Seed tips for new garden warriors

Seeds, seeds, seeds! Holiday cards are being replaced in the mailbox with an influx of seed catalogs. I get more than a dozen, though I generally find what I need from just a couple sources.

If you’re green warrior new to gardening, there are a few things you want to keep in mind while slogging through the many different seed companies and their offerings.

Seed catalogs

Avoiding GMO

A big thing nowadays is deciding whether to avoid genetically modified (GMO) seeds. We are all allowed our own opinions, but I do prefer to avoid them. Considering humans have bred plants for certain characteristics (pest resistant, drought tolerant, more productive or flavorful) for not just hundreds but thousands of years with good results, I see no reason to use a questionable science and technology that could have detrimental effects down the road.

If this is your thinking too, it can be overwhelming when researching the companies that use GMO and how far-reaching their influence is. Some big companies own an obscenely large percentage of the seed companies and retain the company names, making it difficult to tell which “small” seed companies are independent or owned by a larger corporation known for GMO seeds and other practices that Green-minded folk often like to avoid.

There are three companies well known for selling heirloom varieties (which really cannot be GMO) and for NOT being owned by such a company:

Many seed companies have signed the Safe Seed pledge, which means they “do not knowingly buy, sell or trade genetically engineered seeds.” Of course, that does not mean that they may not unknowingly do so, but it does show a level of commitment to stay GMO-free. The list of these companies can be found here.

As of the last time that I checked the list, you will not find Burpee here – and they are probably the most recognizable store brand of seeds. Though they have released statements saying they do not sell GMO seeds, their absence from the Safe Seeds pledge is notable. So you may have to shop online, through catalogs, or at smaller garden centers to find seeds that are not GMO.

Practical seed considerations

PCG beans
Beans are easy seeds to start and an easy crop overall.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen novice gardeners excitedly selecting their seeds, including things like tomatoes and rosemary, and talk about getting them into the soil. Sometimes I have warned them and sometimes I just mind my own business, depending on the vibe I get from them. The fact is that some seeds are really tricky to start from seed ­– even for experienced gardeners. Often, you need special grow lights, starting medium, and near-perfect conditions to get them to not only germinate but thrive from seedlings to starts that are garden ready.

Varieties of squashes are also easy starts, though squash bugs are a pest for mature plants.
Varieties of squashes are also easy starts, though squash bugs are a pest for mature plants.

Here are some easy starting plants: Corn, beans, cucumbers, melons, many squashes, lettuce and greens, radishes, carrots, and parsley are all pretty easy.

While different plants need varying soil quality and environmental conditions to thrive, these are all pretty easy to start and grow.

Sadly, some of my favorite garden plants are more difficult to start from seed, such as tomatoes, peppers, and the herb rosemary. Even experienced gardeners will usually start rosemary from small clippings or by rooting a couple branches from an existing plant.

When it comes to tomatoes and peppers, I almost always buy starts because I don’t have a good setup to start these at home from seed. To avoid the GMO issue, I look for heirloom varieties, which tend to taste better anyway (though they can be more touchy to raise). Another great solution would be to barter or trade plants with a friend who is farther along in gardening skills and does start these from seed.

Though a favorite kitchen herb, rosemary is tough to start from seed.
Though a favorite kitchen herb, rosemary is tough to start from seed.

It’s always a learning experience

And remember, even if you try a seed and don’t succeed in getting it to survive and thrive, it’s usually a cheap experiment as most seeds only cost $1 to $3 a packet. Chalk it up to experience, write down what you learned in a gardening notebook, and perhaps seek out someone experienced for some tips before you try those seeds again. Success is often the fruit of failures that we have learned from.

Garden on, green warriors!

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