What kind of a seed buyer are you?

– Posted in: Seeds and Seed Starting

Carol at May Dreams Gardens wrote a series of thought-provoking questions on the gardener’s relationship to seeds. I decided to answer in my own blog, and I hope you do, too. More intriguing and less silly than all those memes going around.

Do you carefully read all of the seed catalogs sent to you and then browse the Internet to compare and contrast all the options, then decide which seeds to buy?

I used to read every seed catalog that came in the house. And I would figure out the cost-per-seed for each variety I was interested in. (And this before electronic spreadsheets became common!) Eventually I realized the shipping cost could offset any savings realized. At this point I’ve developed some catalog favorites, which I always read, and some non-favorites, which I scan for freebie offers but otherwise discard. Anything I’ve never seen before gets a thorough examination.

Do you buy seeds from ‘bricks and mortar’ stores and get whatever appeals to you as you are browsing?

I rarely do, unless they are temptingly marked down, say four packets for a dollar. They generally offer an unimaginative selection with no consideration for the local climate.

Do you buy vegetable seeds in bulk where they scoop them out of seed bins, weigh them and put them in hand-marked envelopes?

I didn’t even know such places still existed.

Do you buy seeds for just vegetables, or just annual flowers? Do you buy seeds for perennial flowers?

I have done all three. At this point I don’t buy many seeds, because I don’t take good care of the seedlings. I try to limit myself to seeds that can be surface sown (broadcast) without much fuss. And usually my intent is that they self-sow in for future garden seasons.

Do you know what stratification and scarification are? Have you done either or both with seeds?

Stratification=cold treatment. Scarification=rough up the seed coat. I have used both techniques. Cold treatment is more likely needed with perennial seeds. Sometimes just giving seeds a good long soak works as well as scarification.

Do you order seeds from more than one seed company to save on shipping or buy from whoever has the seeds you want, even if it means paying nearly the same for shipping as you do for the actual seeds?

There are sometimes those desperate cases where only one place has that must-have variety, and I have sometimes paid dearly and sometimes done without. But generally we try to order from no more that two or three places.

Do you buy more seeds than you could ever sow in one season?

Who doesn’t? It is the rare gardener who can manage to grow out all the seeds in a packet in one season, unless they are rare and expensive seeds.

Do you only buy seeds to direct sow into the garden or do you end up with flats of seedlings in any window of the house with decent light?

I now only direct sow. In this climate you have to start certain vegetables indoors or buy plants if you ever hope to grow a crop. I don’t know if it’s possible to get decent light from a northern sky in late winter, so we grow our indoor seedlings under lights.

Do you save your own seeds from year to year and exchange them with other seed savers?

I did when the North American Cottage Garden Society was still in existence. That was a fun group. And I do a bit of swapping with my nearest garden buddy a mile and a half down the street.

Do you even buy seeds?

Not much anymore, because, as I’ve said, I don’t have enough time to properly care for the seedlings. I still buy plants, though.

Do you have a fear of seeds? Some gardeners don’t try seeds, why not?

No fear of seeds. What I do to seedlings is not pretty, so I’m trying to be kind by not getting started.

Do you understand seeds? I once bought seeds at a Walmart in January (Burpee Seeds) and the cashier asked me, “Do these really work? Yes, they do. “Isn’t it too cold to plant them now?” Well, yes, if you are planning to plant them outside. I don’t think this cashier grew up around anyone who gardened.

I understand the rudiments of growing by seed. But I haven’t had to resort to Norman Deno’s book or gibberellic acid. Rock gardeners are the seed-starting fanatics of the world. I’m not in that class.

Do you list all your seeds on a spreadsheet, so you can sort the list by when you should sow them so you have a master seed plan of sorts? I was late to spreadsheets. I just discovered two or three years ago how handy they can be, and by then I was limiting my seed buying quite severely. But I use a spreadsheet to plan my plant purchases, and it’s quite the reality check. Now that Google offers an online spreadsheet program, it’s within the reach of every gardener with access to the internet, even if it’s only public access at the library.

Do you keep all the old seeds and seed packets from year to year, scattered about in various drawers, boxes, and baskets?

Sigh. Yes. Some I keep in the name of record-keeping, and some I keep just because they’re pretty. (I use them as bookmarks.) I especially like the packets designed by Mary Azarian for the Cook’s Garden.

Do you determine germination percentage for old seed?

I don’t think I ever have, but my daughter has.

Gosh, I feel like tagging someone. I’d like to see these questions answered by Don the Iowa Gardener, Chan the Bookish Gardener, and my sister Ro. And the Ranters Three. And Doug Green. And . . . I better quit. Hey, Carol, don’t you think you could turn this into a quiz, like Hanna has the flower quiz on This Garden is Illegal?

P. S. Don’t forget to check out all the posts in the Seed Starting and Saving category.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In its own way, frost may be one of the most beautiful things to happen in your garden all year . . . Don’t miss it. Like all true beauty, it is fleeting. It will grace your garden for but a short while this morning. . . . For this moment, embrace frost as the beautiful gift that it is.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

Peter Dixon July 13, 2007, 7:02 pm

Nice Blog, we purchase thousands of seeds a month and import them from around the world for our nursery. We have tried just about every method to grow them that exists. We usualy get about an 85-90% germination rate out of them. I like how you answered the questions.
Thank you again

Kathy Purdy January 27, 2007, 2:14 pm

Hi, Maryann–
Are you saying that you think flowers have been bred to bloom earlier than 20 years ago, or that you have learned which plants to grow?

Thanks for stopping by.

maryann January 27, 2007, 11:23 am

I am a canadian gardening in zone 2 I am constantly amazed at the variety that I can grown in such a short season, compared to twenty years ago. Many of the seeds would not flower in such a short growing season.


cyndy January 9, 2007, 10:23 pm

These are great questions! They make me realize how much I have changed my “seed habits” over the years…and it is fun to read everyones answers….thanks for posting this, mind if I consider myself TAGGED??

Kathy Purdy January 6, 2007, 7:22 pm

That attention to detail often gets me into trouble: too much attention to too much detail! A truly efficient person would have recognized that I wasn’t getting a good return for my efforts.

Annie in Austin January 6, 2007, 2:03 pm

Hi Kathy – Carol also told me that gardening-in-the-past was okay, so I’ve posted on seeds, too.
My mind is still boggled that you did a breakdown on ‘cost per seed’. That attention to detail is another facet of running a large household, I suspect, and is indicative of your organizational powers.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Kathy Purdy January 5, 2007, 9:37 am

Annie, thank you for your kind words. I personally would be glad to read “an old-lady wallow in nostalgia.”

Zoey, starting seeds outdoors can be a lot more hit-and-miss than starting indoors, where everything can be controlled. But you do need lights–a window doesn’t cut it for most things. I never considered there might be something you’d have “little luck” with, but I guess no one can be good at everything! Happy New Year to you, too!

Kathy Purdy January 5, 2007, 9:30 am

Anthony, if we all used Google Spreadsheets it has a feature where you can make your file “public.” That means you can give people a link to it and they can view it online. You can also give permission to collaborators, who can not only view your spreadsheet, but also comment on it, and also edit it (I think). I have used their Documents a little bit, but not the Spreadsheet part, so I don’t know how well it works. I may give it a try.

Anthony January 5, 2007, 9:10 am

I did a google blog search for “May Dreams Gardens” and it amazes me how many people answered her seedy questions.

I’m impressed how you answered every single question. I ran out of steam after about half of them.

All of us spreadsheet keepers should figure out a way to exchange files. I’d be interested to see what your spreadsheets look like. Might get some good ideas from each other.

Zoey January 5, 2007, 7:43 am

Hi Kathy,
Just poppin in to wish you a very happy & healthy new year.

I never buy seeds from seed catalogs because I have little luck with seeds and no room to plant them.

I do usually grab a few packets from Wally’s World when I see something that I can’t resist (like last year’s sunflowers).

Annie in Austin January 4, 2007, 8:48 pm

We bought tomato plants and had only a small crop, because it was too hot for blossoms to set.

As always, your post is not only interesting, but so clearly and directly written, Kathy- sometimes it feels as if I really do know you!

Most of my seed experiences are in the past, rather than present – I haven’t decided yet if I should write a post on seeds, since it could end up as an old-lady wallow in nostalgia.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

misti January 4, 2007, 10:33 am

mmmm, seeds! I love starting new seeds!

Kathy Purdy January 4, 2007, 7:13 am

We started our tomatoes indoors and also had almost no tomatoes to speak of. It was too rainy. Many of them cracked or otherwise rotted on the vine. So even if you had started the tomatoes earlier indoors, you might not have gotten much in the way of tomatoes.

Rosemarie January 3, 2007, 10:11 pm

So I am not the only Freak who has all her seed purchases on a spread sheet? I am not the only one who obsessively finds the best price for every seed?

I have not cracked a catalog yet, and I am going to try to make a list before looking at a catalog. I am going to figure out how much space I can manage, and only plant how many seeds I need plants for. Really. They almost always germinate. My friends expect extra seedlings from me, now.

I started almost everything outside last year, and had no tomatoes to speak of. I have scarified and stratified, and grown plenty of perennials. I have a lot of self seeding in my garden, and have trouble thinning, but I love seeing where things end up.

I love starting seeds even more than gardening, I think. It is so thrilling and addictive. The smell of a flat of lavender, or tomato seedlings, is intoxicating, so filled with hope.

Kathy Purdy January 3, 2007, 9:03 pm

Old Roses, if I didn’t have homeschooling end-of-year paperwork and three children’s birthdays to celebrate in May, my seedlings wouldn’t get so rootbound. Or so I tell myself. And I am afraid of heights, too. I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of being late, but I certainly don’t care for it. So, yes, we are quite alike. But I wonder if people who enjoy growing from seed share a certain mentality to begin with . . .

Oldroses January 3, 2007, 8:54 pm

Kathy, you and I are so alike that it’s scary! Except I’m kinder to my seedlings. My answers are on my blog and no, I didn’t read yours first. I deliberately posted my answers before reading anyone else’s. More fun that way.

Kathy Purdy January 3, 2007, 9:04 am

That’s me in a nutshell. I’d like to get back into seed starting some day. Maybe I’ll try winter sowing . . .

The Norman Deno book is for diehard seed starting fanatics. His first edition was self-published, and I guess the second edition was too, because you can’t find it on Amazon. I chose the link I did because it at least gives you an idea of what’s in the book.

Carol January 2, 2007, 10:55 pm

How insightful! I guess I could turn this into a quiz, if I had the programming skills to do that. But since I don’t, I’ll just find each person who posts and give them a thoughtful analysis based on their answer.

I was particularly struck by your comment “what I do to seedlings is not pretty”. Based on that, I’d say you are a “realistic gardener, who has embraced gardening in a climate that would cause lesser gardeners to weep, and knows her boundaries and how to get something for the money she spends”. How’s that?

Now I have to go check out this Norman Deno book.