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Simple Guide to Reading a Seed Packet
Not sure what to grow? What does all the stuff on the seed packet mean? You have no idea 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, 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 seed packets. So when you learn how to read a seed packet, the “seed frenzy” will 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 will NEVER use.
Today I’ll share a few of my favorite places to get 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 has many heirloom seeds. The catalogue has beautifully written descriptions of the seed and what to expect from the plant. They offer some fun types of seeds that you might want to look at to grow 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 can be purchased at many retailers. They’re a non-profit company that specializes in preserving seeds brought with families from other countries. They also have traditional varieties grown by the American Indians, Amish and Mennonites from across North America.
SOUTHERN EXPOSURE SEED EXCHANGE
Offers varieties 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. A free catalogue is offered on their site too.
Lets discuss some terminology that will help you make better seed choices.
Organic – Seeds that haven’t been genetically modified. Organic seeds are 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 produced in open-pollinated plants and 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 – A plant intentionally cross-pollinated with two different varieties of the a plant. In an effort to produce more yield, better quality and have the best traits of each of the parent plant. Hybrids will not reproduce.
Determinate – A plant that grows to a certain size and stops. (various breeds of tomatoes grow to 3-4 feet and bush out)
Indeterminate – A vining type plant that continues to grow until killed by frost. (some tomatoes varieties continue to grow to 6-8 feet or more – they need trellised) Last summer I purchased a Beef Steak tomato for a “slicing” tomato. It took over the bed it was in and killed 2 pepper plants. Needless to say, it wasn’t trellised.
After the decision has been made as to what to purchase, what in the world does 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
Different companies will have different information on their seed packets. Seed packets 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. Is the seed a GMO, Hybrid, Heirloom or Organic
Many seed packets provide the price of the packet on the front, this particular packet didn’t.
Seed Packet Back
The back of the seed pack is where you find the bulk of the information or instructions needed:
1. The name of the plant and possibly its botanical name as well
2. Description of the plant/vegetable
3. If the seed is a direct sow (planted into the soil) or should it be started indoors and 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. Depending how the seeds are stored, germination rates can drop year to year
8. Many companies provide an address, phone number, and their website on the packet. 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’ve learned the freezer stops the growth of the plant and bacteria’s. I really don’t remember seed “packets” growing up at all.
If you have been gardening for years, this information may seem trivial. For a new gardener, understanding a seed packet is difficult. The information is important. I know it’s a lot to take in, start small and ask lots of questions.
For my family I use organics. I’m not completely sold on hybrids or heirlooms – I use both. I use natural fertilizers like worm castings (This is the kind I use and love) and fish emulsion (My favorite kind for the garden) and no pesticides at all.
I began growing our own food to get away from the chemicals, pesticides and preservatives found in and on foods now days. This year, after planting heirlooms, I will no longer need to purchase green beans, okra, or cucumber seeds. Every little bit of savings adds up.
I hope you found this information helpful. Reading a seed packet does not have to be difficult. I’m glad to answer questions that you may have. Feel free to ask in the comment section below.
What types of seeds will you grow this year?