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Advice on Ordering Seeds

A photo of AmySeed catalogs have been streaming into my mailbox and whetting my appetite for spring. If there was a 12 step meeting for vegetable seeds, I surely would be a candidate – I find the descriptions irresistible and want to plant everything I see. However, I've learned over the years that carefully selecting which seeds to grow in the garden will greatly enhance my success. Here are some thoughts for you to consider.

Length of Growing Season  

Probably the most important aspect for you to consider when purchasing seed varieties is the length of your growing season. For example, there are many wonderful heirloom varieties that I would like to grow, but some of them require a very long period of warm weather to mature and I might be better off choosing a different variety. Conversely, there are some cool weather crops, such as peas and lettuce that require a period of relatively moderate temperatures to grow well.

So, when deciding whether or not to purchase a particular vegetable seed, you first must ask yourself this question: Is my season long enough for this particular vegetable to grow? Answering this question can be a bit complicated. Finding out which zone you live in can help you determine your period of frost-free weather for planting frost-sensitive vegetables. But there are other temperature related variables that are important as well, such as considering just how hot your daytime temperatures are likely to get, amount of rainfall (which will affect your soil temperature) or if your nights cool off significantly due to your proximity to the ocean, etc.

With time, the answers to these questions will come to you easily. But if you are a beginning gardener, calling the seed supplier and providing details as to your growing conditions will help them answer this question. You can also ask other gardeners, such as neighbors or gardeners on forums such as the Kitchen Gardeners forum.

Melissa savoy cabbage 


Saving Money  

I used to have a habit of buying tons of those little seed packs, which can rack up a sizable bill rather quickly. One trick I've learned is that once I've found a vegetable seed I like is to buy seed packages in larger sizes through the mail order/website suppliers. The purchase price for seeds goes down considerably when you purchase larger quantities. For example, consider the prices on this Carson Bean seed through Territorial. A one ounce package of seed costs $2.20, but if I were to purchase a 1/2 pound package for $6.95, the price of the seeds would go down to 87 cents per ounce. This could be especially advantageous if one were to go in on purchases with friends and family on seed purchases.

On caveat: a few seed species, such as corn and onions, do not last long. Their seed is listed to remain viable for only a year. Make sure to check the catalog.

runner beans 


Recommendations from other gardeners 

On many gardening websites, such as the Kitchen Gardener's International website, people discuss their success or failure with particular varieties. I find reviews of particular seeds to be quite helpful. The only drawback is that the gardener reviewing the seed could life in an entirely different zone and seeds may behave differently than where you intend to plant them. I have a page on my website, in which I've collected articles and reviews of particular seeds.

marketmore cucumbers 

Seed Lingo 

Certain vegetables have many terms attached to them that are rarely defined and can be confusing to the uninitiated. I've written some helpful articles on my blog (listed below) to help shed light on the issue. Check out the links listed below:


Carrot terminology 

Corn: hybrid sweet corn varieties and differences between grain types  

Onion varieties  

Potato terminology 

Pepper varieties   

Tomato terminology 

Seed sources  

A list of my favorite seed sources and descriptions of what they sell are located here.

megandkris dimercurio
2/6/2013 3:27:16 PM

I get so excited over the description of seeds too! I have made 4 seed orders this year because I can't NOT open the magazines that come in my mailbox! Check out my blog - I just made an indoor plant stand with directions too :) -Meg

3/1/2011 7:37:00 AM

kathy, alfalfa hay will have alfalfa seeds in it. you could let hay rot for a while and the seeds will die. sometimes you can find a farmer with rotted hay which he will give away. very good for your garden. regarding the money saving ideas for seed, bean seed couldn't be easier to save yourself. just let the last beans dry on the stalk. good free way to have as many seeds as you need and enough to share. tomato seed is another easy seed to save. you could even buy heirloom tomatoes from the market and just squirt out the seeds and plant. corn, too. as long as they are not hybrids.

kathleen pedigo
2/28/2011 1:03:38 PM

I cannot find straw; would high grade alfalfa hay be ok to put in my vegetable garden? Thank you. Kathy Pedigo

charlie greene
2/26/2011 2:01:54 PM

I use something that really works to get the seeds started on there way.....I put a heating pad between a large white towel and place a plastice tub that I purchaed at Wal*Marts. I set the heating pad on low and the soil temperature gets into the low 80's....I put them out doors and the clear top to the plastic tub comes off as the temp's. can get really high.....However when it rains, it keeps every thing dry yet still allows the natural light in to do its job.... I also use the Ruth Stout method for planting my potatoes and tomatoes........Lots of straw.....Keeps the moisture in and the weeds out...... Thanks for your blog Amy........It is very usefull.......

cindy murphy
2/22/2011 12:12:11 PM

Hi Amy, and welcome to the GRIT blogging community. Very informative article; thanks for posting it. Samantha - the vine with the pretty red flowers looks like from the photo to be scarlet runner beans. It's often sold and grown as an ornamental annual vine, but the beans are edible too (removed from the pods, because the pods are quite tough). Gotta love those double-duty plants.

2/21/2011 1:56:25 PM

what is that beautiful vine in the picture? with the red flowers?

nebraska dave
2/18/2011 8:11:08 PM

Amy, your post couldn't come at a better time. Everything is starting to wake up here in Nebraska from the long winter slumber. Today was another 50 degree day and I was outside doing winter yard clean up. I picked up a yard bag and a half of just sticks that collected on the front lawn over the winter. Your posts about vegetable terms were excellent. Thank you so much for helping an old dirt farmer like me with vegetable choices. Have a great seed ordering day.