How to Choose Vegetable Seeds
Looking through seed catalogues can be overwhelming.
So much information! How does a person choose what kinds of seeds will grow well / be easy to grow / produce tasty food?
Focusing on a few key points will simplify the process.
First, make a list of the vegetables you want to grow. Write this down before looking at the seed catalogues. Otherwise… it’s so easy to be swayed by all you see in there, and you’ll be wanting to grow almost everything! Start with the produce that you eat most frequently, or produce that you enjoy the most.
Look for key words in the seed descriptions that are important to you. For example:
Flavour. Is there any mention of flavour? If not, personally, I skip it.
For example, in the seed descriptions below some of the flavour descriptions are intense fruity flavour; exceptionally sweet; complex fruity flavour; one of the best-tasting tomatoes; luscious flavour. Hard to resist that, eh?
Disease resistance. A variety that is known to be susceptible to lots of diseases and pests will be more challenging to look after. If you want to increase your chances of a successful harvest, look for words like: blight-resistant tomatoes or downy-mildew resistant cucumbers. The drawback with these is that the flavour may not match some other varieties, but it may be worth growing disease-resistant varieties if your crops have been wiped out by disease in the past.
For example, in the tomato variety ‘Defiant’ below, the letters in blue indicate: High Resistance to Fusarium wilt 1 & 2, Late Blight and Verticillium wilt; and Intermediate Resistance to Early Blight. If those resistant traits are more important than optimum flavour - because you want to actually harvest lots of tomatoes from your garden - then choosing this variety can make a lot of sense.
Days to Maturity. This means: how long will it be from seeding (or transplanting) to harvest? Are you looking for the earliest possible tomatoes? Their days to maturity range from 55 to about 85 days, which is the number of days from transplanting to the first harvest. That’s a big time difference! A month!
In the photos below, Sun Gold (a cherry tomato) is ready in a mere 57 days, whereas the wait will be around 78 days for Striped German or Brandywine tomatoes (both slicing tomatoes). Maybe it makes sense to plant some of both, so you can enjoy a longer season of fresh tomatoes for lunch.
For other crops, such as beans, an option is to plant 2 or 3 varieties at one time, with different maturation times. That way, you can harvest beans for several weeks from one planting.
How will you use your produce? Are you after sweet and juicy cherry tomatoes, eaten fresh off the vine? Or big beefsteak tomatoes, with one fat slice per sandwich? Or, tomatoes to process into pasta sauce?
Knowing the desired outcome for a particular vegetable helps to narrow the range of choices. Look for wording in the seed descriptions that indicate the ideal end use for each variety.
Fresh-eating versus storage crops. Some varieties are best eaten super-fresh, when they’re tender, juicy and oh-so-sweet. Other varieties are known for how well they store, whether a long-keeping squash, beans that freeze well, or onions that will stay firm and sweet until the spring. Do you want fresh ingredients for summer meals, or produce to put away for the winter? That will help determine which varieties to choose.
Space in your garden. Maybe this should be the first consideration! But really, start your planning with what you want to harvest, and then see how much of that is feasible to fit into your plot. If you have a small garden, you may need to focus on crops that don’t take a lot of space (such as salad greens, cooking greens, beans, etc). With a smaller plot, you can still grow a lot of food by utilizing vertical space, by trellising crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and peas - so look for varieties that grow tall and require trellising.
Skill level. Almost any vegetable could be considered by someone to be “easy to grow”. In general though, plants such as leafy greens and herbs are the easiest to grow, whereas crops like cauliflower or brussels sprouts require quite specific growing conditions. Consider your gardening experience before trying to grow everything, and consider starting with crops that offer a higher chance for success.