You can buy vegetable seeds and starter seedlings from many sources, including mail order companies (catalogs & on-line), local nurseries, hardware stores, and "big box" stores. You can also collect seeds from your own favorite non hybrid plant varieties, or trade seeds at a seed exchange.
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Where and how you get them depends on what kinds and varieties of vegetables you are planning to grow. It's important to keep in mind that some vegetables are more suited for direct planting seeds, while others do better when you use started seedlings. This page will review seeds vs. starts as well as provide you with links to websites for some well known seed sources and some unusual mail order nurseries.
Certain vegetable plants lend themselves better to being started indoors early in the year, and then planted out when the weather is warmer. This is done for two reasons. First the growing season may not be long enough for the plants to reach maturity before the first frosts of the fall. Second and more commonly, the seedlings are so small and delicate that they would not germinate reliably if grown outside. Some common vegetables that are started indoors, in a greenhouse, or a hot bed would be Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, Tomatoes, Peppers, and Eggplants.
Other plants can be safely and easily sown directly in the garden from seed. Examples are Corn, Beans, Carrots, Lettuce, Raddishes, Turnips, Sunflowers, Squashes and Pumpkins.
Some vegetables are grown from root stock. Onions, Garlic, Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, and Jerusalem Artichoke are some examples.
Hybrid Plants - seeds come from
parent plants that were intentionally cross pollinated by man. Hybrids
are created in order to improve the plant compared to the original.
Bigger, sweeter, unusual colors and shapes, heavier crops, and disease
resistance are all traits that can be developed through hybridization.
Non-Hybrid Plants or Open Pollinated - Plants that are allowed to pollinate naturally by way of insects, birds, and wind. This is referred to as open pollination. This is how plants in the wild are pollinated.
Heirloom Plants - Varieties that were commonly grown in earlier times, but are rare today. Often, varieties were developed to grow and produce in a certian area with specific weather conditions. There is an incredible variety of heirloom plants available today, mainly due to the efforts of a few dedicated individuals and families who have safely carried them through the centuries.
Interest in growing heirloom varieties is on the rise today, mainly because of the wide variety of unusual characteristics that can be found in heirloom varieties. Another reasons is that some people are concerned that our commercial grain crops (corn, wheat, soy beans, etc.) are becoming "over-hybridized" and an epidemic may wipe out an entire commercial species. I don't necessarily buy into that dire prediction, but an epidemic could certainly create severe shortages for several years, until the seed industry can catch back up. Either way, it's a good reason to preserve heirloom varieties for their genetic diversity.
When the first seed catalogs begin arriving in the mail, usually right after Christmas Holidays, I start planning my garden for the coming year. It's easy to get excited, looking at all the new varieties. Every picture is of a perfect specimen. Looking through these catalogs help me through the coldest, darkest part of the winter.
Here are some general vegetable seed companies that I have used, and have had good success with.
Here are a few seed companies specializing in heirloom varieties:
If you keep heirloom vegetable varieties and are interested in trading or sharing seeds, a seed exchange is the easiest way to go about that:
I recall as a small child, visiting my grandparents in the fall, and seeing tomato seeds drying on a sheet of waxed paper. Grandpa collected seeds from his tomatoes so he could start them in late winter for his garden the next year. That strain of tomatoes is long since gone, and I regret not having any of them now.
Collecting vegetable seeds is usually that easy. Collect the seeds in the fall, allow them to dry, and use them the next year. I don't recommend collecting seeds from hybrid plants,as they rarely retain the characteristics of the parent plants. If you grow non-hybrid or heirloom plants, there's no reason why you can't collect seeds and maintain and enjoy those varieties year after year.
Occasionally you may find a plant that has an unusual characteristic that you like. Maybe a different size, color or shape, or maybe the flavor is better than the original. This is what's called a "sport" of the original plant. If you think it's worth keeping, collect the seeds and grow it again the next year. You might have discivered the next award winning strain or a future heirloom variety!
Plants like corn, beans, and sunflowers can be left on the plant and collected when they are dry.
Seeds from "wet" vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, okra, melons, squash, pumpkins, and things of that sort can be collected when the fruit has fully matured. Cut the fruit open, remove the seeds, allow them to dry several days on wax paper, and store them in zipper seal bags in your refrigerator until planting time.
For potatoes and sweet potatoes, just keep the tubers like you would for eating purposes.
In spring, just cut up your potatoes so that each piece has an "eye" and plant them like normal.
Sweet potatoes should be sprouted by placing one in a glass jar half in water with the stem end sticking out. After a couple of days, you will see small roots begin to form. Quickly after that the top will begin to sprout. Once the sprouts reach about 6 inches long, break them off from the potato, put them in another glass of water and they will start to grow roots. Plant them at the appropriate time.
Here's more information on how to:
My grandmother always had a sweet potato in a pint jar on her kitchen window sill, with vines growing all around her the window in the winter time, because she liked having the greenery.
Selecting the correct vegetable seeds and starts that are suited for your local climate, and your personal tastes will ensure your success and satisfaction with your garden. Knowing how to preserve seeds or where to buy them is an important step toward that success.