I despise shopping. Except for garden seeds. Seeds are not just Stuff; they’re a world of Possibility. For mere pocket change, often less than a dollar, you can pick up a packet of seeds that can feed you and yours through the summer. Coupled with a dehydrator or canner, they can feed you for years.
This podcast and post is about various seedy subjects to get you on a good path.
I consider an end-of-season seed buy to be the single most cost-efficient prepping purchase. Sure there are spring sales on seeds, but commercial companies won’t hold seeds over to sell the next year, so they all but give them away. In the fall you can spend $5 to have a whole garden’s worth of seeds stored. They wouldn’t germinate as well the second year, but you’ll usually still get 75% or better, and they’re cheap enough to plant plenty. I just make that a fall habit. (Store them in a dark and fairly dry place, such as a dry cabinet.)
There is one major trick to buying garden seed, though. Planning. It’s undeniable: Buying the seeds is the easy part. They have to go in prepared soil. They’ll need decent quality soil, enough light, enough water, enough space. It’s very easy to over-buy if you haven’t thought all that out. Now’s the time for those of us in the temperate climes! A couple of things to keep in mind while doing the early planning:
Heritage vs. hybrid
There’s a balance in a prepper garden between heritage seeds and hybrid seeds. The most common garden seeds and small plants for sale are hybrids; crosses of different strains. Hybrids have a lot of strengths: They tend to be vigorous, disease resistant, high producers – which is why you’d find a lot of them in most gardens, including mine.
They also have a real problem. They don’t breed true. If you grow a beautiful hybrid tomato, you can keep the seeds and plant them. Most of them will sprout, although not all. When that plant grows up and fruits though, you’ve got no idea what kind of tomatoes you’ll get. They are not likely to be as good as the parent. (By the way, apple trees are this way too. Most trees that grow from seeds from a good eating apple will bear small, sour crabapple fruits. That’s why people plant grafted clones instead of seeds to get apple trees.)
Heritage seeds are the old-fashioned varieties. There are some really good ones, but due to a thing called hybrid vigor (don’t ask unless you really want to know; I’ve been known to spout biological information until people’s eyes glaze over), the hybrids generally are hardier and better producing than the heritage varieties. On the other hand: Heritage seeds breed true. You can save the seeds yourself, plant them the next year, and once again get the high-quality produce.
How to save seed? There’s plenty of information out there on specific refinements, but the outlines are dead easy. Keep the seeds from the mature fruit; or if the seeds aren’t in the fruit, let a plant or two go to seed at the end of the season and collect. Store them dark and pretty dry. I use ziplock bags, packed after the seeds have set out a few days to dry down if I collected them wet.
I split my garden, doing some heritage and some hybrids every year. This hedges my bets among ‘bad growing conditions for the heritage varieties’ and ‘I can still save plenty of seed’.
If you want an early crop, or any crop at all if you live where the growing season is just barely long enough for the crop in question, one answer is to start your seeds indoors. Sure, you can buy starts from garden stores too, and it saves effort. Personally I just start a few every year, to work up my skills and try varieties I can’t get starts of.
Most garden crops that are started indoors need to begin about six weeks before the last date of frost. That makes the target for north Missouri about March 1.
Sprouting isn’t a topic for the garden; it’s a topic to get you good fresh food while it’s still winter. You can buy sprouting seed at the store, or for some crops (such as radishes) you can easily save your own seed in the fall to use in the winter. Sprouting seed is expensive by weight, but you can get about a pint of fresh greens for a tablespoon of seed, so it ends up being Way cheaper (and way fresher, and less likely to carry food poisoning) than buying sprouts in the store.
A sprouting tray (plastic tray with lots of drain holes) is cheap and very helpful. Soak the seeds overnight and spread them on the tray in a thin layer. Twice a day, spray them with water and drain off the excess so the seeds are always damp. Keep them dark until they’re about the size you like, but leave them in a windowsill for the last day to green up. Sprouts are extremely nutritious things, and if you’re set up to grow them, they’ll provide a prepper with fresh food that may be otherwise unavailable.
Just some thoughts to get your thoughts turning towards seeds. It’s the right time of year to Start Plotting!