Starting Seeds: Seeds

You’ve decided to grow your own transplants this year. You’ve checked your average last frost date, so you know when to start. Now it’s time to think about seeds.

catalogs-lahThe seed catalogs that arrived around the first of the year are now well-worn, with pages dog-eared and varieties circled. I spent blissful hours going through every one, comparing glowing descriptions and luscious photographs. Having a pre-determined planting list[1] and budget helped me exercise at least some self control. I finally made my order about a month ago, which is much later than usual. Now I’m haunting the mailbox, waiting for my seeds to arrive. Next year I’ll make a point of ordering in January, so I’m prepared when spring comes.

If you haven’t already ordered your seeds, you will want to buy them locally. It pays to search out a good garden center, with their wider assortment of varieties. Chain stores tend to sell older varieties that are widely grown. Frequently, these were bred for commercial growers, and are selected for ease of mechanical harvest or sturdiness in shipping, rather than flavor or nutrition. Also, a national chain store won’t necessarily have the varieties best suited for our particular growing area. With our extremely short season, we need plants that will grow quickly and bear a crop before the first fall frost.

Another option is sharing seeds with a friend. I frequently split a packet of seeds with someone else. Who really needs 300 carrots, or 500 heads of lettuce? Sharing the packet makes the price more reasonable, too. (To save even more, try sharing a seed order. Sometimes, I really only want one or two varieties from a particular company. In those cases, I find that shipping and handling charges from many catalogs add up to more than the price of the seeds!)

If you saved seeds from last year’s crops, you likely have plenty to trade for something you’d like to grow this year. A Google search for “seed swap” found hundreds of websites where you can offer your extra seeds or request seeds from someone else.

packet-expiration-dates-lahMaybe you have some old seed packets lying around. Be sure to check the dates printed on them. Most seeds will last at least a few years. For more information on storing seeds, check out Colorado State University Extension’s Fact Sheet on the topic.  To find out if they will still germinate, try sprouting a few seeds on a damp paper towel placed in a zip-lock bag. For fastest results, put the bag somewhere warm (but not hot!)… the top of your TV or computer screen is just about right. Check daily for signs of life.

It constantly amazes me that each tiny seed contains a baby plant, just waiting to grow. Next, we’ll discuss how to convince that embryonic plant that it’s time to get started.

[1] Last August I made a list of what to grow this year. Planning the coming year while the harvest is in full swing keeps me realistic. When I’m inundated with fresh beans, it’s easier to remember that five varieties is three too many, even though they all sounded delicious. One cherry tomato plant is probably enough, and there’s always plenty of zucchini and other summer squash to share.

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