When the garden discussion turns to vegetable seeds, seed catalogues are a great starting place. They provide gardeners with the most recent vegetable varieties on the market along with helping the gardener plan for the growing season. Best of all, many of them are free. Just call the local seed company or visit them on line.
A discussion of the types of seeds available during any particular season also extends beyond the availability of new varieties. Often the conversation centers on differences between heirloom seeds and the hybrid seeds that constitute most of the new varieties.
Think of heirloom seeds as the open-pollinated seeds. They reproduce themselves on an annual basis, with each succeeding generation growing consistently as the plant of the original seed. Heirloom seeds often get credited as producing more tasty vegetables.
Hybrid seeds are a cross between two different varieties. Plants from many of the non-sterile seeds can take on the characteristics of either of the plants used as the original cross-bred plants. Hybrid seeds often provide resistance against a variety of insect pests and/or diseases. Critics often remark that the gain in healthier plants and vegetables is muted a bit by a loss in taste.
What About Last Year’s Seeds?
Gardeners often run out of space prior to running out of seeds. Fortunately, seeds will keep for a few years, provided they are stored correctly. A few techniques such as storing unused seeds in a cool, dry place, preferably air tight maintains the seeds integrity for a few seasons.
Be mindful of saved seeds. As mentioned previously, unused hybrid seeds will produce consistent plants from season to season. However, saving the seeds of a newly grown hybrid variety does not offer the same type of growing consistently. Additionally, some seeds, such as beans and peas have a tendency to carry diseases. Saving them adds an element of risk to future plant growth.
Checking the vitality of saved seeds is fairly easy. Just take a sample of around ten seeds and attempt to germinate them using the damp paper towel method. Check to see how many of the seeds germinate, and then use that number as a baseline for determining how thickly they ought to be seeded in the garden.
When starting vegetable seeds in soil, use clean potting soil because it allows for drainage and prevents seed rot. Small sprouts crave sunlight. Prevent them from early bends in the stem and provide them with a bit of light exercise by rotating their containers to face the sunlight on a consistent basis.
Good air circulation prevents the little sprouting plants from “damping off”. Wet soil and no air flow are a perfect combination for inviting fungus growth in the soil.
All vegetable transplants have an ideal age/size that enables them to continue active growth after transplanting and be somewhat resistant to environmental stress. For example, the ideal age for tomato transplants is 6–8 weeks; plants younger than 6 weeks have problems dealing with adverse weather conditions such as wind, low temperatures (below 45°F), and drought. On the other hand, older plants (older than 10 weeks) have a relatively large above ground mass that has initiated flowers and may be heading into the reproductive phase of growth; hence, the plants will produce fruit, but only a fraction of their full potential.
Age of transplants for ideal growth:
- Tomato: 6–8 weeks
- Pepper: 8–10 weeks
- Eggplant: 8–10 weeks
- Muskmelon: 2–3 weeks
- Squash: 2–3 weeks
- Cucumber: 2–3 weeks
- Celery: 9–12 weeks
- Onion: 9–12 weeks
- Cabbage: 6–7 weeks
- Cauliflower: 6–8 weeks
- Broccoli: 6–7 weeks
- Endive: 5–7 weeks