Simple Guide to Reading a Seed Packet
Not sure what to grow? You don’t know what will grow in your area? You stand in front of the seed section at your local garden center all confused, in a seed frenzy, because all the packets are screaming ‘take me. The colorful packets, the vegetables, herbs, and flowers it can be overwhelming.
Good seed companies provide a wealth of information on their packets. Once you learn how to read a packet, the “seed frenzy” can be better controlled. Of course all seed companies are different and if you are not careful, you will end up with a lot of seeds that will not grow in your area or seeds that you may NEVER use. Today I’ll share a few of my favorite places I get my seed, some simple guidelines on what to look for and how to read the seed packets. I hope you find this helpful so you make informed decisions and calm the “seed frenzy.” Let’s begin….
My Favorite Seed Companies
BAKER CREEK HEIRLOOM SEEDS
Baker Creek offers many heirloom seeds that cannot be found at other companies. Their catalogue is full of beautifully written descriptions of the seed and what to expect from the plant. They offer some fun types of seeds that you may want to look at to have in your garden. My favorite that I get from there is the Mountaineer White-Half Runner green bean. We eat green beans at almost every meal.
SEED SAVERS EXCHANGE
Seed Savers is a non-profit company that specializes in preserving heirloom seeds that were brought with families when they immigrated into the United States and well as traditional varieties grown by the American Indians, Amish and Mennonites from across North America. Their seeds can be purchased at many retailers.
SOUTHERN EXPOSURE SEED EXCHANGE
They offer varieties that are known to grow well from the Mid-Atlantic to the Southeastern area. They have over 600 varieties from vegetables, herbs, flowers, grains and cover crops. They offer a free catalogue on their site too.
Before you start purchasing seed, there’s some terminology that you should know so that you can make good seed choices.
Organic – Seeds have not been genetically modified and have been grown in organic soil with regards to fertilizer and pesticides. It has been certified by the USDA standards and indicates that it is a non-GMO.
Heirloom – Seeds that have been produced in open-pollinated plants that have been proven to reproduce themselves naturally. Seeds can be saved and replanted and will reproduce themselves true.
GMO – Genetically Modified Organism. The seed’s DNA has been altered to perform in a way that it would never have grown in nature. This seed will not reproduce.
Hybrid – Seeds that have been cross-pollinated with other plants species in a way to force the seed to produce more, to be more “uniform” in its appearance, to have a more vivid color and disease resistant. Hybrids will not reproduce.
Determinate – A plant that will stop growing once it reaches a certain height. (tomatoes that grow to 3-4 feet and then bush out)
Indeterminate – A vining type plant that continues to grow until it is killed by frost. (some tomatoes varieties continue to grow to 6-8 feet or more – they need trellised) I learned the hard way this past summer. I purchased a Beef Steak tomato plant to have “slicing” tomatoes to eat. It took over the bed it was in and killed 2 pepper plants. Needless to say, it wasn’t trellised.
Once the decision has been made as to what to purchase, what in the world do all the information on the packet mean? How do you read the seed packet so that you know how much you need and how to plant it.
Seed Packet Front
The front side of the seed packet will have different pieces of information on it but MOST seed packets will for sure contain the following:
1. Name of the seed company
2. The type of seed and variety or cultivar (could be botanical name)
3. A beautiful picture of the plant at FULL Maturity
4. Weight of the package or the number of seeds in the packet
5. Whether it is a GMO, Hybrid, Heirloom or Organic
Often times too, it will have the price of the packet as well at the number of days until harvest after planted. This particular packet did not provide that info.
Seed Packet Back
The back of the seed pack is where you will find the bulk of the information or instructions needed:
1. Again, the name of the plant as well as its botanical name
2. Description of the plant/vegetable
3. Whether it is a direct sow (planted into the soil) or a start indoor and then transplant
4. Instructions including seedling rate or seed spacing and seed depth
5. Number of days to harvest (length of time from planting to harvesting)
6. Thinning instructions and growing tips
7. Sell by date (This date is important because germination rates can drop from year to year depending on how the seed was stored)
8. Companies also provide their address and phone number on their packages as well as their website. This information can be very help for contacting the company with questions.
9. This multi-colored table or chart tells you the best time to plant this seed in your region. Find your area on the colored map and match the color to the table.
The number of day to germination (the sprouting of the seed, -green appears from the seed) this particular packet doesn’t provide this information.
Growing up on a small farm, I can remember my mom and dad saving seed from year to year. They would store them metal coffee cans or butter bowls with lids in the freezer. I have since learned the freezer stops the growth of the plant and bacteria’s. I really don’t remember seed “packets” growing up at all. When the season came around, mom and dad would be sitting at the kitchen table making a list of what seeds they had on hand and how much they needed for the season’s planting.
If you have been gardening for years, this information may seem trivial to you, but if you are new to gardening, like me when I started in 2015, I had no idea how to read a seed packet, I had to learn and till learning. The information is important. I know it’s a lot to take in, just start small and ask lots of questions.
For my family I choose to always use organics but I’m not completely sold on hybrids or heirlooms – I use both. I choose to use only natural fertilizers such as worm castings and fish emulsion as fertilizers and I don’t use pesticides at all in my garden. The reason I began growing our own food was to get away from all the chemicals, pesticides and preservatives that are found in and on foods now days. And this year, since I have used heirlooms, I will not have to purchase green beans, okra, or cucumber seeds because I have saved them from last year. Every little bit of savings adds up.
I hope you have found this information helpful, I don’t claim to be an expert, but I am here for ya if you have any questions at all. What types of seeds will you grow this year?