Gardening · Homesteading · Urban Homesteading

Homesteading 101: How To Buy The Best Seeds

You might think this post is about what seed brands to buy from, but rather it is how to buy the best seeds for your garden, that will grow and reward you for your hard work with the best fresh produce.

With the new year and January comes seed catalogs. That are full of gorgeous full color photos of the dreamiest plants. There’s nothing like the Baker Creek Seeds Rare Earth catalog. It’s like the JC Penny toy catalog when I was a kid.

It is so easy to get lured in by this and buy buy buy, all those exciting possibles. If you are not careful, by February your kitchen table or counter is a pile of envelopes. With more seeds than you can possibly use in the coming season.

But that isn’t always bad……

But first you must think hard before you commit. This is what to ponder:

  • Grow Zone
  • Micro-Climate
  • Sunlight Exposure
  • Days To Grow
  • Heirlooms vs. F1 Hybrid Seeds
  • Local Seeds vs. National Seeds

All These Matter.

If you want a successful garden this spring/summer/early fall, all the above is important to consider.

Most seed companies will show the customer the standard information of average days to germinate (and best temperature to germinate at) , how to plant the seeds and how many days it normally takes to harvest.

Days to harvest is very important if you live (like we do) in a shorter season area.

To explain it:

This point covers days to grow, grow zone, micro-climate and sunlight exposure.

Let’s say you live where you have warm dry summers that extend into September, and the sun isn’t losing 2 minutes a day into darkness. You can grow 95 day sweet corn. You have time on your side.

But if you live where summer doesn’t get hot till after the 4th of July, and the days are shortening, and by end of August your gardens start getting shade by 2-3 pm, you must buy shorter season corn, maybe no more than 65 days. And you want a variety that grows shorter, putting more energy into the actual corn than the stalk.

Those 4 things affect your garden the most. If you are in a chilly micro-climate with short late summer days, you just cannot grow watermelon and cantaloupe easily in an open garden. No matter how much you wish it. Unless you put in a hoop tunnel to give more warmth.There are always hacks and tips to grow more in less than stellar climates.

Heirloom vs. F1 Hybrid Seeds:

Heirlooms are also known as open source seeds. These are the seeds you can save and plant the next year. These are what typically are traded at seed swaps. If like me, you will want to save some back yearly for the next season. This is a good practice to get into doing.

F1 hybrids are bred for certain things (such as blight or disease resistance, or features in the plant). You cannot save the seeds. They are NOT GMO’s. It is breeding, which is a far different thing. We as homesteaders and gardeners cannot buy GMO seeds – they are controlled by the large Ag industry and only a handful of crops are GMO (sugar beets, canola, soy, corn and soon wheat are the main eating crops, though there are a few more that are barely used). When you see Non-GMO on packaging, it is just marketing buzzwords.

The way I explain it is: F1’s will ensure you get fed, often the earliest in the season. Plant the F1’s first, then the heirloom seeds. If your heirlooms fail you will at least eat something. I treat it as a 50/50% for what I use. Don’t be afraid of F1’s. They exist because the heirlooms had issues and someone found a way to make it better. Please do not be scared of them.

Local Seeds vs. National Seeds:

While buying local (regional) seeds can seem a better choice, as in theory the seeds are bred for the conditions you face. However, the micro-climate you grow in can make that not work. It’s far better to match the seeds to what you want to grow, that will actually grow.

I buy from multiple companies each year. Some seeds come from a farm 2 miles away, others come from across the United States, such as Baker Creek Seeds. I base my purchases on personal experience that the seeds will germinate and grow strong, and not be filled with weed seeds. There is a regional company that I find has less than spectacular seeds, and charges a lot. People keep buying from them, then think it is their fault little germinated. In private I tell local people to not shop them.

What To Avoid and What To Buy:

Pre-packed packages of seeds at a low price can be attractive, but they come with a hidden cost. You will see these bantered about on prepper sites and on Amazon. It can seem like a real deal, but look at what you get. It is usually generic brands (dollar store quality), with low seed count – and you have no idea how old the seeds are, and odd things like peppers and melons, which you most likely cannot grow successfully. And add in turnips, radishes and collard greens…ask yourself would you grow and actually eat it all? If not, you have wasted money. This is an example, in where you get seeds such as Okra, something that only grows well in certain areas – and isn’t a fan favorite in general. But also, if a chunk of the seeds are late season harvesting, you need to think on that (pumpkins, winter squash, brussels sprouts).

In general, avoid seeds that don’t have a well known company behind it – or a face you know.

Some companies DO have good selected packets though, Sow Right Seeds does a great job. While they do put turnips and peppers in the collection, they are good varieties (which again, the variety highly matters) and their seeds are fresh. (If you use SARAHK10 you get 10% off!) I DO use their seeds personally.

Instead, consider spending your time buying seeds you know you’ll grow and actually want to eat.

Make a list of all the produce you enjoy. Research how well it grows in your personal area (for example, kale and lettuce grow well on our island, but sweet corn just struggles overall). Think about how much produce you want to grow – how many people you are growing for, and if you want to preserve food as well (see here for how I broke that all down).

Consider if you want to grow tall with pole peas and beans, or do you instead grow bush versions? Do you want smaller tomatoes that ripen weeks earlier? Or do you want massive slicer tomatoes that can take into September to mature? Dwarf lettuce types ripen faster, but maybe you like huge romaine heads.

Knowing what you want to grow is very important. Then you go source the seeds. If you are new to growing, ask friends/family/local groups on what they like to grow. Do they have a tomato they really like? (Oregon Spring is my go-to for our homestead.) It could save you lots of time.

Don’t forget to grow herbs for flavor, and simple flowers to lure pollinators in to give you larger crops.

If you have children, let them help you pick out things. They are more likely to help grow AND eat if they are involved.

Last But Not Least:

Once you get your seeds, put them in containers to keep fresh. At minimun you want a storage bin, best is glass mason jars. Keeps humidity at bay and insects away. If you live where you have a lot of seeds and you store them in a root cellar, ensure they are in glass or a small metal garbage can, sealed in mylar bags. You don’t want rodent issues.