Veggie-growing guide, part 2: seeds

seed-packetscropSo, you still plan to grow your own food. Now that we’ve convinced you it’s possible and provided the quick & dirty intro on schedules, temps, etc., it’s time to talk about seeds. Working from seed, as opposed to an existing plant, takes the process into your hands earlier, which will help you save down the road. Select your seeds carefully, and after first harvest, you can collect new seeds from what you’ve grown. In a few years, you cut industry out of the process altogether. And the controlled conditions of a cozy apartment are ideal for sprouting these tiny incipient fruits and veggies. Here’s a starter course on the seeds you want, the ones you don’t and what to do with them.

Where to buy your seeds
Once you’ve decided what to grow, you’ll likely have to buy seeds. If so, there are some good reasons to support local gardening merchants. They’re the ones who garden around where you will and know the local conditions. When you hit trouble with your plants, these are the impassioned folks you’ll turn to over the orange-vested clock-punchers at the Home Depot. The Williamsburg shop Rose Red & Lavender will be dishing out seeds to celebrate the coming Spring. Just look for an antique baby carriage filled with spring flowers all this month for free heirloom seeds. But if you’re far from the Burg, fear not, there are many stores throughout the borough. Buy your seeds soon, as they become harder to find as the season gets in full swing.

Organic or not?
Just like at the grocery store, when buying seeds, you’ll be faced with the organic versus non-organic decision. Recent studies have shown organic vegetables aren’t any more nutritious than their chemically grown counterpart. The cost difference isn’t what’s in it, but what’s not in it. You pay to keep your food free of chemical pesticides and fossil-fuel based fertilizers.

Go organic, and you’ll spend an extra dollar or two on a seed packet. But depending on the seller, some organic seeds cost less than their non-organic counterpart. For example, non-organic chives cost $1.45 for a pack of 100 seeds at the popular online retailer Park Seeds, but Seed Savers Exchange sells organic chives at $2.75 for a packet of 250 seeds.

Some nitty-gritty seed terminology
Discriminate. Beware of all “hybrid” or “F1” seeds. Their co-mingled genetics often makes for unpredictable and inferior results. Choose non-hybrid seeds marked “heirloom” or “heritage” for quality guaranteed by generations of breeding, including a superior natural resistance to pests and disease. Open pollinated (OP) is another keyword ensuring non-hybrid status. Some hybrids may not be designated as such, so the safest practice is buying through a supplier that states “no hybrids” upfront.

Germinating your seedsgerminationinpapertowel-249x232
There are a couple popular methods of germinating seeds that begin with materials as simple as plastic baggies or discarded water bottles. The paper towel/baggie method seems to be the hands-down favorite among garden gurus and outlaw growers with the most invested in skillful germination. With the baggie method (right), the seedlings should sprout after a few days, after which it’s time to transfer them to soil.

ghettogreenhouseThe ghetto greenhouse—a simple construction made of a modified plastic bottle—is another viable option (left). A large soda bottle is good for this, and you use soil right away. The point is that there are plenty of ways to sprout seedlings without purchasing a seed cell tray or any such formal equipment. If you sow the seeds directly in soil to start, like in the ghetto greenhouse, be sure to follow the instructions on the back of the seed package. Most seeds go no lower than half an inch to an inch from the soil surface.

The future of your seeds
Seeds can be a one-time expense with the right knowledge. Perpetuate your frugal gardening by saving seeds to exchange with community members, at seed swap parties or through Web forums. This requires a depth of familiarity with your seeds and seed terminology. Seed life varies, as does proper storage methods; here’s a helpful guide for aspiring seed collectors.

Still more to come in our next entry on growing your own food.

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