By Linn County Master Gardener Lisa Slattery
Once a gardener decides to start seeds and has a good growing place at home with the proper conditions it's time to figure out what to grow. Before ordering seeds, figure out your garden space and time. If it's your first vegetable garden start small. Be realistic - do you plan to devote an afternoon each weekend or do you plan to spend many hours in the garden?
Start with a list of your useable growing space which can include large garden plots, acres or just a few pots on a sunny porch. Then make a list of the things you like to eat and the flowers that make you smile. If you don't like to eat cauliflower don't plant it. If marigolds don't make you smile, try zinnias instead.
Next think about what type of seed best suits your purpose. You'll see seed packets labeled with heirloom, hybrid, GMO and organic. Heirloom seeds produce plants that are capable of producing seeds identical to the parent plant. Heirloom tomatoes are popular. These varieties have been grown for many generations and have not been altered by plant breeders. If you plan to save some seeds from this year's crop for next year - plant heirlooms. Hybrid seeds are breed to provide the best traits from two different plants. Hybrids will produce more disease resistance plants, sometimes earlier maturation, and more consistent flavor and productivity. GMO stands for genetically modified which are seeds that have been genetically altered for specific traits. This is more commonly seen in crop seed than in individual garden seed. Organic seeds can be either heirloom or hybrid seeds that have not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.
After seed planning and selection you need to know when to start seeds. This will depend upon the type of plant, germination time and growing time to produce large enough seedlings to survive outdoors. Most seed packets have pretty good timelines for planting on the back of their labels. Iowa State University Extension service has a nice general guide to planting and harvesting times for vegetable gardens on their website, which can be found at www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM534.pdf. You'll want to start seeds for cool weather crops like broccoli and spinach before you start seeds for warm weather crops, like tomatoes and peppers. Also keep in mind that some seeds are best direct sown or planted directly in the garden and not started prior to the growing season indoors.
Most seeds will be viable for a few years if stored in a cool, dry place. Another option is to split your seed order with a friend!
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