Beyond the sheer variety, what about the practical issues like will these tomatoes get blight like the ones I grew last year? How should those mysterious "days to maturity" numbers like 65 or 90 impact my decision making? What on earth does open-pollinated or F1 mean? And how many seeds do I need anyways?
Though its taken me several years of gardening (four to be exact), I feel as though the guessing game of buying seeds has given way to a more purposeful and knowledgeable selection of what will truly perform well in my garden and result in success of the highly edible and delicious variety (otherwise known as food on the table).
As you sift through the options for purchasing garden seeds this year, here are some important things to keep in mind:
Days to Maturity
On the back of most seed packets, and in catalog or online descriptions, you will usually see something like "65 days". If you're looking at radishes, the number might be 22 days. If it's bell peppers it could be as high as 80-95 days.
There is some debate as to how "days of maturity" should actually be defined, but here is a simple working definition that will suit the needs of most gardeners:
- Seeds that are sown directly into the ground (like radishes, lettuce or carrots) should be counted from the day they germinate, so those 22 day radishes planted on April 1st should be ready just right around the end of April.
Why do days to maturity matter? They help you to roughly estimate when a given crop will be ready for harvest, so that you can make your garden plans for successive plantings, to ensure that plants get into the ground early enough in the season and so that you can purchase varieties which will suit your particular climate, growing season and garden needs.
Depending on where you live (North, South, wet, dry, mild summers, etc.) it's crucial to choose seeds that will suite your growing season. That means that a Northern gardener such as myself should not be using tomatoes with 75+ days to maturity. Why? Because our summers are unpredictable, with temperatures that fluctuate a lot, intermittent days (and weeks) of rain and gray amidst the sunshine, and a generally short growing season. Rather, it would be better for me to plant varieties that primarily take 55-75 days to ensure crops that will be harvestable and fully ripe, with perhaps one large, juicy 80 day variety, just on the off chance that we'll have a good summer.