Christmas is here, and the time has come for me to decide which seeds I’m going to buy for the new growing season.
Doing this over Chrimbo has become an annual ritual for me, and as much part of the festive period as turkey, mince pies and Brussel sprouts.
But how do you choose from the hundreds of different cultivars out there? On the face of it, reasons for selecting seeds might look as straight forwards as liking the name, but there are a few things to look out for.
Where to Buy Your Seed?
All garden centres will have a section for vegetable seeds, but they tend to stick to one or two seed suppliers. Of course, the advantage of a garden centres is that you can just pop in at your convenience, but requesting seed catalogues via the Internet will give you a much wider choice. And browsing the catalogues is a great way to spend an dark winter evening.
Translating the Catalogues
When choosing seeds from the catalogues, take some time to read the blurb. Look out for references to taste – it’s amazing how many varieties gloss over this bit. That makes me dubious!
For example, I’d much rather try White Lady runner bean for ‘…the most tender, thick, succulent pods you have ever tasted’, than Firestorm and ‘…its excellent garden performance and attractive scarlet flowers’.
F1 hybrids are seeds produced by hand in a controlled environment from specifically selected parent plants, rather than openly pollinated by travelling insects. This produces a very reliable, uniform crop, but the process is more expensive and this is represented in the seed prices.
F1 are also bred to have an increased pest and disease resistance.
Buying Old / Near to Use By Date Seed
Sometimes, you’ll find seed on discount that is close to passing its use by date. Seeds need to be fresh or still viable after storage for good germination, and generally it is recommended that seeds older than 2 or 3 seasons are binned.
If you can use the seed up that coming season, then buying packets in this way can be excellent value for money. I’ve sown seed that is a year out of date, and still reaped good harvests.
The one exception is parsnip seed, which must be new every season.
As well as tips, experimentation is important. I like to mix some old reliable regulars with a few new varieties every season and keep notes of the results. I’ve found that I’m gradually building my own little black book of favourite cultivars, and this is now beginning to influence all the different veg I try.
So kick back this Christmas, and enjoy perusing the catalogues. And remember, pick the tasty varieties!