Ever since last Sunday’s Farm Update article on our Top 8 Vegetable Plants, (see: 8 Must-Grow Varieties ) our inbox has been inundated with questions about our seed starting, growing and saving process.

Some of our heirloom seeds from Baker Creek
Some of our heirloom seeds from Baker Creek

Every question from where do we get our seeds – to when and how we start them indoors – to how and what seeds we save from year to year.  So we thought we would take today’s farm update to share our seed saving and growing process, and help to answer some of the questions that have been coming in to the blog.  We have also included links in each section to more in-depth articles on each topic. So here we go:

How and Where Do You Buy Your Heirloom and Organic Seeds?

Probably the most asked question to our email inbox and blog last week was “Where do you buy your seeds?”  It’s extremely important for us to make sure we start high quality, organic seeds – especially since with many of them, we save them from year to year.

Over the years we have fallen in love with a few companies that have proven to be the best of the best. – Baker Creek (Rare Seeds), Seed Savers Exchange and Johnny’s Seeds are probably our top 3 go-to seed companies when purchasing. I have to admit – Baker Creek is simply amazing for their catalog alone – their attention to detail and side stories on heirloom plants and varieties are one of my favorite reads each winter. It is so popular – you can usually pick a copy up at your local library.

Our Sangria Pepper plants came from seeds saved from a single purchased plant a few years back
Our Sangria seeds came from a single purchased plant a few years back

Beyond purchasing from seed companies – we also try a few varieties from year to year that might be given to us by friends, or picked up at places we happen upon.

That is exactly how we found two of our favorite’s – our Chinese Five-Color Pepper seeds were a lucky find at a Florida farmers market we visited one year, and our Sangria Ornamental Pepper seeds came from a plant I purchased for Mary at a little back-road greenhouse a few years back.

And that leads to the next question…

What Seeds Can Be Saved – And How Do You Save Them?

Although you could conceivably save and grow almost everything in your garden – some crops, like carrots – have to grow for two years before they produce viable seed. Others, like heirloom cucumbers need to be separated by such a long distances to avoid cross-pollination (1/2 mile in some cases), making it far easier and reliable to purchase them each year. A good rule of thumb is to save what is the easiest and most productive for your garden.

We save both our ladyfinger and strawberry popcorn seed from year to year
We save both our Ladyfinger and Strawberry popcorn seed from year to year

For us, we save most of our own tomato, pepper, peas, beans and popcorn seeds – and leave others like carrots, cucumbers, onions and more to the experts at the seed companies to “save” for us.

Only open-pollinated plant varieties (often referred to as heirloom) can be saved successfully to bear the same crop year after year. Unfortunately, hybrid plants will not.  Hybrid seeds are a cross of two or more plants – and the seeds from those plants will never produce the same crop again.

It is important to store your seeds in a cool, dark environment with low humidity.  Some people save their seeds in a refrigerator – but we have always had excellent luck with simply drying them out –and then placing in marked and sealed envelope and storing in our basement.

See: The Basics of Saving Seeds From Your Garden and Landscape

How and When Do You Start Your Seeds Indoors.

When to start seeds indoors is always the million dollar question. For many of the typical vegetable plants (i.e. tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc.) – it is standard practice to start your plants 4 to 6 weeks before planting day.

There is something so exciting about starting plants from seeds
There is something so exciting about starting plants from seeds

We like to use 6 to 8 weeks however as the standard count back date.  It gives us plenty of time to grow them on the stand – and then begin to harden them off on warmer days on our back porch.

Starting your own seeds indoors does not have to be an expensive or daunting task.  You can successfully start your own seeds with a simple set-up of inexpensive flourescent shop lights set up over an open table.  As a note – although you can use a sunny window of your house – it’s hard to get seedlings to grow straight using natural winter sunlight from a window.  You need to turn them constantly – and the seedlings tend to grow thin and skinny trying to reach for the light.

For Additional Resources, See:
How To Easily Start  Your Seeds Indoors
How To Build An Indoor Seed-Starting Rack – Cheap!
How To Build An Inexpensive Table Top Seed Starting Stand

One Final Piece of Advice – Start With A Plan – Or End Up With A Jungle!

There is one final piece of advice we have learned the hard way over the years – before you buy a single seed or plant – come up with a plan!  (see: Our 2015 Garden Plan, and : How to Plan To Can and Save Big).

Our 2015 Garden Plan - Planning now helps  you order the right seeds for  your garden
Our 2015 Garden Plan – Planning now helps you order the right seeds for your garden

Take a little time now to figure out what you want to grow, and of even more importance – how much room you have to grow it in. If you don’t – it’s easy to order 10 times as many seeds as you can possible use, or bring home plants from the nursery that will never find space in your garden.

So with that – the countdown is on! In just a few weeks we will begin to plant our first seeds of our 2015 garden crop on our indoor stand – and we look forward to another great growing season in the garden – and of course – on the table!

Good luck with your 2015 growing season – and Happy Gardening! – Jim and Mary

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6 thoughts on “All About Buying, Starting and Saving Vegetable Garden Seeds

  • January 25, 2015 at 10:21 am
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    One of the biggest questions I have about gardening is plant location. I know there are certain plants that should not be grown next to each other and/or should be planted in different locations each year, for pest and nutritional reasons. What’s your rule of thumb for rotation?

  • January 25, 2015 at 8:49 am
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    You wrote hybrid seeds will never produce the same crop again. Does that mean if planted, those seeds won’t grow anything?

    • January 25, 2015 at 9:47 am
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      The seeds from hybrids can do several things when grown again from fruit from the plant. Most likely they will revert back to one the traits of their parents – or may grow and produce no fruit at all.

  • January 25, 2015 at 8:46 am
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    Do the heirloom tomatoes cross pollinate? I noticed you’re planting different heirloom tomatoes right next to each other. Any problems with saving that seed?

    • January 25, 2015 at 9:49 am
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      Chris – that is a great point and one of the reasons for some of the tomatoes we just order seeds again – because they can cross pollinate. We unfortunately grow in close quarters so it is the price we pay for some of them.

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