It’s that time of the year again! And no, I’m not talking about Christmas! December is now known as Seed Catalogue Month here in our household!

Lots of pretty, new, shiny seed catalogs are finding their way into our mailbox, just in time to peruse and find the perfect seeds to grow come springtime! It’s an exciting time, let me tell ya!

Honestly, as exciting as it is to plan our crops for 2021, it’s a tad overwhelming! There are so many different seeds to choose from.

Take lettuce for example, is your choice just red or green? NO! There’s green leaf, red leaf, butterhead, romaine, oak leaf, iceberg, and the list goes on and on. And from there, you have to pick what cultivar from each type of lettuce. It’s crazy y’all! 

As a first-time market farmer, you can say that I am a little lost when it comes to picking the right seeds for our market garden.

Needless to say, picking out the right seeds for your garden is very important. It’s only your livelihood at stake here!

So, I of course turned to the experts, Eliot Coleman and J.M. Fortier, to help guide our seed selection for the 2021 season.

I mean, best to get advice from the experts instead of floundering my way through seed catalogs, right?

Let’s see what the experts had to say on this oh so important task.

Without high-quality seed, all other activities are moot. – Eliot Coleman

Type of Seeds

When you are just starting, stick with the tried and true varieties of vegetables, locally adapted varieties from a dependable regional supplier.

After a year or two, you should have enough experience about what works and what needs improvement to begin selecting from seed catalogs.

When you are choosing from seed catalogs, try and stick with the older varieties of seed. New seed varieties are always a risk. It’s best to stick with seeds that give dependable results.

Some seeds thrive under specific conditions, so once you figure out what varieties grow best in your soil, stick with those. 

That’s not to say never try newly developed or hybrid varieties, just never stop growing a dependable old variety without being sure about the quality of its replacement.

In fact, if you grow some different cultivars that no one else in your area is growing, you can set yourself apart and stand out at the farmer’s market.

Just sprinkle them into your crop rotation at first to see how they do, then grow more the next season if they are successful.

Keep in mind that seed companies thoroughly test their variety of seeds on a much larger scale than we can.

Their results are typically dependable so when you pick out a different hybrid or new cultivars, you can do so on a small scale to see how well they grow in your soil and test how your clientele receives them. 

seed catalogs

What Are The Characteristics Of Good Quality Seed?

Here are some criteria to consider when selecting your seed varieties.

Eating Quality: This is most important by far and includes the flavour, tenderness, and aroma of the veg, both raw and cooked.

Appearance: Colour, size, and shape are also important but are secondary to eating quality.

Pest and Disease Resistance: This is useful where a problem exists, otherwise choose a variety for its flavor and tenderness.

Days to Maturity: This is an important factor in planning early and succession crops.

Storage: Suitability for long or short periods in storage.

Vigor: This includes quick germination and quick growth.

Performance: Does the variety have vigor under a wide variety of conditions?

Standability: This describes noncracking tomatoes, non splitting cabbages, etc.

Ease of Harvest: Carrots with strong tops are easier to pull, and beans held above the foliage are easier to pick.

Time of Harvest: Various cultivars can extend your growing season.

Frost Resistance and Hardiness: These are spring and fall concerns.

Day Length: There are short-day varieties for winter greenhouse production, etc.

Ease of Cleaning: Some leafy greens hold their leaves high to avoid soil splash.

Convenience: This includes self=blanching cauliflower, nonstaking tomatoes, and other convenient growers.

Ease of Preparation: This means long as opposed to round beets, round as opposed to flat onions, etc.

Adaptability: Many varieties winter over and provide early spring growth.

Nutrition: Some varieties have higher levels of nutrients.

Marketability: This includes specialty, ethnic and gourmet varieties.

Quantity of Seeds to Purchase

Now that you know what characteristics to look for, it’s time to figure out how much seed of each variety you should purchase.

Your planting technique will affect this decision. If a majority of crops are transplanted, which Eliot Coleman recommends, you will be able to get by with far fewer seeds than would be needed if plants were to be sown directly.

Information on quantities of seed needed for direct-sown crops is given in most seed catalogs.

When you’re just starting out, you might want to purchase extra seeds just in case. Nothing is more discouraging than running out of seed on a perfect spring planting day.

The cost of seed for field crops is a small expense in most cases, so buying a little extra is a good idea, a little bit of insurance so to speak.

If there is a specific variety or crop that becomes important to your farm production, it is good practice to purchase an insurance packet of those seeds from a second supplier. This is especially important with succession crops.

Along with the first planting of the standard seeds, plant seeds from the insurance packet. If all goes well, the extra seedlings won’t be needed, but if the standard does not perform well, you will be covered and know where to order new stock.

You should also use this method when you’re planting last year’s seeds. Most of the time year old seeds work just fine if they have been stored properly (in a cool, dry, dark place). However, if they don’t work for some reason, you won’t lose out on succession planning because of seed failure.

It’s a good idea to set up credit accounts with your favourite seed companies so you can order seeds quickly by phone if there are any problems throughout the year.

Be sure to obtain each year’s seeds ASAP! Never wait until the last minute.

Early planting dates have a habit of sneaking up on you; before you know it, spring is here.

Ordering from a local supplier or seed catalog is ultimately your decision. What is necessary in either case is dependability. You need consistent quality and up to date information.

If a certain seed variety is poor one year, it is important that the supplier inform its customers (you) of that fact. Smaller growers are not always privy to this information, so it always pays to ask.

J.M. Fortier highly recommends acquiring seeds from professional seed producers with proven track records because starting out with quality seeds is a must. Nothing good can come out of seeds with a poor germination rate.

How Can You Maintain High-Quality Seed?

You can maintain high-quality seed by purchasing them from a quality producer and storing them in an air tight container in a cool, dry place.

As well, with proper crop planning, you can buy only the seed you need for a season and avoid using previous year seed stock in your gardens. 

We are still in the process of choosing our seed for the 2021 season, and as the catalogs keep rolling in, the more difficult our decisions are becoming.

Keeping in mind our goals for the season and the characteristics of good seed, we are staying focused and picking out the best seeds for our market farm ( I hope!).

I find that I have to reign myself in when looking at the seed catalogs because I want to try everything! Especially new cultivars, they pique my interest a lot!

Given that we are brand new, our strategy is to stick with the tried and true for this season with one or two new cultivars sprinkled into the mix.  We need to get an idea of what our clientele is going to want before we go crazy with new and different veg.

Do you have a secret cultivar that your customers love? Let us know in the comments below, and we will keep it a secret, I promise!

Stay Local,

Kathy & Jon

your friendly neighbourhood growers


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