7 Tips for Ordering Seeds to Start Your Dream Garden

Friends, it is the season for ordering your seeds! Maybe you’re like me and still in denial that spring is only a few months away, eeep! But believe it or not, in just a couple of months, we will be planting in the ground and getting ready to harvest spring crops.

5 steps for seed starting 101
A few of my favorite seed companies: Fruition Seeds, Baker Creek, MIgardener

But before we start talking about the harvest, we have to talk about what comes first, ordering your seeds! It can feel so overwhelming when seed shopping. What do you buy? Where do you buy it from? Which varieties? How much do I need? How do I do this without spending hundreds of dollars? Those $3 packets sure do add up fast!

This is my third year ordering seeds, and I have learned a lot over the past couple of gardening seasons. I made a fair amount of mistakes in year 1 and 2, and I’m here to help you avoid them! So let’s get started and talk about some tips to get you going on the gardening season.

If you’ve already ordered your seeds for this year, feel free to read all about my tips for your next order, or you can head on over to my post about seed starting, here!

1. Order locally if at all possible!

You may have heard all about x, y, or z company from your favorite gardeners online or through google searches, but the best seed company for you is often going to be smaller, local companies that are growing varieties specifically adapted to YOUR region! Yes, you heard me. Seeds actually adapt over time to the region where they are grown. Which means more abundance for you, and healthier, happier plants.

On top of having more success, you often will be connected with a company that provides resources for growing in the region you’re in. For example, in Upstate NY, we have a company called Fruition Seeds, where I buy most of my seeds. Petra, the owner, shares tips, blog posts, videos, tutorials, and free webinars regularly to help gardeners. Since the company is only an hour drive away, I can trust I am getting the best information for growing in my own unique region.

How to Start a Vegetarian or Vegan Homestead | Start a Garden
Small pumpkins, melons, and many other climbing crops can be planted on vertical trellises. Here a 16ft. cattle panel was used.

How can you find local seed companies? Ask around! Join local gardening Facebook groups, or better yet, talk to your local cooperative extension. They will likely have recommendations for reliable seed companies in your area. Plus, they will have a lot of other tips for growing in the region where you live.

Need to locate your cooperative extension? Use this quick search to find the one near you!

2. Have fun window shopping first

Before you get out your credit card and checkout your cart, enjoy window shopping. Sign up early with seed companies to receive catalogs, and enjoy the process as each one comes. I promise it will feel a little like Christmas, and you will be surprised how many seed catalogs arrive in your mailbox. Go through the catalogs and mark your favorite varieties. Try to consider function first and appearance second, we’ll talk more about this in a minute. Although, it’s perfectly okay to pick a few things based on looks alone. We all do it!

3. Prepare a list in advance

Before you begin perusing the sites, write down the things you want to grow and what you want to grow them for. Do you want to grow tomatoes? Why? Do you want them for fresh eating, sandwiches, salads, soups, or sauces? Maybe all of the above? Before adding the prettiest tomatoes to your cart, consider function first. If you want to make delicious pasta sauce, add paste tomatoes to that list.

To prepare your list, consider your favorite fruits and veggies, what you enjoy eating the most, and start there. The last thing you want is abundant produce that you, or anyone else in your household, won’t even eat. You also need to consider where you live. Some fruits and vegetables will not thrive, or even grow at all in certain climates. Artichokes, for example, are very tricky in regions below 8. If you follow tip #1 first, then you often will not have to worry about this, as local companies will rarely sell varieties that do not grow in the region where they operate.

If you do not follow this tip, I promise you will feel overwhelmed and confused when shopping. You will either have no clue what you want to grow, or you will add all the things to your cart and end up spending a lot of money and having way too many seeds to know what to do with. Don’t worry if you do make either of these mistakes, I’ve done both. I think we all have!

4. Consider timing

If it is still winter, you do not have to worry about this too much, as you have lots of time to start all kinds of seeds. But if May is approaching, it is not a good time to buy tomatoes or peppers, since you will need to start them a month or two in advance of planting. If you want to have a spring, summer, and fall garden, you do not have to order everything at once. Maybe start by ordering for the spring and summer, and wait a bit to order for your fall garden.

If you decide too late that you wanted to grow hot peppers, don’t worry! You can always buy starts at a local nursery. Just keep a list for next year of all the things you may have forgotten this season. Last year I realized too late that I did not start any jalapenos, so I picked up a pack of 6 at the nursery and problem solved!

5. Don’t overdo it

All those pretty pictures and garden dreams can make it really easy to add all the seeds to your shopping cart, but unless you have all the time in the world, and all the space, try to scale back. Stick with what you can reasonably handle, and what excites you most. One reason this is so important is because seeds have a lifespan. The younger they are, the best they are going to perform in terms of germination (aka sprouting).

young seedlings that recently germinated (sprouted)

Now don’t worry too much, as most seeds will do really well in the first few years after they were sold; however, it is still best to keep in mind your time and space when ordering. That way you won’t end up with tons of full packets of seeds and no time or space to even use them.

An easy way to acquire a lot of variety without having full packets of seeds is to participate in a seed swap. Often you will find these through social media networks like Facebook groups or Instagram; however, some local gardening clubs also have seed swaps, so ask around. My first year gardening I participated in a seed swap and had a lot of fun trying a number of different tomatoes and peppers I would not have otherwise tried.

6. Order for function first, beauty second

I am not here to crush you dreams of colorful baskets of tomatoes. Beauty is a wonderful part of growing your own food. Purple carrots, blue tomatoes, purple beans, are rarely found at the grocery store after all. But before you consider beauty, think about function! Most important rule when it comes to function? That you or your family members enjoy eating it! Do you enjoy it fresh, or prepared in a dish, or preserved?

If you can answer yes to that question, then go ahead and add it to your cart. Consider that sometimes the prettiest fruit, does not perform as well or taste as good as more ordinary looking varieties. This is often because the classic red tomatoes have been grown for hundreds of years, allowing us to perfect their taste. Blue tomatoes; however, are not as established, and you may find their flavor isn’t all that impressive either. This is not always the case, dragon tongue beans are marvelously beautiful and delicious! The best varieties are when taste and beauty come together, that’s perfection!

How to Start a Vegetarian or Vegan Homestead | Start a Garden
I’ll admit, this picture was all about the beauty!

7. Navigating Heirlooms, Hybrids, GMOs

When buying seeds you are going to see all kinds of acronyms and terms that you may not understand. First off, you do not have to worry about GMOs when seed shopping. Any marketing terms companies use such as “non-GMO” is just a sales gimmick, because the truth is, there are NO GMO seeds available to the private consumer. GMOs are sold to commercial growers only. So any seed companies you are buying from for your personal garden, will never be selling you GMO seeds. Now you can breath a sigh of relief, one less thing to worry about when seed shopping!

So what about heirlooms and hybrids? Heirlooms are seeds that have been established for many generations. They are stable, meaning a seed you save from the fruit you grow, assuming it is not cross-pollinated, will be almost identical to the parent fruit. That makes seed saving really easy, which is awesome!

Tomato Paste Recipe for Canning with Homegrown Tomatoes
a sink full of heirloom tomatoes

Hybrids; however, are newly crossbred with other varieties to create beneficial properties such as disease resistance or heavy production. They can be great if you are struggling with disease or production with a certain crop and you want to try something that may perform a little better. For example, I have a lot better luck with hybrid broccoli and Brussels sprouts in my garden, but prefer heirloom tomatoes.

Hybrids will often be listed as F1 (first generation) or F2 (second generation), but you may also see them listed as open pollinated, which is when cross pollination occurs naturally. Hybrids are not stable crops, meaning the seeds you save will not necessarily match the parent plant. They may eventually stabilize over time and one day become an heirloom, but they’re not there yet.

So what do you order? It is up to you! I prefer heirloom varieties for almost everything I grow, but if I am struggling with a certain crop, or I want more vigor, I will often try a hybrid. Maybe try a bit of both to start and see which you prefer. The benefit of heirloom is the history and rich flavor, which has been established over many decades and many generations. The benefit of hybrids is the vigor that they can provide due to crossing varieties to achieve certain traits.

There you have it friends! 7 tips for ordering seeds. Let me know which tips were most helpful to you in the comments below. Have a tip to add? I would love to hear it! Throw it down in the comments.

Now that you’ve read all about ordering seeds, head on over to the post on starting seeds so you can prepare yourself for the next, very important step!

All my best,

Jenn

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Seed ordering tips to get you started on your dream garden
Seed ordering tips to get you started on your dream garden

3 thoughts on “7 Tips for Ordering Seeds to Start Your Dream Garden

  1. These are all amazingly good points! I definitely didn’t know that about ordering (non-)GMO seeds.
    When it comes to ordering local seeds in SoCal, I’m having a bit of difficulty. Searching for ‘SoCal seeds’ seems to only pull up 1 particular plant. I’ve found a list of nurseries (https://www.cnpssd.org/where-to-buy-native-plants-in-southern-california), though not with much seed selection.
    How broad of a search area do you look at when you consider ‘local’?

    Like

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