Selecting seeds for a successful season

u of i extensionBy Grant McCarty
Local Foods and Small Farms Educator,
University of Illinois Extension

Last week’s topic on seed starting then leads into a discussion on seed selection. Seeds can be purchased from numerous online companies, seed catalogs, and in local stores. Friends and family members may also have seeds that they can give you as well.

When selecting seeds, you should consider the growth characteristics of the plant so you can prepare for management of it. Height, width, vine length, and spacing requirements can vary among vegetable types and varieties. The information on seed packets can provide an overview on many of the crop’s needs.

Some vegetables are open-pollinated seeds also known as “heirloom”. These seeds can be saved and are what we consider true to type.  This means that if I save the seeds from this year’s plant for next year they will be the same.  Open-pollinated seeds provide unique flavors, shapes, and texture but can be susceptible to disease.

A hybrid seed comes from two different open-pollinated varieties that have been cross-pollinated in the field. This is done for a certain characteristic. For instance, one of the plants may have disease resistance which will be passed on to the next generation. Along with disease resistance, hybrid seeds may have different textures or colors and growth habits. If you purchase hybrid seeds, the seed from the hybrid plant you grow cannot be saved as it will not be true to type.

There are also organic seeds which can be either open pollinated or hybrid. To be considered organic, the seeds have to come from plants that were grown on certified organic farms. You can find organic seed often with other seeds at stores.

Most people use seeds from the same packet year after year.  If stored properly without moisture getting into the seed packets, some seeds can be viable up to 3 years. Before sowing saved seeds you might do a quick germination test to ensure the seeds are viable. Take 5-10 small seeds, wrap in a wet paper towel, and place in a plastic bag in a drawer. After 5-7 days, unroll the towel to see if the seeds have germinated.

By selecting the right seed with the qualities that you want, this can set you up for a successful season.

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