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  • Why should you order seeds for your Garden?

    So I will try to keep this short and sweet and two the point even though this garden talk could get lengthy.

    With seeds you need two things for a productive garden.

    1. A high seed germination rate
    2. Good vigour

    Seed germination is the transition between seed and seedling. It is a series of events that start with enzymatic changes that result in the growth of the seedling from the usable stored starches and proteins. If you had a batch of 100 seeds and 75 of those seeds successfully undergo that transition that batch of seeds has a 75% germination rate. The United States Federal Government regulates a minimum allowable standard for seed germination.

    Vigor is related to germination but not quite the same.  Vigorous seeds are more willing to sprout fast and grow sturdy. Not all seeds that germinate have vigor. Vigorous seeds are important in the real world where they have to fight for survival. Imperfect soil, pests and disease all can play a part in the life of your plants. Vigorous seeds are more likely to overcome these obstacles and become a healthy plant with a high production rate.  Seeds with the legal minimum for germination are not vigorous.

    Since seed germination rates are tested in a lab you have to take them out of the lab and plant them in the field to see the real results.

    The following are examples of cabbage seed tested under excellent conditions from the book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon. Seed with a germination rate of 95% it is expected to sprout in the field at a rate of 65% or higher. Seeds of 85% germination rate can be expected to sprout in the field at 50% or higher. Seeds with 75% minimum germination rates only sprout in the field at 15% or higher. Of course if gardening conditions drop below excellent then you can expect the seed germination rates to drop even lower.

    So by now you might be wondering why I am telling you all this mumbo jumbo?

     It’s because when you buy cheap seed and it fails in your garden you blame yourself. You feel you did something wrong, that you don’t have a green thumb.  When you buy seeds off the rack at the big box store they are more likely from distributors who sell seeds with a minimum germination standard. The distributors of cheap seed are not competing for your success, they are wanting you to buy as much seed as possible. They are selling to the new or casual home gardener who won’t recognize why their garden did not grow well. The gardener is most likely to blame themselves, or the conditions of their garden without realizing they were doomed from the start by their seed selection which was at the legal minimum.  

    The bottom line is that your most valuable thing is your time. Why waste your time and money on something that is not going to work well for you. Just start out right; buy once cry once. In the case of seeds, buy once and reap the harvest.

    So you might ask, where do I go to buy good seeds?

    Start by looking for companies that boast an in-house germination than the Federal guidelines. You can always email a company and ask them and they should be more than willing to give you their numbers, they are proud of their rates because that is what sets them apart. You can check their numbers against the national minimum standard which I will provide in a link below. Or you can just use my list of top rated seed companies at the end of the post.

    Keep in mind that you need to think small, especially if you are only a home or backyard gardener. You don’t need 100 zucchini seeds and 1000 pumpkin seeds. Keep your seed order reasonable so you don’t have a ton of extra seed as seed germination rates decline over time. If you do save over some seed to next year don’t expect it to grow nearly as well.

    If you are late to the seed ordering train you still might have time to get your order in for the year. Keep in mind the later you order the more sold out the varieties get. We like to put our order in by the end of January. We keep our seeds once we get them in a cool dry place until it’s time to use them a few weeks or months later. And lastly, of course you can benefit even more by saving your own seed but that is a topic for another day.

    Some top rated reputable seed companies, look them up and request catalogues.

    Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Winslow, Maine)

    Seed Savers Exchange (Decorah, Iowa)

    Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Mansfield, Mo.)

    Territorial Seed Company (Cottage Grove, Ore.)

    Seeds of Change (Rancho Dominguez, Calif.)

    Ferry-Morse Seed Company (Fulton, Ky.)

    Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Mineral, Va.)

    High Mowing Organic Seeds (Wolcott, Vt.)

    Fedco Seeds (Waterville, Maine)

    Nichols Garden Nursery (Albany, Ore.)

    The Cook’s Garden (Warminster, Pa.)

    Botanical Interests (Broomfield, Colo.)

    For further reading check out these links:

    A great post on this topic can be found from Northwest Edible Life.

    Germination standards for vegetable seeds in interstate commerce.

    Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon

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