Four factors to consider before seed shopping

Things to consider before buying seedsA few days ago, my friend boldly claimed she was going to start some seeds. Never mind that it’s February. In Wisconsin.

When someone who was a pioneer in a past life speaks, I listen.

Our unseasonably mild winter meant the gardening itch never truly hibernated. We have late March snow. Grass pops up. My raised beds taunt, “We could become cold frames you know…throw a little kale in us…”

AND…I want to join the farmer’s market vendors who mysteriously sell lush starter plants in mid-May. How do they do that?

They start indoors. In February.

Now the fun part. Seed shopping…

Organic vs. Conventional Seed

The benefits of buying organic seed are similar to organic food. You cast a vote for organic farming practices. You also, according to this expert, buy seed born to thrive in organic growing conditions.

Yet, like the food, organic seed prices can deter someone on a tight budget. Sticker shock of $3-5 per packet is hard to swallow. Realize that seeds are always cheaper than starter plants or fully-grown food. Some companies, like Botanical Interests and Fedco, offer very reasonable prices on organic seed.

If you can’t afford organic seed but want to avoid genetically modified (GM) seed, look for the Safe Seed Pledge.*

With “safe seeds”, you can recover that initial cost of seed if you save seeds from one year to the next.


The desire for bounty can outweigh the importance of planting alternatives to GM seed. As a novice gardener, I have not mastered organic growing. I stare in envy at the rows and rows of food tumbling out of one friend’s garden started with conventional seed. My meager offerings might be heirloom, Seed Saver plants. But isn’t the point to help sustain my family, not to spend limited resources and energy on growing two salads?

Lesson learned: Start with conventional seed to build your gardening chops. Then, once you find organic or non-GM seeds that produce high yield, stick with them.

Your germinating ability

Some seeds are easier to grow than others. I have yet to turn any type of pepper seed into a thriving plant. Rosemary eludes me. But stick a bean in my soil and watch it erupt like a cool time lapse photo.

If you’re unsure about your germinating powers, save some seed money to buy starter plants.


Ah, the lure of seed packet photos. You envision a harvest overflowing with shiny heirlooms. Enter your reality. Carrots put in clay soil come out like stubby toes. Your yard is actually half-shade, not the full sun needed for vegetables to flourish. Your growing season is too short for sweet potatoes.

Research your climate and map your property. Acknowledge your level of gardening ability.

Then set yourself up for success and pick seeds that will thrive for you.

Happy shopping!

* Over 70 seed companies have the Safe Seed Pledge, making it easier to find untreated seed. Is there one near you?

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About Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson is a freelance writer with nearly 20 years of experience in community health education, non-profit program management and mental health counseling. Amy works on projects that promote greener, healthier living through pragmatic approaches. She is an avid fan of reality therapy, small town farmers markets and dishing out home cooking with unsolicited advice. You can also follow Amy’s adventures in realistic wellness.