How To Pick Your Vegetable Seeds Without Going Crazy

“Last year I just planted and prayed, stuff worked or didn’t. Now I have seed catalogs and am so overwhelmed I don’t know what to order. Should I be picking stuff based on the shortest growing rate and that’s all? This is crazy!” -Reader Question

How To Pick Vegetable Seeds

Feeling Seed Catalog Crazy?

Right now, like most gardeners, you probably have a half-dozen seed catalogs dog-eared around the house. If you are new to the January seed catalog binge, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by the options before you. The website of one of my favorite seed houses returns nearly 200 results on a search for lettuce. How do you pick the right seeds?

The bad news is that the inspirational temptation of seed catalogs can be extremely hard on the frugal gardener’s pocketbook. How in the world a few packets of $3.50 seed can turn into a $125 seed order I’ll never know, but there you are. How someone with a pair of 4’x4′ beds plans to grow nine different varieties of summer squash and a dozen different tomatoes, I’ll also never know. But I understand, because I’ve been there.

The good news is that the longer you garden, the better you’ll get at knowing exactly what seeds work for you, your soil and your climate.  You should see my neighbors, who are in their 70s and have forgotten more than I’ll ever know about vegetable culture. They grow the same all-purpose tomato every year (Pik Red) and the same all-purpose carrot (Danvers). They seem immune to the call of the new and novel. Flashy magenta-tipped kale? No thanks. Short season okra? Pass. Too many summers burned by seed catalog descriptions that over-promised and under-delivered, I suppose.

I’m leaning more and more towards calcified old gardener myself. I already have a pretty established greatest hits list I grow every year. Striped Roman and Sun Gold Tomatoes, Lemon Cukes, Music Garlic, Waltham Butternut Squash, Cavalo Nero Kale and Northeaster Romano Beans top my list. All these varieties routinely produce for me with a minimum of coddling and taste like vegetal ambrosia.

Having a framework of what already works makes it a bit easier to beat down the temptations of the January seed catalogs. But if you don’t yet have your tried-and-true favorites sorted out – if you are new to edible gardening, or new to an area – how do you pick out seeds? Here’s a few tips for getting through those seed catalogs without feeling too overwhelmed.

How To Navigate A Seed Catalog

Location, location, location – In general, go local. Start with a seed house close to where you live. At a minimum, you want a company in a similar climatic zone as you, focused on selling to your area. Even better is a company that trials their seed in the same conditions you’ll be growing yours. This means that when the seed catalog says a tomato “tolerates cool nights” they are basing their definition of “cool nights” on your town, not Atlanta. (Unless Atlanta is your town, in which case, hey! you just found a seed company!). If a seed house grows some or all of their seed near you, so much the better.

Organic vs. Conventional Seeds – A seed passes on the adaptations and genetics of the plants it came from (think heirlooms adapting to a certain climate) – so if the parent plants of your seeds did well under organic culture, chances are better that the plants you grow with those seeds will also do well when grown organically. Most crops grown for seeds are grown with a lot of help from chemical fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides. What sprays can be applied to seed crops aren’t as strongly regulated as what can be applied to food crops, so the various things that get dumped on conventionally grown seed crops can be pretty nasty. When I have the choice, I strongly prefer to grow with organic seeds.

Disease Resistance – A good seed catalog will list the disease resistance of the varieties they sell. If you plan to grow organically – and of course you do – pay attention to this stuff. Various blights and fungal diseases can really ruin your harvest and your day, so stack the deck in your favor with varietals that tend to grow healthy and robust without a lot of chemical help.

Open Pollinated vs Hybrid Seeds – More on this later, but for now I’ll try to stay brief. OP are necessary for seed saving, tend to mature over a longer harvest window and are cheaper. Hybrids (often called F1 in seed catalogs) tend to give you a very consistent, uniform crop (very important for mechanical harvesting of 5,000 heads of broccoli in a day, but possibly less critical for the backyard grower), may show better vigor than OP varieties, are more expensive and cannot reliably be used for seed saving. Hybrid seeds are not the same as GMO, and are totally fine for the organic gardener.

Some seeds are almost always OP, like beans and lettuce, and some are more frequently F1, like cauliflower. Some, like tomatoes and corn, can be found easily in both OP and F1 versions. I grow both kinds of seed, and unless you have seed saving or seed diversity reasons to eschew F1, I think you should use the right tool for the job. I tend to pick F1 for more particular veggies like caulis and sprouts that are going to occupy their space for a long time and really, really need to mature as I expect, but otherwise I prefer the typically lower price point of OP seeds.

Heirloom – Okay, this isn’t going to be a popular opinion, but be careful getting too swept away by heirloom varieties. First, the good news: heirlooms have proven their worth by being extremely good, tasty, or reliable in someone’s backyard for a very long time. But that doesn’t necessarily mean anything for your backyard. Seed adaptation, like politics, is local. The romantic history of a varietal from Amish country means little when you live in moss and slug country, like I do. Exception: if, like me, you live in a cool growing area, any heirloom that sounds like it was bred in Northern Siberia is probably a good bet. This is why I love tomatoes like called things like Moskvich.

Key Words – Beware of phrases like, “does best in a warm, sheltered microclimate,” or “with a little extra effort,” or  “well worth the extra time,” or “harvest promptly for best quality.” Look for phrases like “consistently high producer,” or “quick, vigorous germination,” or “particularly resistant to bolting,” or “excellent quality even at larger sizes.” Basically, at any hint that a seed might be a pain-in-the-ass prima dona, drop that varietal like a bad habit.

AAS Winner – I pronounce this “Aye-us” like a southern belle dabbling into booty talk. I’m classy like that. If you see “AAS Winner” it means that variety was recognized by the basically independent non-profit, All American Selections. For 80 years, their mission has been to find the best new, not-yet-for-sale flower and veg varieties and tell everyone about them. I think AAS does a great job, and while you have to keep in mind the national (not regional) nature of their assessments, AAS winners tend to be the real deal. Past winners include Honey Bear squash (an adorable acorn I grew last year and really liked), Siam Queen Thai Basil (an every-year herb for me), the now standard Bright Lights Swiss Chard and (way back in 1937) a spinach you might have heard of called Bloomsdale.

Days to Maturity – If your seed company trials their varietals in a climate similar to yours, days to maturity is a very useful way to judge which seeds might do well for you. If they don’t, the information means nothing. It is a sad fact for us cool climate gardeners that longer maturing varieties of the fruiting veggies – tomatoes, peppers, etc. – tend to be fuller flavored. But don’t let that discourage you too much – shorter season and fully ripe is always better than long season but still green. If you are a cool climate gardener, shorter maturation varieties of the fruiting crops are a good idea.

Small fruits typically take less time to get really ripe, which is one reason why cherry tomatoes, baby bell peppers and the petite eggplants tend to do far better in the Maritime NW than their full size kin. I’d imagine that gardeners in hot climates need very efficient cool season crops to size up in the off season, before the sun gets too strong.

Limit Your Options, And A Few Favorites

If you are new to growing, limit yourself to two or three varieties at a time. Ideally two. I know this sounds impossibly harsh, but you’re going to be growing for a long time, so pace yourself. If you grow two varieties, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to legitimately compare them. Keep the best one and try a new one next year. The year after, keep the best of those and try a new one. This means you always have a reliable favorite, and you have a little room for experimentation.

For beans and peas, pick one early bush variety and one climber. The bush variety will yield earlier, and the climber will fill in later and keep going.

For tomatoes, pick one determinate roma/canning type, one indeterminate cherry type and one slicer type. If you have fallen in love with the idea of heirlooms, your slicer is where you should roll the dice. Try Black Pineapple or any of the Brandywine type tomatoes.

If you have room for a vining winter squash, grow Waltham’s Butternut. As far as I know every gardener everywhere agrees that this one is a winner. If you don’t have room for a vining squash, grow a bush delicata or bush buttercup.

Summer squash: do you eat it? No really, be honest. Do you actually like zucchini? Okay, since you eat it, grow no more than one summer squash plant per adult member of your family. If you are running out of zucchini in August (hah!), next year you can grow more. I like zucchini, patty pans and Cousa-type squashes.

For leafy things, like spinach and lettuce, get one variety for cooler weather and one variety for summer harvest. Throw in a packet of mixed greens while you are at it. Don’t bother with iceberg type lettuce. Butterhead is a very elegant – I like Victoria – and Romaine is a crowd pleaser. Try Little Gem for adorable baby romaines that reach maturity a bit faster than full sized Romaines, or Winter Density for a variety that does very well in all seasons.

If you like kale, Nero di Toscana (aka Lacinato, Black Palm, Dino Kale or Cavalo Nero) is the culinary darling du jour and equally excellent in soups or winter slaws. If you like chard, Bright Lights or similar is like the Benetton catalog: a color for everyone.

Don’t grow corn or giant pumpkins unless you measure your property in square acres instead of square feet or square meters. Yes, you can try to grow corn in a pot later, but if you are still at the “figuring out what to grow” stage, leave corn and carving pumpkins for another year.

Rooty things like beets, carrots and parsnips are either terribly easy to grow, or a source of perpetual frustration, based almost entirely on the texture of your soil. Commercially, carrots are basically grown in fertilized sand. Beets have a little more ability to shoulder their way through heavy soils. Early Wonder Tall Top is a canonical beet that always does well for both root and greens, but I am recently enamored of the squat, dark little beet called Flat of Egypt. Golden and candycane-type striped beets are lovely, white types don’t have enough earth flavor for my taste. The variety called ‘Bull’s Blood’ should be spectacular but has never done much of anything for me.

Favorite carrot varieties are Mokum and Yaya. The best way to grow parsnip is to let a parsnip go to seed all over your yard. Baring that, whatever the variety, seed should be bought fresh every year or (at most) two.

Potatoes are very fun and rewarding. Don’t make life too complicated. Order some seed potatoes (something described as “like Yukon Gold” is your best bet) and plant them 5 or 6 inches down. Top them with something very loose and fluffy, like compost or chopped straw. Harvest when the vines die back.

Broccoli and Cauliflower might be the place to try a hybrid seed. Territorial sells a good hybrid blend which will give you an extended harvest from a single sowing. Belstar is a great Broccoli that tends to do well from spring to fall in my area. In my mild winter climate, I’ve had far more luck with overwintering cauliflower like Aalsmeer, Purple Cape and Galleon than main season Caulis. For main crop, I like Snow Crown or Snowball.

What would a garden be without cabbage? Grow one early and one main season variety, or one green and one red if that’s easier. If your climate allows, try winter cabbage. It’s the best flavored of them all. I like the Golden Acre/Derby Day strains for earliest harvest, Danish Ballhead types like Copenhagen for maincrop cabbages, any of the Ruby varieties of red cabbage for fall, and savoy-types (January King is the standard barer) for winter harvest.

Or, Ignore All This and Go For Pretty

Seriously, as long as you are ordering from a quality seed house and not buying crap no-name seed off the rack at the Big Orange Box, you’re probably going to be just fine from a seed-quality perspective. Luxuriate, if you want, in the possibilities that are seed catalogs.

Enjoy basing your decisions on nothing more than whim and fancy. That’s ok too. Just write down anything that turns out to be particularly amazing so you can find it again next season, and don’t attempt to grow the most challenging stuff for your area all in one season. Happy seed shopping!


  1. Barbara says

    I have been gardening for 45 years and this is one of the most useful and concise seed articles that I have ever read. I love your blog – thanks for taking the time to write and share.

  2. says

    Great article! Seed catalogs can be as overwhelming as art supply catalogs (or probably any specialty hobby/business) for beginners. Gotta put in my vote though for sometimes just going for a great name like ‘Drunken Woman Frizzy-headed’ or ‘Flashy Trout’s Back’ lettuce or ‘Mortgage Lifter’ tomatoes. In my case, both lettuces did well, but the ML tomato was a bust. Big, robust plants, but almost all the tomatoes went bad (sort of rotted) before they really ripened.

    One surprise last (hot, dry) summer was how well ‘Acadia’ broccoli did. Johnnie’s touts it for superior cold tolerance (which is accurate, it keeps going through late Nov.) but it produced like gangbusters in the heat of July and August too. Many of the side shoots were just as large as the main heads had been and they held well for a good week before starting to loosen up.

    BTW, one of the permaculture groups where I (mostly) lurk recently sent out a news flash that Johnnies is “NOW OWNED BY MONSANTO!!! OMG!!!”. I laughed and sent them a link to your “seed companies that got screwed” article. Great article. That calmed all but the handful of purists down. Johnnie’s is my mainstay catalog because they’re in Maine – which has similar conditions to me here in central NY.

  3. says

    I’m a wannabe gardener. I’ve never had the space :( (apartment dweller for the last 18 years). But I pore over seed catalogs just like everyone who has an acre or two of space for their bounty. Last year, I tried to start a few things from seed for a container garden on my balcony. I’ve always been intimidated by seed catalogs, so I bought crap seed from the orange box (only mine is a red box – we’re Canadian LOL) Half my seeds didn’t sprout and those that did were spindly, scraggly things. (Which the neighbor’s cat tidily devoured)

    Now at least I’m not intimidated by the seed catalog anymore. Thank you!

  4. Mary Carman says

    I made out my tentative garden plot and planned layout yesterday. So I know what vegetables I want. Now to go to the catalogues and choose the types. Since I want to try more upward ones I think this year will be interesting. What doesn’t do good, I’ll redo. Small space so no $300.00 order for me. Love your blog. Thanks.

  5. Laurel says

    Really great primer for newbies. Had to laugh at your canonical beet.

    I’m in East TN and can’t manage to grow any decent cabbage, broccoli or cauli. Everything wants to eat it and the allowable chemicals/BT don’t seem to help much, not to mention being expensive. It’s been a bitter pill to swallow, but I just finally had to give in to the inevitable. Now I just plant everything else…. including canonical beets.

  6. Tim says

    love it, love it, love it but just one small thing…………………if we all default to our few tried and true varieties every year then, pretty soon, all we will be able to find are said varieties. Here’s one small voice advocating for adding one thing each year that you’ve never grown before, nurture it, pick it, eat it, share it and then let a few plants go to seed. Thus is the survival of the species made more likely. Also, then you can do the whole sharing thing again in Spring as you disseminate the seeds. Disclaimer…………yes, seed saving is a whole lot more complicated than that but you get the idea. Nice post, Thanks and down here in the North Willamette Valley, despite this morning’s frigid inversion layer, we have a dry week ahead and I’ve already tilled!! Now, just a few more degrees warmer and……………………………….

    • says

      It’s snowing here right now and the ground is ice. I’m jealous. :) I agree, not the same thing every year, but something reliable plus a little new every year, tried out with a bit of a method. I just recommend against, “I’m buying 14 lettuces to see which one does best” because, in my opinion, the average gardener cannot fairly trial that many seeds at once.

  7. says

    Really awesome post. As a garden mentor/blogger I am officially jealous of this very well written and concise tutorial. (Yes I really am seriously jealous!) You should get an Emmy for this. (Oh wait…do they give Emmy’s for blog posts? )

    Seriously though, it is the best post I have seen on the subject. I will be sharing this with gardeners I know here in Portland and beyond. It’s already pinned and soon to be all over FB too and Twitter. Great job <3

  8. says

    Fantastic post, Erica! Honestly, I haven’t let myself look at my seed catalogs yet. They are in a nice little pile until I can deal. I went batshit crazy on seeds last year and know there is no way in hell I can justify buying any more this year. But…if I discover any holes in the supply this is going to save my ass. Nice!

  9. says

    Great post, Erica! I’ve been hooked on seed catalogs since my grandma would let us boys read only those, not her “good magazines” like Sat Evening Post and Good Housekeeping, because we dog-eared them so quickly. The lingo of seed catalogs also clues the reader to invasiveness, by saying “vigorous grower, self-seeds readily, covers quickly, ” and similar euphemisms. Of course, who would order a seed that say “nasty, weak taste, low yields, stores poorly, nearly impossible to clear from growing area once established, rated in top ten of invasive grasses”? I know the trend is headed to PDF’s for catalogs, but nothing beats those hard copy issues, easy to mark up for possible buys, easy to show others without lugging a laptop to them, and easy to compare for price or variety with the other catalogs, side by side. It freshens the optimism for gardening, because planting a garden means believing in the future.

  10. Rosemary Edgar says

    Thanks for the admirable article, Erica! I have a small (25 members) CSA and have been putting off looking at the catalogs while down with a horrible head cold. I like a lot of variety, so I grow the stuff that worked well last year plus one or two new varieties that have caught my interest. Last year it was mini eggplant. Fairy Tale continued to be a great producer, but the mini purple and white ones were disappointing, so no more. I’m in Michigan, so Johnny’s works very well for me. I’m going to try your tip for parsnips as soon as I can. A little discovery that works well for me (have very sandy soil) is to use those old, blue plastic kiddie pools for planting celery and herbs that I’d like to have reseed themselves. It’s best if they have been used until they don’t hold water and you snag them off the side of the road, otherwise you have to poke holed in the bottom. I fill them with composted manure and either transplant seedlings or spread herb seeds. This last year, with all the heat and drought, my members had lush dill, parsley, cilantro and the best celery ever. So far the parsley is over wintering and I hope to see the cilantro and dill sprouting in the spring. It’s just lots easier for me to stay on top of weeding the restricted area of the pools.
    I really enjoy your writing and common sense attitude. Keep up the good work!

  11. says

    Thank you so much for this Erica!! This is mine and my husband’s third year of growing and learning and we still get overwhelmed looking through the catalogs! I always look forward to your advice as well, because we share your “moss and slugs” climate, although I’ll raise you a huge deer problem and raccoons that spread our compost out over half the backyard.

  12. Lindsey says

    I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I never ever have visited a Starbucks or someplace like that and my husband and I eat out only once a month. In exchange, I buy every book I want and every seed packet I want; as my husband reminds me with some amusement when he asked me ot marry him I said fine, but he was never allowed to criticize homw much I spent on books or my garden.

    Even if I only use one winter squash seed out of a packet, it pleases me to have five types of them growing in my yard. And I had thirteen tomato plants, each a different variety last year. I can and dehydrate and freeze my buns off every summer, so none of it goes to waste (well, I do have chickens, so they do tend to get spoiled by greens that are overwhelming me or go to seed) I bring extra seeds to work and let co-workers take what they want of my remains.

    All of which is to say, I look at my garden as one of my vices. I admite your restraint, but don’t aspire to it. :)

  13. says

    this year, it’s all herbs in pots on a balcony for me, but when I get back to my quarter acre garden next year, I’ll be revisiting this.

  14. Julie R says

    Great article! Since I am new to gardening and we are in the same area, I’m wondering what seed companies do you buy from?

  15. Tiff says

    Erica, WOW! You can throw it down when you have a newbee ask you the worlds best question and it makes you “THINK” LOL! All kidding aside, THANK YOU! I feel like I can navigate a bit easier now, and my little “fun” seed this year is going to be Blue Jade corn. Why? Because it’s pretty,can be grown in a container( which will be in the middle of my driveway) and my uber gardening friends hadn’t heard of it :) Now I have to come up with something else to ask you, cause I’m enjoying myself in print :) Her’s to becoming a ‘Mini You’!!! :)

  16. says

    Thank you! Not only did you help me make sense of this perennial problem (sorry) but your daffy and gorgeous blogging style makes me smile and relax. You made me realize my luck, too: we are moving back to the region where Seed Savers Exchange grows.

  17. Angie says

    Awesome post! My seeds are officially on their way from fedco seeds in maine, who I chose bc they test their stuff in a similar climate to mine (5b). Of course his article made me not feel so bad about spending DAYS figuring out what seeds I wanted and not buying 10 ttypes of tomato’s :) only 3 this year! Thanks for this refreshingly light but fact filled post!

  18. says

    Great article, Erica! You made my head feel less like spinning and more like settling in to begin selecting extra seed. I saved a bunch of my OP seed last year, but always like to buy the “just in case” order…

    Question – who’s the closest to us in terms of seed companies? I’ve been using Baker Creek. Who are you using??

  19. Sarah says

    Is it a problem that I love seed catalogs so much that a mere post about them excites me? Thanks for another enjoyable, informative post.

  20. says

    I’ve been waiting all day to read this post, ever since I saw it pop up in my reader this morning, and it did not disappoint! I’m determined to stick to a seed budget and make every purchase count this year, and this post has given me a framework for doing just that! The explanation of OP vs F1 was super helpful, and you gave me several other new ideas to think about. Thanks for taking the time to post this! Fantastic!

  21. Tess says

    Great post! And now for my dumb question: you mentioned your luck with “overwintering” cauliflower. Can you tell me what that means exactly? I had no luck this year with my cauliflower, but the plants are still in the frozen ground…

  22. Gene says

    I don’t know about everyone else, but I garden for one reason and one reason only – taste. While I have some concern about the general healthiness of our food, that’s not enough to drive me to garden given that some of it is overblown, and even if I’m “all natural” about it, I still can’t do much about what may already be in the soil, air, water, GMO pollen blowing in, etc.

    There is a whole world of produce out there that if I want to eat, I must grow, because no amount of money is going to purchase it and make it arrive fresh at my door or local grocery store (not that I have that much money to spend on such extravagances anyway).

    So taste being my motivator, I want to try new things – even things that might have been grown in a different climate – getting them to work in my climate is about the only chance I’ll ever have of being able to taste them. Some things obviously won’t work without undue work and expense (I’m near Salt Lake City, UT – I can forget growing orange trees unless I want to bring it inside during the winter and provide artificial lighting given I don’t have any good southern windows), but others are a possibility by starting inside early or some other method.

    With OP seeds vs Hybrids, I believe neither is inherently better than the other at anything (maturation, taste, disease resistance, etc.) OP seeds are a better choice if you wish to save seed simply because you’re more likely to end up with what you expected when you grow them again next year. They’re also better because if you save seed because if you have hybrids running around in your garden and you have cross pollination from a hybrid, you’re less likely to end up with a new cross you like from the saved seed, because a F1 has the least amount of stabilization (OP seeds are sometimes unintentionally F1s themselves) and hence is more likely to have an unpleasant surprise hiding in it’s gene pool, than two stabilized varieties you’ve grown and liked.

    You can have heirlooms that mature early, mature late, have big fruit, small fruit, taste great, taste like crap, etc. You can have hybrids with the same characteristics.

    Hybrid seed producers are motivated by things important to the commercial market more so than the home grower (because the commercial market is a bigger market), hence their varieties may give up things I care more about (taste) in favor of something I care less about (how well it ships). Because of this, it’s been my experience there are a lot of “taste gems” to be discovered in the OP seeds that are difficult or impossible to find in hybrid seeds. I’ve grown both and I’m fine with both (other than mixing hybrid and OP for the above mentioned reasons).

    My approach to selecting seeds for the next year is to leverage the power of the Internet. Seed suppliers, be they heirloom, OP, hybrid, whatever, are in the business of selling seeds. If a particular seed is crap, don’t expect them to warn you before purchase. Also, seed varieties change some over time, either through genetic mutation, or unintentional crossing. The “brand X” tomato grown by your great great grandparents 100 years ago didn’t necessarily look and taste identical to the one grown today.

    You are very correct to point out that growing conditions have a lot to do with it. Someone from TN may have a tomato that taste great for them, but it taste like crap when grown in California.

    It has been my experience though that a lot of different growers from different climates saying “brand X” taste pretty good is a decent bet that it will taste good for you if grown in your environment.

    So when I go shopping for seeds, I tend to ignore most of the verbiage other than to sort out the info I want (size, color, seeds in a packet, days to maturity, shape, hot/sweet pepper, water content if it’s a tomato, type of taste, etc.) to get a general overview of what I *might* be interested in, and then I start looking for comments from people who actually grew it. Sometimes this reveals things I otherwise would have missed (like a melon which is prone to splitting, issues growing, or a general consensus on a bad taste, etc.). When I want to dig deeper, I’ll try to determine how well the growing conditions of the one making the comment match my own, or if they may have made a mistake I’m familiar with in attempting to grow it, etc. General trends in comments from different growing climates should normally not be ignored though.

    It’s also important to remember information is relative – the “days to maturity” in the catalog may not be accurate for your area, but they probably are a pretty good gauge to say “variety X ripens more quickly than variety Y” – and if you happen to have grown one of the varieties before, then you have a gauge by which to determine how far off their numbers may be.

    By the same token, if you’re talking varieties with someone to see what they like, it’s good if you can discover something you’ve tried that they’ve tried because that can then help you to gauge how similar your taste are. Tomatoes are a common area where this is important. People like tomatoes for different tastes. Some like them acid, some like them sweet, etc. Not everyone’s taste buds are wired the same.

    Also, while I may enjoy seed catalogs, for me, if I can’t shop online, you’re out. The computer is where I store and sort all of my info (miracles can be performed with Excel – (or any other decent spreadsheet program) is a wonderful tool.) and plan for my gardening that year.

    Tip: one of the things I did very early on when establishing a new garden was to take very accurate measurements of the size. I then resized the cells in Excel so they were square and made each square equivalent to a 1×1 ft square and drew out my garden in Excel. Using overlays of that tab, I’ve been able to do things like determine exactly how many cubic yards of compost I needed, design my drip irrigation and know exactly how many of what part I needed to order, and assign each square a number I can then use to make a list of exactly what is in each spot in the garden so if something happens to a plant marker, I still know exactly what’s growing in that space.

    Once I’ve collected enough info, all that remains is to narrow down the candidates based on the criteria and information I have to select what I grow that year.

    I do believe it’s a good idea to dedicate part of your garden to “tried and true” and another part to experimentation. That gives you the chance to compare the two to see if you really did find a new favorite, and helps insure that if some of your experiments are a disaster, you still have a good harvest.

    There is also the landrace approach to the problem to be considered:

    (I don’t utilize the landrace approach directly, but the idea isn’t without it merits)

    Given a finite amount of space in your garden (regardless of size), you may want to pick a few things each year to experiment with so rather than growing a few experimental varieties if everything, you can grow a LOT of experimental varieties of a few things. This year, I just couldn’t thin down my tomato list because I’d managed to find to many temping seed swaps that allowed me to acquire some very interesting varieties I had been hunting for, so I made space in the garden and I’m growing 51 varieties of tomatoes this year. Some are repeats (only favorites get repeated), but many are new. You should try experimenting with more than just your slicer (Gold Medal makes a good slicer for me – very sweet). There are some great cherry/grape/salad OP tomatoes available as well – my wife is very fond of Green Grape (green when ripe, sometimes with a slight yellow blush) and would be mad at me if I didn’t grow it one year. I don’t blame her, it’s a great tomato. Hardy, produces heavy, doesn’t split, great taste, and actually keeps fairly well also.

    As was also pointed it, it’s quite true that after you’ve tried enough new varieties yourself, you discover things you like and tend to look for those things when shopping new seeds. Like I’m careful of ribbed melons because I know the shape makes them more prone to cracking. I also know I often like the taste of an orange sweet pepper better than the taste of a red sweet pepper (though I’ll admit to being a fan of both the Spanish Mammoth and the Corno di Toro Rosso which are both red when ripe).

  23. says

    Great article- very detailed and full of great advice to put a plan together on how best to organize your seed buying… On a side note: I’m looking at trying to find AAS distributors in the PNW that I can promote with my cedar planters. Love their selections and think others will desire their proven qualities. Please feel free to offer suggestions for local distributors I could contact. Thx Pete

  24. Jennifer says

    The first keywords I look for are either ‘delicious’ or ones about nutrition. After that I check to see if they’re fragile (prone to dying in heat, cold, drought, or disease). I ignore prettiness (though I ended up with several pretty plants due to zone recommendations and deliciousness).

  25. says

    First year grower here and we’re growing pumpkins on 1/5 acre. Reading your post, now I’m scared, but my 6 year old wanted pumpkins SOOO BAD. Last night the vines literally doubled in size.

  26. Egypt says

    I’ve worked at an organic farm, and we regularly grew Bull’s Blood beets for greens in our salad mixes- never for actual beet roots. I think they’re generally intended for greens, which they are awesome for- nice bright color in a commercial mix. Not something I’d grow for my home garden though!


  1. […] How To Pick Your Vegetable Seeds Without Going Crazy“Last year I just planted and prayed, stuff worked or didn’t. Now I have seed catalogs and am so overwhelmed I don’t know what to order. Should I be picking stuff based on the shortest growing rate and that’s all? This is crazy!” -Reader Question Feeling Seed Catalog Crazy? […]

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