Friday, January 20, 2012

Ten Buying Tips & and a Top 10 for Herb Seeds

Ten Tips Buying Seeds  &  Top Ten Seeds to Buy

This year I am so focused on what my garden will look like next year, that I have had the seed catalogs online and in paper form out on the desk since December!  I am not going to let Spring planting sneak up on me and find me unprepared this year!  You can avoid this problem too by shopping for seeds in mid-winter.  It is a great way to spend a snow day (if we every get one) and gives you plenty of time to sort out the details of the next growing season. Whether you buy your seeds though the mail or from your local garden center, here are ten tips help you get the most for your money.

Tips for Buying Seed

For the best selection and prices, browse a variety of seed catalogs. Most of the major suppliers make their catalogs available online, which is a great way to start gathering ideas. When it's time to place an order, look for seed companies that specialize in plants that are grown in your specific region. Use the Garden Watchdog to type in your zip code and get a list of companies in your area.  

After placing your order, keep your catalogs, or print the relevant pages, for reference.  They contain important information about your seeds that you may find useful later. Remember that catalog statistics like height, spread, and days to maturity should only be used as an estimate. How your plants ultimately perform is dependent on local growing conditions.
Seed catalogs and websites include a lot of abbreviations in their descriptions. Most of these reference a plant's resistance to disease, or indicate a cultivar that has earned special merit. Look for a key to the symbols at beginning of the catalog or on the bottom of each page.

These are two types of seeds: hybrids and open-pollinated cultivars. Hybrids may produce earlier harvest and higher yields, but often at the expense of natural hardiness and resistance to disease. Seeds saved from hybrid plants may either be sterile or fail to breed true to their parent plant. Open-pollinated seeds are from traditional varieties that have been selected and grown for their desirable traits over a period of many years. They may taste better and are often more adaptable to local growing conditions. Seeds saved from open pollinated plants stay true to their parent plant.

Other things to know about Seeds

Fresh seed has the highest rate of germination. When purchasing seeds off the rack, check the date stamped on the packet. Be sure it's the current year. If you don't see a date, don't buy it.

 
Tiny seeds are sometimes coated in clay (pelleted) to make them easier to handle and sow. The pellets are sown on top of the soil, where the clay coating dissolves and exposes the seed when it comes into contact with water. Keep in mind that although pelleted seed packets look bulky, they may not contain as many seeds as you think.

Research before you buy. Choose cultivars based on plant size, habit, and tolerance of your soil conditions. If specific climate or growing conditions in your area tend to leave plants vulnerable to disease problems, make sure to look for disease-resistant cultivars.
Look for proven performers. For example, to receive the All-American Selections Winner Label, a vegetable or flower must have performed well in test gardens around the country and proven to be superior to all others on the market. Individual suppliers may also have their own marks of quality.

Seeds from commercial suppliers sometimes come pre-treated with synthetic chemicals to control seed decay and damping-off diseases (bright red or green colored seeds usually indicate treatment). Some studies have linked the introduction of these chemicals into the environment with the massive die-offs of honey bees. More data is still needed, but in the meantime, you can help protect these important pollinators by using untreated seeds.
Finally, any seed you buy should give good results if you follow the growing instructions. If it doesn't, contact the company for a refund.

Top Ten for 2012

Here is my list of the top ten herbs to grow from seed this year.  I have included a culinary and well as flowering herbs in the group for those who incorporate their herbs into a garden or landscape border.  These are not the “best” or the newest, they are just great herbs to grow from seed and if you have not tried them, now is the time.

Summer Savory
Summer savory boasts a warming, peppery scent and taste. One of the essential ingredients in Herbs de Provence (along with rosemary, thyme, and oregano), summer savory is also wonderful alone to season beans, meats and stuffings. The plant forms single stems 4-15 inches tall that are lined with linear dark green leaves up to 4 inches long. Whorls of lilac-purple flowers appear in summer. Plant spreads 7-30 inches. Sow in a well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil in full sun. Pick both leaves and flowers all summer to use fresh or dried.

Sorrel
120 days. One of the most useful of pot herbs, Sorrel offers a tangy, slightly sour bite. High in oxalic acid, it is a nutritious and palate-cleansing herb. The large, arrow-shaped leaves can be picked continuously as needed from spring through fall. Easy to grow in full sun to part shade and deep, rich soil, it reaches 16 to 24 inches tall and about 15 to 18 inches wide.

Parsley Italian Plain Leaf
Specially developed for use as fresh seasoning, the large, bright green leaves arise on 10-to 12-inch plants.
Flat-leafed Parsley is far more nutritious than the curly type. Harvest it as needed, but fairly regularly so that the plants keep sprouting new stems. In mild climates, you can continue to cut it throughout winter.

Basil Thai Siam Queen
Thai Siam Queen --A 1997 AAS winner, Basil Thai Siam Queen is as gorgeous in the garden as it is delicious on the dinner plate! The sturdy stems support extra-large, 4-inch-long and 2-inch-wide bright green leaves. Clusters of short terminal racemes of purple flowers are borne on the very top of the plant for a highly ornamental effect.

Basil Large Leaf Italian
Basils are loaded with volatile oils, responsible for the heady aroma and strong flavor so essential to cooking. The composition of oils varies greatly in different basil types, thus accounting for the wide range of scents available. Regarded as the essential variety for true Neapolitan cuisine, especially pesto, this Genovese-type basil grows 18 to 24 inches high and 12 to 15 inches wide. The dark green, shiny leaves grow up to 3 inches long on a tall, erect plant that is slow to bolt.

Basil Mrs. Burns' Lemon
60 days. A lemon flavor of mouth-puckering intensity! This heirloom cultivar offers larger leaves (2 1/2 inches long) and more tangy flavor than regular lemon basil. It loves hot dry summers. Pinch off the pink flowers as they arise to encourage even more side shoots. 18 to 24 inches high, 12 to 24 inches wide.

Cilantro Santo
The strong, zesty scent of this annual herb is unmistakable! Slow-growing, Santo allows you to harvest just the amount you need over a long, long season. And after the flowers pass, let them go to seed and collect the seeds for use as Coriander!

Calendula
Both the petals and the leaves are edible on this useful herb. It repels destructive insects very effectively, so it's essential to the vegetable garden. And it sets lovely 2-to 3-inch yellow blooms just great for cutting, so it's needed in the annual bed and the cutting garden. Best in full sun in the north, afternoon shade in the south and southwest, it flowers heavily in spring and, if cut back in midsummer, repeats in fall! Depending on climate, expect it to reach 15 to 30 inches high and wide.

Borage
Plant this herb for the ornamental value of its starry purple-blue flowers, to attract beneficial insects to your garden, and to harvest for teas and other summer drinks. Plants self-sow freely, so you can enjoy more plants next year! Pkt is 100 seeds. Qty 1 Pkt Seeds is all you need.

Fernleaf Dill
If you love the tangy flavor of fresh D ill weed with fish and vegetable dishes, Fernleaf Dill is the variety you MUST grow! Just 18 inches high, it's perfect for the kitchen windowsill or the sunny garden. Its feathery leaves are so lush and tasty that this hardworking little plant won a 1992 All-America Selection. Easy to grow and delicious!


Fernleaf Dill blooms from midsummer into fall, with flattopped blooms that may remind you of Fennel. You don't have to wait to harvest the leaves, however --snip them with nail or kitchen scissors as soon as the plant has a few branches to spare, and enjoy them fresh for months on end! In the garden, Fernleaf Dill is a nice companion to cabbage, onion, and lettuce.

So enjoy your garden planning for 2012! And if you are interested in growing some herbs indoors this winter, I recommend reading this article I found from The Oreganian: http://www.oregonlive.com/hg/index.ssf/2012/01/13_herbs_worth_growing_indoors.html

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