Dear Aggie: I’m a new vegetable gardener. What things should I consider when choosing seeds?
Seed companies offer many options, and it can be overwhelming!
“Organic” seeds refer to seeds that are harvested from plants that are grown using organic methods. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are prohibited in their production. If you are an organic gardener you may want to use organic seeds, but they do tend to be more expensive. “Conventional” seeds are from plants that are grown with standard production methods which may include the use of synthetic products.
Seeds that are labeled as “non-GMO” are harvested from plants that have not been genetically modified. All organic seeds are non-GMO. “Heirloom” seeds are passed down through generations and have valuable characteristics such as flavor or hardiness. “Open pollinated” refers to plant varieties in which the seeds can be saved, and the same variety will regrow. Seeds from heirlooms can also be saved — they will come “true” from seed. All heirloom seeds are open pollinated, but not all open pollinated seeds are heirlooms. “Hybrid” seeds are the result of intentional cross breeding to produce plants that have certain beneficial attributes such as color, height, or high yields. The seeds from hybrids will not produce a copy of the parent, so they should not be saved. If you want to save seeds, and therefore money, plant open-pollinated or heirloom varieties.
Some seed companies also offer seeds that are coated for ease of planting. Pelletized seeds are covered with clay to make them larger. Used on very small seeds such as beets and lettuce, it allows for better spacing, less seed waste, and less thinning. Seed tapes are very similar — seeds are spaced at the exact distance apart and incased in a biodegradable tape. Just lay the tape in the furrow and cover with soil. Again, these innovations will increase the price of the seeds. Some seed is coated with a pesticide to keep certain diseases and insects at bay. These types of seeds have a bright fluorescent color and should not be used in organic production.
Since you will be gardening in Northern New York, consider the following:
1. Try to purchase seeds from a northern source. Seeds produced in southern regions will not have the inherent hardiness of northern-sourced seed.
2. The average growing (frost-free) season in Jefferson County is 160 days. Crops that take over 110 days from seed to harvest may not have enough time to mature. “Days to harvest” will be listed on the seed package and in catalog descriptions.
3. Because of our compacted growing season, we have to use a short-cut to grow many popular vegetables. Onion, celery, tomato, pepper, eggplant, and some squash must be started indoors and then transplanted outside once the weather is suitable. Many seasoned gardeners start their own transplants, but we recommend that beginners purchase transplants from a garden center.
4. Choose varieties that are recommended for northern locations. They will be described as ‘suitable for the northeast’, ‘cold climate’ or ‘short-season’ varieties.
5. Many vegetables are available in disease-resistant varieties. Choose these whenever possible- it will make your gardening experience much more carefree.
If you would like a list of vegetable varieties recommended by Cornell University for production in New York State visit: https://ccejefferson.org/gardening For printed copies, contact Sue at 315-788-8450.
Written by Sue Gwise, Cornell Cooperative Extension consumer horticulture educator
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