We have reached the tough part of winter. The snow looks gray and gross, the sun hasn’t been out in weeks, the ice ruts in the alley are here to stay and April seems a long way off. Time for some seed shopping!
Ordering seeds whether using a catalog or just perusing websites is a time honored tradition among gardeners and many of us have our own special methods or particular companies we favor. The catalogs are numerous and so tempting that it’s hard not to order everything.
For budget-conscious gardeners, restraint and a few tips will help you get the garden you want without breaking the bank while you are seed shopping.
Match your seed order to your garden. Do you really have room in your garden for 12 kinds of lettuce and 30 varieties of tomatoes? I know folks who do! But if you are not among them ask yourself, where will I plant this and do I have room for it at full size? I say this as a person whose love for winter squash and garden space rarely match up. It’s a good idea to plan your garden at least roughly and then order seeds accordingly.
Watch shipping fees. Seeds themselves are cheap. A packet of seeds generally costs about $3, with higher end seeds going for up to $6 a pack. But seed companies have to pack and ship them and shipping fees can add up. My solution is to choose no more than three companies to order from—but you could go with just one company and get most of your seeds there. Shipping live plants is even more expensive–so consider buying from a local nursery or a farmers’ market in spring for vegetable plants. Perennials, trees and shrubs can sometimes be shipped as bare-root plants with lower fees.
Swap with friends. Why not organize an informal seed swap among your gardening friends? Gather up seeds from prior years (most will germinate for two or more years) and share. Or do your seed shopping together and divide them up. Unless you have a very large garden, you’re not likely to need all the plants you can grow from a pack of tomato seeds, for example, so sharing makes sense. Next year, you may want to save seeds, which reduces costs to nearly zero and allows you to develop seeds that are especially productive in your soil. Be aware, however, that hybrid seeds will not necessarily come back true to type. Heirloom and open pollinated seeds will produce the same plant characteristics year after year.
Save money on seed-starting equipment. While seeds are cheap, you can spend a lot of money on lights, carts, seed-starting medium and plastic trays. For most northern gardeners, lights are mandatory — but you can easily get by with inexpensive fluorescent shop lights. The light fixture will last forever and the bulbs can be replaced after several years. A good homemade or purchased seed starting mix is also necessary for seed starting. The rest of your equipment can be salvaged (yogurt cups, newspaper pots) or created from things you have around the house.
Buy only seeds you direct sow. While many people enjoy indoor seed starting, you may want to restrict your seed shopping to seeds that go directly in the soil: beans, radishes, lettuce, kale, peas, zinnias and more. Those that require a longer grow time—tomatoes, peppers, eggplant—can be purchased as pre-started plants from your garden center or farmers’ market. Or, if you are lucky, a friend who enjoys starting seeds may have some extra plant to share.
Enjoy your seed shopping! Spring is that far off.