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Ask a Master Gardner: Seed shopping season underway

by Peter Sutter | January 2, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

Along with this year's Christmas cards, I have already received half a dozen or more seed catalogs. With all the seed choices, a person needs to start selecting early. There are a few thing to keep in mind when selecting seeds.

One of the first things I like to do is go through my old seeds and see if any of them are going to be usable. The longevity of a seed depends on the type of seed. For instance, onion and lettuce seeds do not keep well and should be replaced every year. Seeds from melons, cucumbers and most annual flowers can last up to five years or more; tomatoes fall in the four-year category; beans, peas and cole crops in the three year position. If in doubt, you can do a germination test by wrapping a few of the seeds in a damp paper towel and putting them in a baggy in a warm place. Keep them moist and see how many sprout.

After you have decided what seeds you have and what you need to buy, start making a list. Then there is the decision as to what type of seed you want. Heirloom? Hybrid? Organic? These are all personal choices.

Some people like heirlooms, some like the hybrids. I like to plant a variety of both open pollinated and hybrid seeds. Tomatoes are a good example of this variety. Some of the older hybrid tomato varieties are my favorite -- Jet Star and Rutgers to name a couple. Of course, a tomato patch without an heirloom, like Bradywine, could hardly be called complete. But I do like the disease resistance, size and taste of a newer hybrid, Mountain Fresh Plus, and recently I tried one called Red Duce that I really like. There are new varieties coming out every year, and you don't know how they grow or taste until you've tried them yourself. It is good to try new varieties, but be sure to plant things you like to eat; it makes gardening a lot more fun.

Another thing to keep in mind while you are choosing seeds is the maturity date for the plant you want to grow. On the back of most seed packets, or in the catalog descriptions, you will usually see something like "25 days" (radish) or maybe "70 days" (tomato). These will be the number of days before you will be able to eat it. There is some variation as to how to define "days to maturity," but a good rule of thumb is to start the count when the seed germinates. I usually start the count when I see the first seed poking out of the ground.

Maturity dates are good to know so you can roughly estimate when you crop will be ready to harvest. Knowing this, you can make successive plantings and stretch out the harvest of fresh produce. Knowing maturity dates also helps you know when to plant to assure a good harvest. Here in Mid-Missouri, we have approximately 190 frost-free days. It seems like just about anything would grow here, but that is not quite the case.

If you have gardened before, read through the assortments to see if you can find varieties that are resistant to any problems you may have encountered. If you haven't raised a garden before, ask around to find out what diseases and pests you need to be on the lookout for in the area.

MU Extension has a excellent publication, G6201, with plant varieties that do best in the Mid-Missouri area and it also gives you a good idea of when to plant and even how much to plant. It's a very good read to start off the new year, and it is free to download at their website.

Peter Sutter is a life-long gardening enthusiast and a participant in the MU Extension's Master Gardener program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected]

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