Know Your Seeds!

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In the winter, the garden becomes quiet. Everything nestles under the snow: a layer of leaves, sleepy bugs, and soil. But the gardeners are still busy. Inside their houses, they pore over seed catalogues, searching for the perfect tomato as the winter grows colder. By spring, they will have made their selections and ordered their seeds. It seems so simple, this winter ritual of choosing what will grow in the garden next spring, summer, and fall. How can you choose wholesome seeds that will grow into hearty plants that work with your local environment? This week, I’ll explore your seed choices.

But first, what’s in a seed? The little package that makes a seed is an amazing thing. A seed contains the genetic material that makes up a plant. Throw in some nutrition for the growing plant, and pack it all up in a durable case, and you have a seed. While seeds for the same plant often look similar, their stories are very different. Each seed comes with a background that is uniquely its own, and the way it was grown and bred will help determine the way it grows in your garden. Here’s a short guide to navigating the seed-strewn waters of your winter catalogs.

Let’s start with chemicals. If you’re looking at seeds from a commercial seed grower and they don’t specify their growing methods, they are likely not organic. If your garden is chemical free, choose organic seeds and remain true to form. These seeds grow with no pesticides, and they should be GMO free as well. If you want less expensive organic seeds, look for small scale growers who have a micro-scale seed company and use no chemicals. Seedy Saturdays are also a wonderful place to find good seeds, and you can often ask those you trade with exactly how they care for their plants.

Sometimes chemicals go onto the seeds after they are harvested. This is what people mean by treated and untreated seeds. It can be cold and damp in the ground in March and April. Those little seeds can have a hard time growing if they get covered in mold. As a result, some seeds are treated with an antifungal agent to prevent mold growth. If you want chemical-free seeds, choose untreated seeds and simply plant them a little later when the ground is less damp.

Tomorrow, we’ll explore the sometimes confusing world of hybrid, open pollinated and heritage seeds!

Image Credit: [nkzs]

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