January - The Perfect Time for Ordering Vegetable Seeds

By Andy McIndoe

Gardeners get restless as spring approaches. The weather might not be good enough to get out on the vegetable plot, but that gives us time to plan.

Seed catalogues, websites and new season’s stock in garden centres and general stores is there to tempt. Colourful packets promising abundant crops of perfect vegetables are hard to resist.

Of course we know in our heart of hearts that they won’t look anything like the pictures on the packets, but that’s no obstacle. I’m not trying to put a damper on your enthusiasm, and writing this post is as much for my benefit as yours, but I thought I would outline some considerations before you take advantage of those early bird offers. These are my top tips when buying vegetable seeds.

2 Seed tins

1. Check what seeds you've got

Before you buy, check what you’ve got left from last year. I have a tin on the window ledge in the downstairs loo that is just overflowing with packets. These aren’t all old; I actually had a clear out last year. Some have been opened and part used, others are pristine.

First and foremost check the dates. If still in date and unopened they should be fine. If opened and out of date, throw them away and buy new. If opened and in date, things like courgettes (zucchini), French and broad beans, rocket should be OK. Parsnips deteriorate quickly; I would start with new.

3 Plenty of courgette seeds

2. Plan your vegetable growing

Plan what you are going to use before you buy. This is really important. All vegetable growers produce more than they are going to use. This is a waste of time and space unless you enjoy growing it and giving it away. In my experience, what you’ve got lots of, so has everyone else. Overgrown courgettes and runner beans are never welcomed with open arms.

3. Don't buy all your veg seeds at once

Don’t buy too many seeds at the outset. Early season offers can tempt you to buy too many packets that will never get sown. This is just false economy. You are better off buying less than you need and acquiring other as the season progresses. There are plenty of seed suppliers and retailers; shortages during the growing season are rare, especially as there are so many varieties to choose from.

5 How long will it take

4. Plan your garden

If you want to have a go at growing something for the first time, consider whether it will work in your growing conditions. More importantly consider how long it takes from sowing to maturity. You can’t use that space for anything else if it’s a long-term crop. This may sound obvious to the old hands, but new gardeners often underestimate how long things take.

6 F1 Hybrid Courgette

5. Choose the right vegetable varieties

Be selective when choosing varieties. Generally F1 varieties are always a good choice. Seed costs more, but results are likely to be more reliable. Uniform plants, hardier, more vigorous and heavier crops. Don’t always just go for older varieties you’ve heard of.

7 lots of tomato seeds

6. How many seeds in a packet?

Check the number of seeds in a packet. Is this likely to produce far more than you need, or is it lots of packaging with attractive branding and few seeds? With things like carrots you need large seed numbers because you are sowing direct and there will be wastage. You probably don’t need 60 tomato plants of one variety. Would it be better to buy a few plants later and save yourself the trouble?

8 Chard in cell trays

7. How you'll grow seeds

It’s worth thinking about how you are going to sow and grow things as you buy the seeds. Will you sow direct? Will you start them in cell trays? Have you always failed with a crop, but you still buy the seeds every year? If so should you be trying to grow it at all? I always fail with carrots in the open ground. The soil surface dries out quickly and they fail to germinate. I have the same problem with beetroot. I wasted my time trying every year until I started growing in raised containers of quality growing medium.

9 Frosty morning on the plot

8. Don't start too early

Finally, don’t let your early purchase of seeds tempt you into starting too early on the plot. Who knows what the early spring weather will bring. However, even if the weather is warm, it can still turn cold and sometimes it’s better to wait for consistently warmer conditions and get things to grow quickly.

Recommended course

Self-Sufficient Veg Gardening taught by Sally Nex

Learn self-sufficient veg gardening and plant planning with horticulturalist Sally Nex.

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Andy McIndoe

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