7 Ways To Save Money On Seeds – Without Saving Seeds

Vegetable growing can be a great way to save money on food, but it can also be a dang expensive hobby in its own right.

One of the biggest expenses edible gardeners run into is the cost of seeds. If you’ve been at this for awhile, you’ve noticed that the cost of seeds in the past few years has gone through the roof. There’s a few reasons for this, but the biggest is simple economics: demand for edible seeds is way up because vegetable gardening has skyrocketed during the recession. More veggie gardeners is a great thing, but that’s cold comfort when you’re looking at a $130 seed bill.

The fastest way to cut down how much you spend on seeds is to save your own, but let’s say you’re not quite ready to get into that yet. (I’m barely ready to get into that for much beyond peas and beans, and I’ve been growing vegetables for eight years, so I understand the hesitation on the part of new gardeners.)

1. Be Shipping Savvy

Different seedhouses have different policies on shipping. Territorial has a flat rate shipping charge regardless of how much you order, so if I’m ordering from them I’ll order my entire years seed needs, including garlic, potatoes or onions, in one go. Garlic may not be shipped to me for 7 or 8 months after I placed my order, but when it is I won’t pay any additional shipping.

Yeah, but how much did those cost with shipping?

Johnny’s has tiered shipping charges based on the dollar total of your order. If your order total is $29.99 your shipping charge is $7.25, but if your order total bumps up to $30.01, now you’ll be paying $10.25 for shipping. Still other seed houses charge by weight – know what the shipping policy is before you place an order and you can optimize to save a few dollars.

2. Look For Coupon Codes Online

Seed companies will often send out customer appreciation coupons for 10% off or Free Shipping or other bonuses. These codes tend to propagate around the internet and sometimes you can snag a good deal for the cost of 3 minutes of web searching. I recently spent far too long optimizing an order to Johnny’s to come in within a certain shipping tier, then did a coupon code web search and found a discount code for free shipping!

See, you're not the first person to Google for discounts.

3. Comparison Shop

I buy onion plants and adore using them over seeds or sets, but they are spendy. I was buying my onion plants from Territorial (because of the flat rate shipping and regional focus) but I noticed that some of the onion plants they were selling in mixed bunches were not offered individually. This struck me as a bit odd, so I did some research and discovered that onion plants are pretty much all Southern grown and that Territorial was acting as a re-seller.

Direct from the grower - for less?

I found a major onion plant supplier in Texas (in fact, I would bet they supply Territorial!) who sells direct to gardeners and ships out the same onion plants for less money. Want the numbers? Four bunches of onions through Territorial would cost me $59.80 plus shipping; four bunches through Dixondale is $23 – and that includes shipping. I still love Territorial and buy a ton of their seeds, but sometimes it really does pay to shop around.

4. Share

The vast majority of seed packets contain far more seeds than you will use in a season. A one-gram packet of cabbage seed contains around 300 seeds. Were you planning on growing 300 cabbages this year? No, me neither. If you are still figuring out which varieties you like and which perform well in your area, having a few seeds of many varieties is better than having thousands of a single proven winner.

Long on peas but low on peppers? Try seed-swapping.

If you have a friend who is also into gardening, sit down with her and coordinate your seed order. If your desired varieties overlap, you can split seed packets right down the middle. You’ll still have more seeds than you have room to grow. A variation on this concept is to get together with your gardening friends and try seed swapping instead of buying this year. Most gardeners who’ve been growing for awhile have a lot of seed. If you’re out of tomatoes but long on Brussels sprouts, I bet you can find a friend who’s interesting in trading.

5. Use Variety Packs

Can’t decide on a single variety of broccoli, peppers or lettuce? Mixes and variety packs are very popular and common. Try a packet with four types of lettuce and see which one you like best. For the cost of one packet, you get the variety of four.

I could have gotten all these in a variety pack for $2.95!?

Just one warning about variety packs: be careful how you sow and thin. When I’m growing out seeds from a blend packet, I try to observe the small differences in the seedling appearance as I thin or else it’s mighty easy to cull-out all the slower growing plants and cull-down to just the single, fastest growing variety! That defeats the purpose of a blend, right? If you aren’t comfortable guessing which seedling is a hardy but later maturing variety and which seedling is just runty, planting one seed per pot and taking your chances with germination isn’t a bad idea.

6. Plant Less

Speaking of seeds per pot, I generally sow 2-4 seeds per pot if I’m starting indoors and about twice as thick as I need to when sowing outdoors. The reason for this is time – I really don’t want to waste 3 weeks of garden time discovering that a certain seed had poor germination. I’d rather thin than lose the growing time if possible. But the vast majority of the time this results in “wasted” seed. Some value is recouped because I eat the thinnings, but a 4-leaf beet seedling is not the same as a baseball sized beet, and I know it.

One seed per pot means less wasted seed.

When I posted about the importance of thinning, many gardeners said they plant one seed per pot or final location because they hate thinning. This method will lower the amount of seed you use and help you stretch a seed packet further.

7. Spend Your Money Where It Makes Sense

I am not opposed to hybrid seed and I buy quite a lot of it. (Hybrid seed is not the same as GMO seed, but that’s another post.) Hybrids of certain types of vegetables tend to have more consistent vigor – that’s strength of growth – and uniformity than open pollinated equivalents. The problem is that hybrid seed tends to be quite a bit more expensive than open pollinated seed. (The other problem is that you can’t easilly or reliably save seed from hybrids, but again, that’s another post.)

Spend money on the seeds for this...

I tend to buy expensive hybrid seed where the added vigor and uniformity makes sense. Brussels sprouts are a good example. Because sprouts are in the ground for so long and so much space and time is invested in them, it’s very important to me that they mature the way they are supposed to – a sprout that doesn’t form a tight dense ball isn’t a very good sprout. Peppers are another veggie that tends to be hybrid in my garden. Most of the open pollinated peppers take longer to mature and thrive with more heat than I can usually give them, so I pay ridiculous sums for the hybrids (about 20 cents a seed), and have had decent luck getting peppers to ripen.

...but not for this.

On the other hand, for things like kale, lettuce, parsley or chard, I’m just not worried about small variations in leaf size or color or form (do you really care if some of your flat leaf parsley is longer and skinnier and some is wider and fatter?) so I will often buy less expensive open pollinated seed. Still other vegetables – most notably legumes like peas and beans – you’d be hard pressed to even find hybrid seed because the open pollinated strains are so rock-solid and stable. When you are cruising a seed catalog and see one variety of hybrid collards selling for a buck more than the open pollinated alternative, assess for yourself if – all else being equal – the additional dollar is worth it for collard uniformity.

If all else fails, and you’re still spending too much money on seeds, it might just be time to look into saving your own.

How do you save money on seeds?

A Tour Of The Indoor Seed Starting Rack
To Do In The Northwest Edible Garden: March 2012

Comments

  1. This is my first season using any saved seeds, cilantro and eggplant. Both have germinated and are doing well. It was so exciting seeing the first little green sprouts appear! I hope to save some tomato and pepper seeds this year.

  2. There is another way to save seed. Any unused seed should be treated as an investment. I keep mine in clean dry envelopes (hopefully the same envelope that it came in) which is placed in a zipper bag. Those (along with baby mason bees) stay in my crisper drawer. For the most part, taking good care of my seed has allowed me to spend less every year on fresh seed.

    This year I did have to replace one of my spinach. Of 6 early cells only 2 sprouted. But that is one package of seed. Not too bad.

    Another way to save money is to actually eat what you grow and learn to eat seasonally. I looked at your picture of kale and wondered why there was so much on the plant. I see this again and again. New gardeners who seem to be afraid to harvest and eat what they plant should be encouraged to give their veggies a try.
    Thanks for the rest of the tips …..Debs

  3. My friend and I went through our favourite seed catalogue individually, and found a number of seeds we could share on, plus we shared shipping costs by combining our orders. I would also add that knowing what seeds you have already before you order helps!

  4. Just Nick says:

    Maximizing your shipping cost value is the only way to fly, and not just for seeds. The place I buy lots of my homebrew supplies from charges $8 flat rate shipping…so I plan a few months in advance and so end up only placing a couple of $250 orders a year, but each one arrives with eighty pounds of stuff and only cost me $8 to ship.

  5. For tiny seeds, like carrots and the like, I make seed tapes. It’s something to do when it’s cold and miserable out. My method is with toilet paper. I use a cheap, single ply that pretty much dissolves with moisture. Dab glue at the correct spacing and put one seed on each pat of glue. Let it dry and roll it up until it’s time to plant. No waste, no muss, less thinning.

    • I love this idea! How long does it take to do, say, 4 row feet?

    • I use this method as well – I use paper towels cut into long 2″ wide strips (and they are perforated so I can just rip off however much) and I make cornstarch paste and a Q-tip to dab it on. I do this on a big cutting mat that has a 1″ grid on it so they are perfectly speced, 2-3 carrot seeds per dot. The best part is when they come up in a perfect grid like a machine planted them. LOL!

  6. We’re growing on a much larger scale than normal this year, so buying larger amounts of seed will save us money in the long run. For example, you can get the 5 gram sampler of beet seed at Territorial for $2-3, but for $4-5 you get 14 grams. We also got a whole ounce of rainbow chard seed for $6 from Uprising Seeds–good for sharing!

    This year was also the first time I’ve ordered from Fedco. Their prices were consistently lower than elsewhere, and they offer free shipping on orders over $30.

  7. Great article. I especially like the part about sharing seeds. My neighbor and I do this all the time. I think I will take some extra seeds to share at work with my co-workers. Thanks for planting some great ideas : )

  8. Great read. I live in a small town and the seed sharing idea will work very well here. I work for a non-profit and will be growing for the kitchen at Cal-Wood so help of seed cost is important.

  9. Excellent post. I did a big order last year and don’t need a thing this year.
    http://kootenaygarden.blogspot.com/2011/02/ordering-seeds-with-steve-solomon-and.html

    When it comes to peppers, I finally did the math and realized it makes no sense to start my own. They need all the head start they can get. At every phase of growth they need HEAT. They won’t even germinate in conditions where tomatoes cheerfully pop up. They need an early start in a heated greenhouse. Because they are such an iffy proposition, I won’t devote too much garden space to them. A dozen plants in the greenhouse is about it. It is also more fun to have a few varieties. Buying a few big plants that start yielding in July makes more sense than struggling to
    produce my own, which usually don’t start yielding till late August.

    • Have you ever tried Ace, green bell peppers? Mine start without added heat and my own starts have higher yields than purchased plants. I garden in Central NY.

  10. Great tips and great post!

  11. brenda from ar says:

    I guess I like the lazy gardener’s veggies. You can never get all the Jerusalem artichokes dug – the strays provide for the next year. Parsley has started in the lawn around the pot I had it in last year – I’ll just lift and put in a pot, except the one in the patio pavers – hmmmm. Some of the funnest stuff comes up in the compost pile – let them grow and put the new compost over a few feet. This has given me pinto beans, honeydew, squash, cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes, etc. Sadly, I’ve lost my bunching onions and walking onions – two favorites for making their own babies.

    I’ve started some seeds indoors in shallow storage bins sticking them on top of whatever I could find by the windows with the best light. I love your potting set-up and I think being so organized and having the right tools would make it so much easier, especially for a bigger garden.

  12. If you are trying to avoid any/all Monsanto seeds or plants, please keep this list handy. http://www.agardenforthehouse.com/2012/02/forewarned-is-forearmed-veggie-varieties-owned-by-monsanto/ Many of our favorite seed companies no longer carry Seminis (now owned by Monsanto) seed packets, but some still list PLANTS that are grown by their suppliers that are varieties owned by Monsanto. One example is the Candy onion. I checked and that is carried by Dixondale Farms which you mention in your blog. So saving money is important, but knowing where that money is ending up is, I believe, very important too. That’s why I save seed from just about everything I grow and attend as many seed swaps as I can. I even save seed from things like tomatoes and squash I buy at the farmers markets if I really like them. I have a ton of acorn squash seeds that are one of the smoothest squash I’ve ever grown. It came originally from a farmer’s market and I don’t even know the name. I call it Yummy!

  13. I save tomato, bean, peas, mex sunflower, some kale, lettuce seed every year. It is not difficult to do and does save a lot of $$. Thank you for the seed database, I just started using it this year and I love that yours was pre-filled with a lot of seed viability times!

  14. I have saved pepper seeds from peppers bought in the store and they have sprouted fine. I also have started some chickpeas (Couldn’t find any seeds) from a small amount I got out of the bulk foods section. I sprouted them on the kitchen counter like you would for salad sprouts and then planted them. (Won’t know how that turns out until later). My 9 year old son wanted to grow chickpeas this year.
    Mostly though, I try to go for perrennial veggies, we have articholes, cardoons, jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, garlic- 2 went to seed/clove last year and spread- and (perennials because of where we are and they survived the last winter..celery, arugala, savory, swiss chard)

    • I grow stuff from the bulk bins, too! Last year, I was making black beans, and I decided the dark purple soaking water was too pretty to pour down the sink, so I watered my tomatoes with it. Some of the beans poured out with the soaking water. Even though it was late in the season, they grew and produced a few very pretty black beans. This year I am going to try grow more black beans and also some black eyed peas. I give them a brief soak in dilute bleach to (hopefully) ward off seed-borne disease. You can get pounds of seed for what you would pay for a handful from a seed company!

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