Every December and January I get very excited with new seed catalogs coming in and all the possibilities. At the same time, I get pretty overwhelmed by so many choices. Here are some tips and tricks to choosing seeds for your garden this year.
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But HOW do you pick which seeds you want to grow this year? Will you be alone in your gardening or do children/family join you? What about whether you want beauty or food? Find out how to pick which foods to choose for this gardening season.
What do you eat?
Or wish you would eat more? Look around your kitchen. What vegetables do you buy from the grocery store regularly? For us, these are the brassicas (brussell sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli), carrots, onions, and potatoes. Since these are annual vegetables many gardeners grow, you can definitely consider them good candidates. If you eat them, it is more likely that you will take care of the plants and pick them at peak ripeness.
If you are transitioning from a mostly eating-out or processed foods diet, you may not have many fresh fruits and vegetables around. In that case, try to this what would be easiest for you to ease into. For the standard American diet, things like potatoes, onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and squash are good options.
What can you grow?
First look at your hardiness zone, here. Then consider when your frost days are, when you hottest days are. You can find historical weather day from wunderground.com. Check the almanac for historical information that impacts farmers as well. Then start to search seeds.
Many plant and seed producers are working varieties that can be ok for greenhouses, hot summer months, extreme cold winter months, hoop houses and more. Depending on where you live you may have to help your garden out by starting seeds indoors.
I have made a list of good plants for zone 8 where I live in Lousiana. But there are others. Here is a pretty solid list of what can grow in the different zones. If you are a beginning gardener, be sure to check for varieties that are easy to grow, prolific and require minimal care. Easy, first success will definitely help with motivation.
How much time do you have?
Some plants need a lot of attention. However, many plants do not need you to fertilize regularly, pick off pests, constantly check the soil, measure rainfall, etc. The EASIEST plants to grow are perrenials native to your area. However, if you are likely looking for seeds that you can do annuals or bi-annuals in your seasonal garden.
Let me give you an example of an easy win in my garden: loofah. When young they are edible, kind of like summer squash or zucchini. When they mature, they make the bath product you are likely familiar with. They also make good general scrubbers for counter tops and dishes and are totally compostable.
Other than their obvious benefits, I NEVER plant them. I set up a plant once 5 years ago and let lots of the fruit go to seed all over the garden. Then they pop up every year since then. As long as I don’t mow over them and maybe help them trellis onto something sturdy, then we are good to go. They grow all on their own and I get loofah every year. They act like a perrenial even though they are really an annual.
Think of a garden spot or plant that you can let go to seed, let spread out and just reconstitute in the soil the next year. Many people have good success with asparagus, in some patches they can last for decades, popping up each spring.
What resources do you have?
Do you have access to regular compost, good soil and soil tests? Do you have a hoop house, greenhouse, cold frame? If live in zone 5 or lower, you will likely have to start your seeds in a protected area and/or focus on container gardening that you are willing to move in and out of your house or greenhouse.
Will you be doing raised beds, containers, combinations, long rows, permaculture food forest? Some varieties of seeds do best in containers or protected in a greenhouse, like Tom thumb peas. But then there are others who can deal with heat resistance, drought tolerance, resistance to certain pests, etc. like the Thai green organic eggplant from Seed Savers Exchange.
Key Words to Keep In Mind
If you are a new gardener, there may be some new words and concepts that you are less familiar with. You can find a comprehensive list of gardening related terms that you need as you look through those beautiful seed magazines. For seeds here are what you need to consider:
- Are pests or diseases common in your area?
- Find disease resistant varieties at Urban Farm Seeds
- Does your area experience drought?
- University of California has a comprehensive list here
- Do you live in the south/southwestern portions of the US?
- Check out southernexposureseedexchange.org
- Will you be container gardening?
- Check out this collection from Seed Saver Exchange
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