Buying your first seeds

About two months ago I started exploring the web for new seeds to try. It’s one of my favourite things to do during the winter. Somehow it brings me at ease looking forward to a new season of spending most of my time outside.

I remember the first time I started looking for seeds though. It was so hard to decide which in particular to buy. There are over 10.000 varieties of only tomatoes and even more impressive: over 50.000 different varieties of peppers.

A challenge in modern society: the paradox of choice. Making a choice seems impossible, but that’s only because you need more information.

Organic seeds or conventional seeds?

The first choice you must make is whether you want to buy organic seeds or not. This depends on what type of gardener you are or would like to be. If you value the ways of organic farming, buying organic seeds ins’t exactly a bridge too far. Nonetheless, you should also take into consideration that organic seeds cost more than conventional seeds.

Vegetables, fruits or herbs?

Next step is to decide which vegetables and fruits you’d like to grow. A great place to start would be buying seeds of plants you’d normally buy in a supermarket. Try cultivating these yourself and keep in mind that you only need one seed for an abundance of home-grown food. My first year of gardening existed of the following list:

Pumpkin seedlings

Easy to grow vegetables:

  • Tomato
  • Lettuce
  • Corn
  • Pumpkin
  • Zucchini
  • Bell pepper
  • Radish

Easy to grow fruits:

  • Fig
  • Raspberry
  • Strawberry
  • Blueberry

Easy to grow herbs:

  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Chives
  • Oregano
  • Mint
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Tarragon
  • Sage

Cultivars?

Once you’ve made a choice on what you want to grow in your garden, I’d advise you to google each plant you want and adding “best cultivars” to your search. There is a lot of different varieties, which in the gardening world we call “cultivars”. Use others’ shared experiences to your advantage.

Take tomatoes as an example. If you’d ask me, I’d advise you to start with the following:

  • Orange Paruche F1: a delicious (and I mean explosion of sweetness in your mouth) abundantly producing cherry tomatoes from June till frost. Perfect for salads!
  • Pink-red Brandywine: an heirloom beefsteak variety with a very deep, intense flavour. Perfect for slicing!

Orange Paruche cherry tomato seeds (Mr. Fothergill's)

There’s a lot of information to find in books and on the internet. Read descriptions, opinions and reviews of different cultivars and choose what appeals to you the most. There’s no wrong choice! It’s all about discovery, by the means of trial and error.

When you look for seeds, you’ll definitely come across these terms:

  • Heirloom or Heritage seeds: Heirloom seeds come from plants that have been naturally pollinated by insects, the wind, birds … Also known as open pollination, this process has been going on for centuries. Genetically they’re more complex than hybrids, containing a mix of many ancestor plants. You can easily save your own seeds.
  • F1 or Hybrid seeds:
    Hybrids have been naturally manipulated by chosing two parent plants with specific benefits to create a “super” plant. This cross-pollination goes on for a few generations until it starts showing the desired traits in taste, yield, disease-resistance … You can’t save your own seed, because these seeds will return to the genetics of one of the parent plants.
  • Hardiness zone:
    A geographically defined zone in which specific plants will be able to grow in. Each zone reaches minimum temperatures. Based on these minima you can determine whether a plant will thrive in your environment or not.
1 2 3 4 5 6
-51°C / -60°F -45°C / -50°F -40°C / -40°F -35°C / -30°F -29°C / -20°F -23°C / -10°F
7 8 9 10 11 12
-17°C / 00°F -12°C / 10°F -7°C / 20°F -1°C / 30°F 04°C / 40°F 10°C / 50°F

Where to buy your seeds?

Here’s a list of stores I had a great experience with. If you find a specific cultivar you like, make sure you google it to compare prices.

Tins with multiple seeds

Some final tips.

  1. Now don’t get too excited and buy the whole catalog. Keep in mind that the space in your garden is limited.
  2. Read the instructions on your seed packages to know when it’s best to sow and harvest. Sometimes you can prolong the harvesting festivity by sowing multiple times.
  3. You won’t be able to sow every single seed this gardening season. So it’s great to know that you can save your remaining seeds for next year.
  4. Buy seeds of plants that grow well in your region. Plants’ flourishing conditions are limited to the hardiness zone your garden is in.
  5. Once you’ve bought your seeds it’s important you organise them by sowing month. I’ve done this with old cookie tins. This way each month I can open a tin and immediately start sowing.

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