As you are planning your garden, what to grow would be the first thing that comes to mind. Then, of course, the area you have available, which leads to making a garden map. With the map done, you know how much space you have for each crop. Next is figuring out how many seeds you need. If you are just starting out in gardening, the number of seeds in a packet are probably more than you need for the year. However, as your garden grows and you are more interested in really growing a substantial part of your diet, exactly what to expect from a seed packet is important.
You probably already know that not every seed you have is going to germinate. There is a minimum legal germination rate that the seed companies have to abide by. Their seeds can be over that rate, but not under. You can find the minimum legal germination rate in the Master Charts of How To Grow More Vegetables (HTGMV) by John Jeavons. If you buy from reputable sources, most often the seeds are well over that rate. In fact, some companies label the packages with the tested germination rate and when they tested it. On the other hand, I have heard of companies combining old seed with their new batch, getting rid of the old seed and lowering the germination rate. All they are concerned about is making sure it meets the minimum legal rate. Being aware of what the minimum rate is helps you plan. You might be using seed leftover from a previous year or seed that you have saved yourself. Since seed loses viability over time, you might want to test the germination rate. Information on how to do that is available many places, including my video Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan.
A Seeds and Plants Needed form is included on the CD that comes with that garden plan video. You can print it out and put pencil to paper, or use it in Excel form on your computer. Besides how many might germinate, you need to know how many seeds are likely to be in an ounce. That information is in the Master Charts in HTGMV and in the seed catalogs at the beginning of each crop. The catalogs will tell how much the packets weigh and how many seeds to expect. By the way, there are 28 grams in one ounce. Often the seed packets show the amount of seeds in grams.
The seed packets sometimes suggest how many feet of row that the packet will plant. It really depends on how you are spacing your plants and you might be planting in a bed with offset spacing, which would require more plants than just in rows. If you have a small area, work out the planting on graph paper. Once you know the spacing of your plants, either from the seed catalogs, back of the packets, or HTGMV Master Charts, you can figure how many square feet each plant needs and how many will fit in your allotted area. Add about 13% if you are using offset spacing, rather than planting in rows.
You have accounted for the fact that some of your seeds won’t germinate, but then not all that do will be the perfect specimens that you want to transplant. You might plan to have as many as 20% more plants than you intend to transplant so you can choose the best. Once you have done the math on your own, worked through the Seeds and Plants Needed form, consulted HTGMV Master Charts, or however you have arrived at your total seeds and plants needed, you should have the number and/or the weight of seeds you need. Compare that with what you find available in the seed packets.
For some of you, this is just the information you are looking for. For others, if you are still reading, it is way more than you want to know. One spring, years ago, I was helping a friend who was in her eighties plant her garden. She had only begun taking on the gardening chores once her husband passed, about six years before. We prepared the beds, then it was time to plant zucchini. I asked her how many hills she wanted me to make and she could come behind and put in the seeds. She was confused at what I was asking. Her method was to just plant as she went along and when the packet was empty, she was done. She admitted that she always had more zucchini than she could use. She said it never occurred to her to count the seeds beforehand. Her garden, by the way, was big enough that she could do that. Whatever works for you is the best method to use. Once that way stops working, it’s time to consider other possibilities.
I hope you will choose to buy your seeds from a company that has signed the Safe Seed Pledge to not knowingly carry genetically modified seeds. Seeds are precious things. They determine our future survival. Choose varieties that will do well in your area. At first, don’t plant too many varieties of one crop until you have a base knowledge of that crop in general. However, everyone wants to experiment and will usually try the new thing that comes along at some point. I remember when Sugar Snap Peas were released back in 1979. The pole variety was the only one available then. I liked them and have been growing them ever since, adding Sugar Ann as a bush variety. Other things I’ve tried, such as early or disease resistant tomatoes I didn’t like so much. Often, people want to know what I’m planting. I want you to do the homework yourself. There are just so many reasons why you would plant different things than I do. Read the seed catalogs, especially the ones that specialize in your region. Talk to other gardeners.
If you don’t know any other gardeners, maybe you could put up a notice in your local library to have a gathering. I believe most libraries will make a room available for things like that. A Seed Swap would be a good topic to start with. At a seed swap, everyone brings in their extra seeds to share and people who want some can take them. It might be seeds that were left from another year or extra from this year that you know won’t get used. Having old envelopes on hand and pens for labeling is helpful. It’s also good to have seed catalogs for more information. Usually you don’t need to contribute seeds to be able to take some home. If you are new, this is the place to find gardeners. If you are an experienced gardener, this is the place to offer the help that you wished someone gave you when you were coming along. On a local note, there is going to be a Seed Swap at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Goochland, VA on March 24, 2012 from 2-4 pm. The public is invited.
Here in Virginia, the weather has been so mild, we were wondering if winter was ever going to start before it was over. We just had a 4.5 inch snow, but it’s not even lasting 24 hours. Very soon it will be time to be in the garden. Acquiring all your seeds for the year now will help your efforts go smoothly the rest of the year, with no delays between crops. Some things you try this year will work great, and some, not so much. There are no mistakes. Everything is a learning experience. The most important thing to remember is to have fun.