With spring still a few months away, gardeners turn their attention to planning for next season. The time-honored ritual of perusing gardening catalogs usually results in a list of plants that totals about five times your actual garden budget. The best way to stretch your gardening dollar? Seeds.
We’ve written before about self-sowing annuals, which are a fantastic way to add color to your garden border for little cash. Plant them once, then let them drop seed every season.
If it’s self-sowers you want, consider annual poppies, annual phlox, calendula, cosmos, larkspur, and nigella. All are hardy here in Indy, dropping seeds that can survive our winter and come back in the spring.
As for vegetables, we think it’s important to know the difference between open-pollinated, heirloom, and hybrid seeds.
Open-pollinated (OP) species are those that breed true to type. If you save seeds from an OP tomato (a Brandywine, for example) and plant them, you’ll get a Brandywine tomato. OP seeds are the way to go if you want to save seeds.
Hybrid varieties are created by crossing one strain of a plant with another strain. The resulting plant is a first generation hybrid, or F1. Hybrids are often more vigorous than either of their parent plants, but don’t bother saving seed from them. Plant the seeds from a Better Boy hybrid tomato, and you’ll get one of its parent plants, not a Better Boy.
Hybridizing plants is a natural phenomenon, and one humans have been taking advantage of for millenia. A hybrid is not the same thing as a genetically modified organism (GMO). A GMO is the result of taking genes from one species (like a fish) and inserting it into a completely unrelated species (like a tomato).
We strongly encourage you to order your seeds only from companies that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, which ensures that they do not knowingly buy or sell GMOs. Horticulture magazine has a list of companies that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge here.
Heirloom seeds are those from plants that have been passed down within families of gardeners for generations, which makes them uniquely suited to the environments in which they grow. Heirlooms are open pollinated, so you can save the seeds from this year’s crop to plant next year. Seed Savers Exchange is particularly well known for heirloom varieties.
Organic seeds are those grown using only organic-approved methods and no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. In addition, organic seeds contain no genetically modified organisms. To be sold as organic, seeds must be certified by a certification organization. For more information, check out the Seeds of Change home page at www.seedsofchange.com
Keeping Seeds for the Long Haul
Before you make this year’s order, go through your seed supply. We mark our seed packets with the year we purchased them, as well as how long the seeds should be good under normal conditions (stored in a cool, dark, dry place). According to Barbara Pleasant, author of the excellent Starter Vegetable Gardens, you can expect seeds to last about this long:
1 to 2 years: Corn, lettuce, okra, onion, parsley, pepper
3 to 4 years: Bean, beet, carrot, chard, leek, pea, squash, tomato
5 years or more: Broccoli, Brussels sprout, cantaloupe, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, cucumber
Once you discard no-longer-viable seeds, you’re ready to make this year’s list. So pull out your pens (or fire up your laptop), check out our favorite sources, and start plotting out next year’s garden!