Tracking Down the Best Garden Seeds

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Whether you are replacing vegetable garden seeds that have been used up or ones that have expired, the quest for the best garden seeds is a great use of time as winter sputters into spring. Finding good seeds need not be too costly if you are willing to do a little legwork, such as participating in local seed swap events or driving to a rural farm supply store. But even expensive vegetable garden seeds that we choose because of their rarity are worth their price when grown in a garden. Seed-to-table is the only way I know to transform a ten-cent seed into a head of organic cabbage worth five bucks (about £4).

I start the new seed season by going through my seed box, putting the packets back in order and taking out the oldest ones. Some get composted, while others get a chance at germinating under lights. I also make a list of seeds of which I need a fresh supply that I can take with me to seed swaps or garden shops.

Seed swap. Photo by Jane Cundiff

Start with a Seed Swap

As part of the clean-up process, I prepare little packets of the best garden seeds I saved from the previous year to share at local seed swap events. The seed swap season has already begun in my small community, and I came home from the first event feeling that I gained more than I contributed, but this is the nature of sharing. My friend Jane brought a paper bag full of dried tulsi basil tops, and its fragrance rebounded as I grabbed a fistful from the bottom of the bag. I brought a pail of horseradish crowns that went quickly, and brought home a lovely kalanchoe in full bloom.

One thing about seed swaps is that you must be prepared for the unexpected. I did not intend to pick up yet another heirloom bean, but I could not pass up a Rattlesnake climbing bean grown locally for 40 years. And the flowers! I brought cornflowers and cosmos, and came home with gaillardia and gomphrena. Don’t worry if you have no seeds to contribute to a seed swap. There is usually a donation station for generous gestures toward the sponsoring group.

Capsicum and tomato seedlings

Check Out Local Seed Racks

The selection of seeds at seed swaps is limited, so you will need to do some shopping to pick up packets of common types of seeds, which are inexpensive to buy in shops. Here it is important to make sure you are covered not only for seeds you want for spring planting, but also autumn crops you will plant in late summer. By then the selection of vegetable garden seeds will be poor and shopworn, or the seed displays will have disappeared altogether.

You can often find regionally-sourced or specialty seeds at local garden shops, usually at the same price you would pay if you mail-ordered the seeds. Health food stores often have seasonal racks of organic seeds, too.

If you need to save money, local farm supply stores often sell regionally-sourced seeds at terrific prices, and they are great sources of seeds for cover crops and grains, or even interesting seed potatoes. As for the “value seeds” sold at discount stores, price often relates to how many seeds are in the packet, which is usually not many. However, should you want only ten seeds of a common cosmos, a cheap packet is a good way to start.

Seed buying list and seed catalogues

Seeds By Mail

No seed shopping season is complete without at least one, two, or perhaps three online seed orders that arrive by mail. Many varieties are well worth the trouble of ordering by mail, whether you are interested in heirlooms, improved organic varieties, or hybrids with needed resistance to troublesome diseases. Take some time looking through catalogues, and check out varieties that interest you online. Keep in mind that when you buy vegetable garden seeds from companies that conduct field research, preserve rare varieties or promote organic practices, you are supporting these important endeavours while getting the best seeds for your personal garden.

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