Selecting the best seeds for your vegetable garden

JOAN NUSBAUM Updated: February 18, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: February 18, 2013

The activity: Choosing the right seeds for your vegetable garden.

Why: The average growing season in our area is 152 days. With such a short span, vegetable gardeners want the greatest harvest of the best-tasting food for the time and money spent. Selecting crops and varieties can be overwhelming once the catalogs start arriving.

Gardeners use many criteria to select seeds: price, variety, brand and personal experience, among others. Starting with high-quality seeds and selected varieties can make a significant difference in your harvest.

How: When planning the vegetable garden, it’s important to understand something about the average first and last frost dates for your area. Many seed companies indicate planting times according to average last frost date. At plantmaps.com, you can plug in your zip code to find your average first and last frost dates. Use these dates to determine the length of your growing season.

Select varieties that will allow you to plant and harvest as recommended within the number of growing-season days for your area. Get a jump-start by starting seeds indoors.

You also should understand that there are cool- and warm-season crops. Spinach is a cool-season crop and can be planted six weeks before last frost. It can withstand colder temps and might start going to seed as days get longer and warmer.

Tomatoes are a warm-season crop and require warmer soil and night temperatures.

Find a chart that shows the typical planting and harvest period based on average frost dates and normal temperatures for Colorado Springs at cmg.colostate .edu/gardennotes/743.pdf.

As you make a list of what you will purchase, seed catalogs offer detailed information about the crops you want and specific varieties. You often will see the descriptions noted as “hybrid” or “heirloom.”

Hybrid seeds are created by crossing two parent plants to achieve the superior qualities of each parent. Hybrids have been created to improve disease resistance and increase yield, uniformity, marketability, timing of harvest and vigor. First-generation hybrids grow and produce more vigorously. So, seeds saved from hybrid plants might not produce the same in subsequent years.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, heritable improvements in plants via genetic engineering or traditional methods constitutes a genetically modified organism (GMO) — including hybrids.

If seed is “certified organic,” it is certified to have been produced and handled by USDA-certified organic farmers, and to not have been treated with synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers.

“Heirloom” seeds refer to varieties that were grown before World War II. Varieties that are “open pollinated” means that seeds saved from these plants will produce plants that can grow and fruit much like the parent. Heirlooms aren’t bred for disease resistance; however, they might be superior in another quality, such as flavor. Seed breeders are trying to find the best of both worlds, so read descriptions carefully.

When: The time is now. Many retailers in our area carry the same seeds found in catalogs. Once you know what you want to buy, try shopping locally to avoid shipping charges. Many local garden centers have selected seed varieties that are recommended for our area.

However, catalogs will be able to offer more than what a garden center can be expected to carry. If you’re looking for a specific variety and a catalog is the best resource, consider ordering with a friend and sharing the seeds and shipping.

It happens too often that the most recommended variety is sold out. Consider keeping a garden journal with notes about best varieties or ones you want to try. Then make your purchase in December. Many companies post their catalogs online.

What’s needed: Before you start putting together a seed order, grab a calendar, a ruler, and a piece of graph paper to plan and plot your garden. Mark the first and last frost dates on the calendar.

Make a list of crops that are adapted to your site, which you and your family will enjoy eating and that are compatible with your summer travel plans. Use these criteria to order seeds.

It’s also highly recommended that you follow gardening procedures meant for Colorado climate and soils. You can get that information from the Colorado State University Extension in El Paso County.

Call the Master Gardener Volunteer Help Desk at 520-7684 or email CSUmg2@elpasoco.com. Allow 7-10 days for a response.

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