By Valerie Bandell, SCRATCH Project Production Coordinator
January and early February is the time to start thinking about your garden and planning your upcoming growing season. Perusing the new seed catalogs is one of my favorite activities, but can also become overwhelming as I flip through hundreds of pages of seeds. Following these five simple steps can help ease your mind during the process and prepare for a bountiful harvest all year long.
Step 1: Catalog existing and leftover seed stocks from previous years.
Most of us will have leftover seed from the previous years or may have unearthed old packets that got lodged in the back of the cabinet. The best way to decide what seeds you need for the next season is to figure out what you already have. Go through your old seed packets and make a list of the varieties and numbers of seeds you already have in your possession. While inventorying, be conscious and take note of the dates and germination rates posted on the packets. Seeds will lose viability over the years, especially if not stored properly from season to season. To get the most out of your growing season, you want to make sure you start with healthy, viable seeds!
Step 2: Conduct a seed germination test.
A simple at-home seed germination test can help you determine which older or leftover seeds to plant, and which are probably best thrown out so that you can maximize yields and returns on your efforts. For a germination test you will want to test at least 10 seeds; however, the more you test the more accurate your results will be. Seedsavers.org has a good step-by-step guide. Once the test is completed, you will have a better idea of which seeds from previous years you can reuse, better ensuring your efforts won’t be fruitless.
Step 3: Map out your garden.
The next important step is to map out your garden and plan your entire growing season. In doing so, you can ensure you have enough seeds for the entire season, while also ensuring you are maximizing bed space so that when one crop comes out another goes in. This process will also give you a sense of your anticipated harvest. I prefer to do my garden mapping with paper and pencil; however, there are online apps and programs available, if you prefer. I recommend the Mother Earth News Vegetable Garden Planner.
Step 4: Determine which seeds you need.
You should now have a list of viable seeds from previous years and a garden plan with total square footage of growing space broken down for each type of plant. From this, you can consult seed packets and catalogs to determine how many seeds you will need to purchase for the year. I recommend looking at a variety of seed catalogs to compare available varieties and pricing.
Step 5: Select and order the correct seeds.
While flipping through the seed catalogs, look for seeds that were developed or originated in regions with similar climates as the one in which you will be growing. If you have a small space you may want to consider varieties that are compact and high yielding to maximize your growing space. If you live somewhere with a short growing season you will want to look for varieties that mature quickly. Besides climate you will also want to look at size, yield, sun requirements and disease resistance. Seed orders can be placed online or through catalog, phone and mail orders. Some of my favorites are Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds and Seed Saver’s Exchange.
What are some of your favorite places to browse for seeds? Let us know in the comments below!