Tuesday, January 2

Seed Buying: Method and Madness

Carol over at May Dreams Gardens posed a lot of interesting questions in her recent post, titled: "Seed Buying: Method or Madness?" There were too many questions for me to answer in a mere comment--after all, I can't even keep my regular posts under two screeens--so I figured they would be best addressed here.

- Do you carefully read all of the seed catalogs sent to you and then browse the Internet to compare and contrast all the options, then decide which seeds to buy?
Do you order seeds from more than one seed company to save on shipping or buy from whoever has the seeds you want, even if it means paying nearly the same for shipping as you do for the actual seeds?
- Do you buy seeds from ‘bricks and mortar’ stores and get whatever appeals to you as you are browsing?

- Do you buy vegetable seeds in bulk where they scoop them out of seed bins, weigh them and put them in hand-marked envelopes?

My answers to the above are: Yes, both, yes and... I wish! When I buy seeds from catalogs and Internet sites, I tend to be very careful and methodical. My credit card might eventually come out to finish off the sale, but it usually takes weeks if not months to get to that point.

I make lists, research what I might want to buy and who offers the varieties I want at the best prices (shipping included) and then whittle the lists accordingly. If there is a plant I really want to grow and I know I can't find its seed locally, I will pay up as long as its total cost is still cheaper than buying the number of those kinds of plants that I want in the spring.

In bricks and mortar garden centers, on the other hand, I can get into real trouble. The pretty pictures, the choices... really, who can resist a whole half rack of different varieties of nasturtiums? Especially when you planted only red and dark orange varieties last year, and didn't realize how charming the buttery yellow ones were until you saw their pictures on the fronts of those packets?

- Do you buy seeds for just vegetables, or just annual flowers? Do you buy seeds for perennial flowers?
- Do you only buy seeds to direct sow into the garden or do you end up with flats of seedlings in any window of the house with decent light?

In terms of buying, I buy seeds for everything--veggies, herbs, annual flowers and perennials. I haven't sown indoors or direct sown in the garden since I discovered winter sowing. I can winter sow a lot more seeds than I have room to start indoors, and I have more control over what goes where in the garden with winter sowing than I would with direct sowing.

This winter, I am winter sowing crocosmia, echinops bannaticus, 'Apricot Sprite' and 'Apache Sunset' agastaches, winter hardy sempervivum, 'Wizard Velvet Red' coleus, stipa tenuissima and nicotiana sylvestris in addition to the usual suspects for the veggie garden. I would definitely not have the money to buy all of the plants of the above that I would like to grow--another benefit of winter sowing.

- Do you list all your seeds on a spreadsheet, so you can sort the list by when you should sow them so you have a master seed plan of sorts?
Do you determine germination percentage for old seed?

I wish that I had the discipline and organization to keep a spreadsheet, but I tend to rely more on intercranial information filing--which I admit isn't always the most reliable method. Maybe if I set up a spreadsheet this winter, however, I can do better at record-keeping this spring.

I probably will not do much in the way of determining germination percentage for old seed, though, unless you count chitting and then planting the sprouts. I never seem to have enough of old seed to just test a sample, and I would feel badly about wasting sprouted seed.

- Do you save your own seeds from year to year and exchange them with other seed savers?
Do you buy more seeds than you could ever sow in one season?
Do you keep all the old seeds and seed packets from year to year, scattered about in various drawers, boxes, and baskets?

I saved seeds this year for the first time, from 'Pride of Gibralter' cerinthe, digitalis parviflora, and cimicifuga/actaea. I would like to save more this year, particularly if I find some good-tasting plum tomatoes.

As far as buying more seeds than I could ever sow in one season and saving packets from year to year... yeah, guilty as charged. Check out what a wreck my seedbox is, and it was just cleaned up this fall! I donated a bunch of extras to fellow gardeners and a couple of gardening newbies. I also talked myself into throwing out seeds older than 2002--more because I figured that after 4 years it was safe to assume I would not bother planting them than because of any concerns about viability.

- Do you know what stratification and scarification are? Have you done either or both with seeds?
Do you have a fear of seeds? Some gardeners don’t try seeds, why not?
Do you understand seeds? I once bought seeds at a Walmart in January (Burpee Seeds) and the cashier asked me, “Do these really work? Yes, they do. “Isn’t it too cold to plant them now?” Well, yes, if you are planning to plant them outside. I don’t think this cashier grew up around anyone who gardened.

I can define the processes of stratification and scarification, and have done both. I have no fear of seeds--but then I have no fear of any aspect of life, including death.

I guess that you could say that yes, I understand seeds... but I do have to admit that I don't want them to lose all of their mystery and magic, either. I love knowing the science behind them, but would like to always appreciate the small miracle that every seed contains as well.


Colleen Vanderlinden said...

Great post, Kim! I'm with you on the magic of seeds. I understand them more the more I garden, but I like feeling like a little kid, peeking at my seeds and feeling like it's Christmas morning when they sprout.

Oh, yeah..."intercranial information filing"...that's what I do, too. Did you read oldroses' post on this? Right now, I'd just about kill for her spreadsheet as I'm wading through my seed packets deciding what to do this year. My husband and I have a running joke about my "mental lists" and their frequent lack of accuracy. Let's just say, I can be rather forgetful sometimes :-)

Anonymous said...

I've just been going around this morning commenting on all the blogs that answered Carol's Seedy Questions and I'm loving these posts.

Please post more about your winter sowing experiences. You've really got my attention. You mean I can plant more seeds without giving up more room in my basement? Please share. :)

Unknown said...

Colleen, I actually haven't seen Old Roses' post about this yet, although I've been trying to read all of the Carol-inspired "seedy" posts. It sounds like I'm going to have a similar envy of this spreadsheet of hers, though! (Btw, I tend to joke about my forgetfulness, too... my mind has gone from "steel trap" to "metal sieve" in too short of a time period!)

Anthony, that is exactly right--but you do have to give up some room in your yard, or on your driveway. Check out my post from earlier in December (http://blackswampgirl.blogspot.com/2006/12/winter-solstice-winter-sowing.html) first, and I promise that I will be posting more about winter sowing once I get started. :)

Carol Michel said...

I've been trying to find all the seedy posts sprouting up with answers to my questions... not sure how I missed yours! Great post!

lisa said...

Great minds really DO think alike...my answers to those seed questions would be nearly identical! I try to keep records of where and when I broadcast seed outside, and even amounts of seed used to try and be sort of "scientific"... but spread sheets? I'm afraid that much organization would take the wild, "who knows what's gonna happen" charm right out of it! ;) But the winter sowing is just too easy NOT to try.

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