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Selecting seed for your garden

If you're like me, you have been spending your spare time perusing the multitude of seed catalogs that arrived in the late fall. Now that the holidays are over, there's time to dream of our next gardens and make plans to increase vegetable yields and add new interesting plants.

For the greatest variety of new plant choices, seed starting is the way to go. Whether you prefer the full color catalogs like Harris Seeds, Jung's, Territorial or Johnny's, or the newsprint, descriptive catalogs like GeoSeed, there are many available to fulfill your every need as a novice or experienced gardener.

If you have never started your own seeds, the various seed types available may confuse you. Consult the following glossary of seed terminology to decipher your choices and aid in your seed selection.

Organic seed: Seed harvested from plants grown organically, without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides and according to the USDA's National Organic Program standards.

Open pollinated seed: Seed that is pollinated naturally. The fruit and blossoms produced by this seed are variable in size and quality. The benefit of selecting open pollinated varieties is the ability to save seed from year to year. Open pollinated varieties will reproduce true to the parent plant. Heirloom seed is generally open pollinated.

Heirloom seed: Seed Savers Exchange defines an heirloom as "any garden plant that has a history of being passed down within a family." Heirloom plants are generally cultivated varieties — cultivars — that were commonly grown during earlier periods in human history. They are not typically grown in modern, large-scale agriculture. Many heirloom varieties have superior flavor and nutritional value but don't have the disease resistance that many hybrid cultivars possess.

F1 hybrid seed: The first generation seed harvested from plants that were created from an intentional cross of two parent plants of the same species. These parent plants are selected for distinct growth traits: fruit size, disease/insect resistance and yield. The fruits and blossoms that grow are uniform in size and quality. Seeds taken from a hybrid may be sterile or fail to breed true. Seed from hybrid plants should not be saved to plant in subsequent years.

Pelleted seed: Tiny, hard to handle seeds are encased in a clay "pellet" that makes them easier to plant. Pelleted seed is often exposed to water prior to pelleting to hasten germination times. The downside of this practice is that the lifespan of the seed is greatly reduced. To be on the safe side, pelleted seed should be used the year it is purchased.

Inoculated seed: Legumes such as beans, peas and alfalfa benefit from pretreatment with inoculants. The seeds are coated with a powder that contains rhizobia bacteria that allow the plants to convert atmospheric nitrogen to nitrogen the plant can use.

For more information about seeds and seed starting, visit

Until next time, happy gardening!