an entire page about each type of plant. There are germinating instructions, information about bugs and diseases, water, light and soil needs, height and width of the mature plant, how many pounds of food you can expect to get from one plant, harvest instructions, recipes and winter storage information. Seed catalogs are a wonderful way to get a gardening education!
Your garden will be unique. Starts are grown for public demand. They are common varieties, things people can find in a supermarket. Again, this is for ROI, not for individual tastes. If you want something original, you won’t find it in a nursery. You have to grow it. I prefer Lemon Cucumbers to green ones, but I have to grow them every year. Despite their benefits, they aren’t popular enough to be in a 6-pack at the nursery!
You can start gardening earlier! Here in Zone 5, you start onions on February 1st. If you have an indoor growing area, like a greenhouse or warm sunny room, you can start greens in early March. Tomato seeds get planted in late March/early April. If you have a gardening bug, you will definitely want to get started! Growing from seed gives you that opportunity.
Seed companies to consider
Here are a few seed companies that carry organic seed.
High Mowing Organic Seeds – Their seeds are 100% certified organic. I’ve had good germination and uniformity. Highly recommended.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds – I have not bought from them before but am looking forward to placing an order with them this year!
Johnny’s Seeds – I have bought from Johnny’s for more than 25 years. They are now employee owned, which I haven’t determined is a good or bad thing for them. I had some trouble with their seed and their customer service last year, but it might have been just a fluke. I never had problems before.
Territorial Seed Company – I have purchased from them for many years. Germination is good and the plants are productive. The customer service is great, too. Highly recommended.
Get yourself some seed catalogs to pour over this winter, and have fun planning your gardens! Growing your own food is as local as you can get. Always grow organically!