all about seeds

5 Things Nobody’s Telling You About Heirloom Seeds

What will their grandchildren be?

What will their grandchildren be?

There is a lot of confusion right now about seeds, and understandably so.

First, know you cannot buy a GE seed, what is commonly referred to as GMO, unless you are a farmer and sign a contract with Monsanto.

Second, a hybrid is not a genetically engineered seed. Hybrids can be crossed simply when a bee flies from one plant to another, from one type of melon to another for example.
This won’t affect your veggies, only the seeds.

So why are so many people vehemently anti-hybrid and pro-heirloom?

Well, for one thing, that sells seeds.
IMHO companies that sell primarily heirloom seeds are capitalizing on the confusion.

So let us set the record straight.

With some exceptions:

1. Heirlooms are more subject to disease.

Often a commercial hybrid seed grower (remember, not GE) will cross plants specifically to develop new ones that are more disease resistant. If your garden is particularly prone to certain diseases, a hybrid may be the better choice for you.

2. Heirlooms tend to suffer more from bug damage.

Similarly, commercial hybrid seed producers try to find varieties of veggies that are less prone to bad bugs, and develop this positive characteristic.


3. Heirloom plants tend to be less tolerant of temperature and weather extremes.

Again there are exceptions, but varieties bred for heat resistance for example, may do better in your yard than mine. As for early production, the hybrid Early Girl and the heirloom Oregon Spring both have done well in our gardens. I admit I preferred the taste of the heirloom, but I got a better production from the hybrid. Every gardener should decide for themselves.

4. Heirloom plants tend to produce less.

Because of the reasons already mentioned, and also since many hybrids are bred to be more productive, this circumstance tends to be true. We planted a hybrid Cashflow Zucchini and have never before seen such production. On the other hand, the heirloom Costata Romanesco, although producing significantly less, tasted far superior.

5. You can save Heirloom seeds, but not Hybrid seeds.

Yes and no on this one. Commercial hybrids do tend to be sterile for the most part, and if you do get a fertile seed, it will revert back to one of its ancestors. We will be looking into that more specifically this coming growing season.
As for saving heirloom seeds, you can’t just grab an eggplant or a pepper and keep the seeds with full expectation your next year’s plant will be the same heirloom.

Why? you may wonder.

Because, unless you know what you are doing, you may very well have produced a hybrid seed in your own garden. Through cross-pollination, whether by bugs or wind, your heirlooms might just have become fruit containing hybrid seeds.
In fact, in most cases they probably are.

Of course this is less likely to happen with beans and peas, and tomatoes will cross but not as easily as pretty much everything else. Corn? Forget about it! So you see, you need to know how & if they cross, and how to prevent it if you want to save heirloom seeds.

So you make the call on what is best for your garden.
They are not GE (GMO) seeds, so forget that for now.

If you want to save seeds, learn how. We will be showing that too, in great detail, this summer.
If you do not care to save seeds, then choose the veggie varieties that grow best in your area.

And most of all, don’t stress it.
Above everything else, gardening should be fun!

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8 Reasons to Plant from Seed

Here they come.

Here they come.

Growing plants from seed is not a difficult thing to do. To start seeds indoors all you need are containers of your choice, some seed starting mix, a light source, warmth and water; and of course, seeds. Many seed packets will tell you when to start your seeds indoors or if your seeds can just be planted directly into the garden.

Here are a few reasons to consider seeds over purchased plants:

1. Variety
You get to choose that great tasting heirloom tomato over the typical plants you might find in a nursery. Over time, you will probably even choose a favorite to grow every year. When you grow from seed, you get to make the decision of which variety for every vegetable.

2. Amount
Do you really need a 4 or 6 cell pack of zucchini? If you asked my husband, he would tell you 2 zucchini plants are at least 1 too many. The same may be true for other vegetables as well. Instead of 6 Butternut squash, we would rather have 3 Butternut and 3 Spaghetti squash. By planting our own seeds, we get that control.

3. Pushing the season
If you use season extenders, such as the Wall o’ Water, low tunnels, a greenhouse, or the upcoming Jones’ Gardening System, you can plant your plants sooner than they may be available at the nursery. The garden system we designed allowed you to put your tomatoes in 4 weeks sooner than normal and you can be ready with plants you started from seed. In areas where the growing season is short, like here in Zone 5/6, this can make a big difference.

4. Saving money
Seeds can last for years, though over time you lose some viability. Still, one pack of seeds will produce a lot more plants per penny compared to buying them already started.

5. Saving bees
Did you know that some companies treat the seedlings’ soil with insecticides? Those big box stores don’t want that future sale to get bugs. Those chemicals are then transferred to your garden, where they can last for years. When you buy a nice organic seed starting mix, or even make your own, you know your plants won’t be hurting the environment let alone killing the very bugs they may need to produce food.

6. Geek joy
Have you ever thought it might be fun to develop your own unique veggie? You can try this by hand pollinating two similar veggies, such as 2 squashes. Save some of the seeds from the best specimens, and see what they produce the following year. Fun.

7. Security
With a good assortment of seeds on hand and the knowledge of how to grow food, you are putting yourself and those you care about in a more prepared position should something happen to your ability to obtain food.

8. Self-sufficiency
The ability to grow your own food gives you the freedom to be less dependent on others for what you need. When you learn to grow from seed, you are taking that to the next level.

The future really does wait quietly inside a seed.

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How to Turn a Hybrid into an Open Pollinated Type

Lots of seeds to play with.

Lots of seeds to play with.

After recently purchasing a hybrid melon thinking it was an heirloom, we proceeded to go about saving the seeds anyway. You can read more about How to Save Seeds here.

One of our Facebook equaintances knowledgeably commented:

David L. Green: “Many of the commercial hybrids have parents that are highly inbred, which means that they can be very weak. When you plant them, some will revert back to the parent line, and will be similarly weak. Cull these out from seed saving. Some may breed true (or be apparently true), so you can save and replant these for a third generation. After several generations of careful selection and saving only the truest, you will have stabilized the variety, and can be utilized as an open pollinated variety henceforth. For the average gardener, this is a lot of work, and takes a lot of knowledge, so it’s not recommended for beginners. It is a valid and useful technique for serious gardeners.”

Sounds like fun to me!
So, here’s what you need to know to develop your own open-pollinated veggie:

1. After saving your seeds, test for germination rate to see how well they will sprout. Do this by placing 10 seeds in between paper towels and keeping them moist and warm. Give them sufficient time to sprout, depending on what type of seed you have. Melons can take 3 weeks, so that’s how long we will wait.

Patiently waiting.

Patiently waiting.

2. If you get 8-9 from 10, that’s a great rate. Pack those seeds and you will be ready to plant when it is time. If you get only 5, plan on planting at least twice what you need. If you get 3 or less, germinate about 10 seeds for every one you wish to plant before planting time. When you do this depends on how long it took your first batch to germinate; in our case, 3 weeks.

3. When your plants grow, note which ones are the most vigorous. These are the ones you will want to save seed from. Also note any differences in plant health and taste of the fruit. Save the ones you think are the best.

4. Repeat the germination test with the second year’s seeds. Do this for a few seasons and as David said, you can then consider your seeds to be an open pollinated variety.

There's one so far.

There’s one so far.

5. Be careful of cross pollination. Bees can carry the pollen from one veggie to another of similar type, melon to melon for example. This is how nature creates a hybrid, and your seeds are what is affected. You may want to limit what you plant. Note that a watermelon will not cross with a melon, so we’re safe there.

Is this fun or what? We’ll keep you posted on the progress of the melon to see what happens.
If you are you a gardening geek, why not give it a try?

More on the difference between hybrid and open pollinated.

Categories: all about seeds, How to Grow, The Experiments

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On Saving Hybrid Seeds

The haul.

The haul.

Just in case you are one of the many gardeners understandably confused about the difference between a hybrid seed and a GMO seed, here is the difference:

A hybrid seed is one taken from a plant that was crossed with another similar plant. Bees can cross pollinate one tomato with another as well as many other veggies naturally. You could do it yourself as well.

A GMO is a cross between a plant and something else, like a tomato and a fish or corn and e-coli. This must be done in a laboratory by genetic engineers.

That being said…

Mandolin and I were in our go-to store for organics recently, when I heard a woman there showing and giving samples of Honeymoon melon.
“Yes!” I thought, “I have heard of that heirloom melon and now is my chance to score some seeds!”

So home one came and it was wonderfully delicious and abundant with seeds.

Remove the floaters.

Remove the floaters.

Happily I shared it with my Facebook group Gardenaholics Anonymous. They are wonderfully knowledgeable and always willing to help.

I learned from Pat Q. that this is not the right season for heirlooms, and upon doing a little more research discovered that the name in this case is actually a trademarked logo and not the heirloom I thought it was.
Drat.

The keepers.

The keepers.

Now some gardeners will tell you that you cannot save hybrid seeds, but you will never hear that from us.
The only thing is that the veggies you get will differ somehow from the parent. They can very well differ in a way you won’t even notice.

Let the seeds dry.

Let the seeds dry.

It can be fun to see what they produce. So I rinsed the seeds, removed the ones that floated, let dry and packaged most but also tested a few for germination.

Produce stickers make great packet labels.

Produce stickers make great packet labels.

We’ll see what happens this summer. It will be fun and who knows, it could be the best melons ever.

Here’s how to save seeds using fermentation, which removes more of the fruit’s flesh from the seeds.

Categories: all about seeds, How to Grow, The Experiments

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11 Things to Look For on a Seed Packet

NOTE: This was originally posted on 8/26/12. Many of you are new to the site since then, and now many are also preparing your seed packet orders for 2014; so we wanted to share this again.
Check out your packets. How many of these can you find?
Happy Gardening!
~GJ

A good seed packet should give you much of the info you need to know to grow that plant.
Unfortunately, they all don’t.

Here’s what to look for, and why:

1. Days to Germination: A pea can sprout in just a few days, broccoli raab can take as long as three weeks. Many a gardener, having assumed there was a problem, has replanted a row of a veggie that is slower to germinate only to find the first seeds planted start sprouting very soon after.
Been there, over-planted that.

2. Days to Maturity:This one is a little tricky. First, for plants that should be started indoors, not all seed packets will tell you that the Days to Maturity are from transplanting outside. Second, when is a plant mature? Is that when it begins to bear fruit or when it’s ready to harvest. Some seed packets specify Days to Harvest instead.
This is very important if you are timing your plants so they get some frost, if you have a short growing season, and if you are succession planting (planning on a second crop in the same place).

seed growing information

on the front or on the back

3. Packed For or Sell By Date: Seeds will loose their rate of germination and their viability over time. We always keep leftover seeds for the following season, and some for a few years. We also purchase ‘end of season’ seeds at a reduced rate. If you packet isn’t dated when you receive it, just make a note of it yourself. It’s easier than trying to remember.

4. How to Plant: Every seed packet we have ever seen has growing information, the only exception being the sale items mentioned above. You should find what depth to sow the seed, plant and row spacing, how much sun/shade is needed, etc. Some companies even give you little tips, such as soaking the seed prior to planting. Don’t you just love that stuff?

seed descriptions are fun

smiley face

5. How to Harvest: Much less common, helpful hints on harvesting is wonderful info to find on a seed packet. Sure, everyone knows when a tomato is ripe, but how do you know when and how to pick an eggplant?
Well, okay, you can find out here; but it’s great when it’s right there on the seed packet.

6. How to Use: Less important but wonderful to find are suggestions for eating what you grow. Did you know you can throw lettuce thinnings in salads and eat the leaves of beets? Sometimes you’ll read that right on the seed packet.

7. Diseases and Pests to watch out for: You’ll be more likely to find this information in a seed catalog or on a website, but occasionally it will show up on a seed packet. It’s usually in the description of the vegetable, such as ‘drought tolerant’ or ‘late blight resistant’. Whatever battle you fight in your garden, it helps to be armed with the right seed.

8. Personality: Okay, so this one isn’t essential, but does serve a purpose. A description of the ‘personality’ of your veggie, such as tangy, sweet, versatile, attractive, as well as probably the most common- delicious- can help not only get you psyched to plant, but also make the experience more fun.

9. A Pic: Personally, we prefer a picture of the vegetable growing to a beautiful display of a great harvest in a lovely setting. The first time we saw a kohlrabi in its natural habitat we were quite surprised.

botanical names of seeds

good to know

10. The Botanical Name: This one is becoming more rare over time. Having the botanical name of a veggie, even if you can’t use it in a conversation :-) helps you to know which veggies you can and cannot rotate and which ones share disease and predators. It also can help you when you are trying to prevent cross-pollination for seed saving. All that in two italicized words? Really really.

11. Plant Specs: Is it a bush or a vine? How tall will it get, does it need a support? This information should be made available to you right on the packet. Did you know a watermelon vine can easily grow over 6 feet in any direction? Better to find out before the seed touches the soil.

Of course you can read all these things online and in seed catalogs. Johnny’s Seeds not only have great products and customer service, their catalog is like a how-to manual for growing.
Keep your own notes, ask questions, and even save the seed packets that have the best information.
After a while, it will all be in your head anyway.

botanical gnome

reminders help

Well, maybe not those italicized words.

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Healthy Seed Sprouts – You Can Grow That!

Day 2 and already well on the way.

Day 2 and already well on the way.

Recently we were out at a local market when I came upon this neat plastic lid that you simply place on a wide mouth canning jar to turn it into a sprouting system.

After reading a lot on the subject, I discovered that as long as you keep your sprouts well rinsed and refrigerated after they are ready, they are safe to grow at home and extremely healthy for you.

You just place a small amount of sprouting seeds in a jar, add water, and let sit overnight in the dark.
The next morning you begin to rinse them 2-3 times per day, tilting the jar to let out any extra moisture, and keeping it covered.

Day 4, almost ready.

Day 4, almost ready.

Rinse heavily when they are ready, to remove any leftover seed hulls.
Let ‘green up’ in indirect sunlight for a day.

You can choose specific seeds for particular health benefits or flavor, or try a mix at first like we did.

Caution: Check to be sure the seeds you use are meant to be used for sprouting, or at least have a very high germination rate. Unsprouted seeds, according to the manual we purchased, may ferment and spoil the whole batch.

Greening up.

Greening up.

We really enjoyed these sprouts on our Thanksgiving Day salad, with fresh greens and carrots from the garden.

Knowing you are giving your family something healthy that you grew yourself, really is something to be thankful for.

And a healthier year ahead? Yeppers- you can grow that too!

you can grow that

This post is a part of a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to help others learn to grow.
Click on the link above for more posts.

Categories: all about seeds, How to Grow, you can grow that

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The Pros and Cons of Seed Collections

As an admitted and card-carrying seedaholic, our garden springs from more than one company.

This year I happened to catch Renee’s Garden’s end of season seed sale.
Seed… Sale… two 4-letter words that grab my attention immediately.

Variety...

Variety…

Renee’s Garden has high quality seeds, and this year they had a number of their mixes on sale.
As you can see from the photos (please excuse the flash) we have 3 different color watermelons, 3 different types of eggplant, 3 different flavor melons, and 2 different colors each of Thai peppers, carrots and tomatillos.

Is this going to be fun or what?
And that’s one of the pros to mixes, going to the garden and finding what actually is growing can be a delightful experience. Much like waiting to find out what type of tomato this year’s volunteer will be.

I confess that there are always multiple varieties of the same veggie seeds on hand here, so the mixes will simplify things a lot.

Likewise it can be a money saver if you don’t need a lot of seeds, you only need to buy one pack to get a variety.

... the spice of life.

…the spice of life.

There are two things going against seed collections. One is that, in most cases, the seeds are hybrids. This means that any saved seeds will not produce the same plant as the parent.
If saving seeds is a high priority for you, look for indications such as F1 or F2 in the description or on the packet that indicate a hybrid.

We don’t save all seeds, not carrots for example, so we weigh that option accordingly.

For some gardeners, not knowing what they are growing may not seem like fun.
In most cases, these seeds are colored with a food safe dye that can help you choose what you want.
Personally, I’d rather wait and see than pick out tiny seeds.

Gardening should be easy, and it certainly should be fun.
Oh, and PS: you can also mix your own collections from seeds leftover from previous seasons.

Been there, done that.

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Simplifying the Seed Stash

Years ago it would be in February that the seed catalogs would begin to show up, now it seems to be earlier each year.

And so it begins.

And so it begins.

It’s only mid-November and already there are a half dozen catalogs on the desk.
It can be fun to look at all the varieties of seeds, but it may also prove to be pricey.

A catalog the price of 8 seed packets.

A catalog the price of 8 seed packets.

“Did you spend $8 on a seed catalog?” Mandolin asked when he picked up the mail.

Of course, I didn’t. But it made me wonder why they would produce and ship such a large catalog, and put a price tag on it as well?

Is that supposed to impress me or guilt me into buying something.
So I looked inside and most of the seeds run about $2.50 per pack.
Oh and add in another $3.50 for shipping. Even if you only buy one pack of seeds.

That’s pretty much the going rate.

Fall turnips from club seeds.

Fall turnips from club seeds.

Or is it?
An e-quaintance of mine named Mike, aka Mike the Gardener has a seed packet club where you get seeds for less than $1 per pack, shipping included.

The seeds are all heirloom or open-pollinated, and a good selection comes by mail each month.
And no expensive, guilt-inducing catalog to recycle.

I have been growing Mike’s seeds for a few years now, and always have great success with them.

Still going strong after the freezes and frost.

Still going strong after the freezes and frost.

The Arugula we looked at the other day- yeah, those seeds were from the Seeds of the Month Club as well.

If you look to the right, and up a bit, there is a link you can use to check this out for yourself.

If you are thinking, “Oh, sure- she just wrote about this because she got an ad from him” you don’t know me very well.
Actually, it’s the opposite.

I offered to put up his link because, like Annie’s Moo Poo Tea, I think he has a great product that y’all can benefit from.

In Mike’s case, you could save a small fortune.
Four packs from the Seeds of the Month Club cost $3.70- from the other catalog, they would run you about $13.00.

Go ahead, join up and save yourself some money.
We did.

Categories: all about seeds, How to Grow

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Confession # 219 – Which Dry Bean is Which?

So the garden was over-planted with beans, there are far worse problems, right?
And okay, so we neglected to make a note of which bean was planted where, that shouldn’t be an issue, should it?

Alright… so the answer to both questions is “Yes!”

Fortunately, we keep our seed packets even when they are empty. That narrows down the possibilities.

Keeping seed packets is a high priority here.

Keeping seed packets is a high priority here.

Even better, some of the packets still had seeds in them. This helps with the matching a lot.

So we have narrowed down all but two. The brown ones resemble our Kentucky Wonder seeds, and our Blue Lake seeds. They also look a heckuva lot like a canning jar we have labeled simply “Dry Brown Beans”.
Yeah, let’s not get too specific, shall we? :-P

Narrowing down the possible suspects.

Closing the field on the possible suspects.

Now since these beans are being harvested from the trellis, and our Blue Lake as well as most dry beans are bush types, we’re going to guess they are the Kentucky Wonder pole beans.
Good thing, because those beans can be enjoyed as a dry bean as well as fresh.

Only one mystery remains- the white beans.
Not a clue, nada.
Because they were harvested with many others, we don’t even know if they were pole or bush.

Note to self: If you are not going to be specific and keep good notes, leave at least one seed in every packet until the winter comes.

Categories: Addiction, all about seeds, confessions, How to Grow

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Seeds on Sale

renee's garden seeds

As the summer comes to a close, many seed companies begin placing their remaining inventory on sale. This is a good opportunity to stock up and save.

We don’t know of any seed that will not still be viable for at least two years, and have heard of some sprouting even after almost 20 years.

The legumes are said to lose their viability faster than other seeds. If this is so it is probably because they are self pollinating. We have not experienced this first hand, we generally use all our bean and pea seeds within two years. Even still, all you would need to do is plant a little more.

You can check the website of your favorite seed suppliers and see if they are offering reduced prices yet. If you get on their email list they will likely notify you.

These seeds are from Renee’s Garden, via their website, and were all 40% off. Since they have a low shipping fee, it was a pretty good deal. And what a nice way to head into the off season, with a handful of plans ready to go.

Oh and one more way to save on seeds, all year- you can join the Seeds of the Month Club via averagepersongardening.com or buy into their leftover seeds mailing for a one time fee. Check them out, its a wonderful way to stay garden happy even as the snow flies.

Categories: all about seeds, saving money & time

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Everything here is original (unless otherwise noted) and has legal copyright 2014 by Gardening Jones (tm), and cannot be re-posted or reproduced without permission. Any re-posting of information, photographs, and/or recipes is considered theft and subject to prosecution.

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