Growing plants from seeds is a great way to get a garden going on a budget. Whether you’re planting vegetables, flowers or herbs, starting from seed is the best way to get lots of variety in your garden.
Seed catalogs and company websites are a bright spot in the bleak winter months. It’s so easy to kick back and fill a cart with dozens of packets, before you know it you have $95 dollars of tomato seeds and none of the squash seeds you actually needed.
Read more about Tomato Varieties
Before you jump into impulse buying seed packets in an effort to make spring come faster it’s worth looking at when & where to buy quality seeds and how many seeds you actually need.
When To Buy Seeds
If 2020 was any indication of what’s to come, you should start buying seeds yesterday. Last year many seed companies were overwhelmed and had to shut down to catch up on orders and some ended up running out.
I’ve already seen some of my favorite seed companies putting up warnings about slow shipping times and the possibility of closing down or limiting orders.
Whether you’re buying seeds or ordering chicks it’s always a good idea to get an early start.
Usually, by January or February, the catalogs and inventories are updated and it’s possible to start placing orders.
I know I’ve already received a few catalogs in the mail (and placed a few orders). If you haven’t gotten your hands on any you can always check the internet. Most, if not all, seed companies have websites at this point.
While they’re not nearly as relaxing websites are great because the inventory is kept up-to-date and you’re less likely to fall in love with a variety only to find it’s sold out then you go to order.
Not to mention to later comers that didn’t make the catalog but are available to buy. And sales, you gotta love those!
Top 4 Seed Companies
There are probably a million seed companies out there and (surprisingly) I haven’t tried all of them. But I have tried quite a few and I have some favorites.
Just for reference, I live in central NY in zone 5. I try to find seed companies in a similar north eastern climate and for best results, you should do the same.
My picks for best seed companies (in no particular order) are:
Fedco is my go-to, I’ve been placing 1-2 seed orders with them for years and I’ve never had a complaint.
Fedco is a small company located in Maine and they specialize in cold-hardy seeds. If you’re familiar with Elliot Coleman and interested in cold frame winter gardening they carry a lot of his recommendations.
They carry both heirloom and hybrid varieties so you can get the best of both worlds and pricing is really hard to beat.
Most of their seeds are available in multiple packet sizes so you can get exactly what you need.
One more thing, Fedco is not just a seed company! They have sister businesses for tubers, trees and bulbs.
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Johnny’s Seeds is another seed company located in Maine. Unlike the others on this list Johnny’s is geared more towards small and commercial farms than the backyard gardener.
They offer packet sizes along with larger quantities but the packets are pretty pricy compared to other options.
The main things I buy from Johnny’s are cover crops like Buckwheat and Mustard, and indoor gardening seeds for shoots, sprouts and microgreens.
Read more about Cover Crops
Even if you don’t buy seeds from Johnny’s you should check out the website. Again, it’s aimed towards large scale gardeners but they offer so much helpful information about growing food crops.
I can’t imagine trying to plan a garden without their seed starting date calculator. Definitely check that out and the rest of their grower’s library for more information than you can imagine.
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Botanical Interests isn’t local but I fell in love with their illustrate seed packets years ago and never looked back. The rest of the seed companies onthis list have utilitarian seed packets and I can say I do enjoy the gorgeous images on their packets.
They are aimed at a regular backyard gardener, they have a few varieties offered in large packets but most of their packets are the same size you’d see in the local hardware store.
I order a little bit of everything from Botanical Interests but the thing that really drew me in was their flower seed mixes. I put the least amount of effort into my flower gardens but I still want lots of blooms for my insect friends.
It’s been two years but I’m still getting some re-seeded cosmos coming up from that time I gave up on the herb garden and planted the whole thing with the Save the Bees Flower Seed Mix.
Swallowtail Garden Seeds
Even though you can get flowers from all of the other supplies I’ve mentioned (and I have) when I’m looking to take my flower game up a few notches I place an order with Swallowtail Garden Seeds.
They are located in California but I can still find lot of options for my zone 5 garden. According to their Instagram page they offer over 1,400 varieties of seeds.
I love how much information they offer on the site itself, especially when you’re like me and you only want to grow odd things that aren’t that well known.
Those are my favorites but I’m always looking for more, I’d love to know your favorite seed companies. Please leave them in the comments!
Buying lots of garden seeds is fun and way too easy with the internet in our pockets. It’s pretty easy to go overboard and find yourself drowning in seed packets.
Before you place your seed order it’s helpful to do some kind of inventory to figure out what you already have. My first step is to flip through my seedboxes and take out anything that’s getting too old to rely on (more on that in a second).
Then I do my inventory of everything that’s left and figure out where my empty spots are. I’ve been gardening long enough that I generally know what I want to plant and how many seeds I need.
You can write it down in a notebook or use a printable inventory sheet but I recommend using Google Docs. I joke that my entire life is organized into google docs.
I love being able to move things around and keep lots of info in one spot and I always have it with me on my phone. This is the information I keep track of in my seed inventory:
- Variety Name
- Source (with link)
- Year Purchased
- Start/ Transplant Date
How Long do Seeds Last?
Most kinds of seeds last for more than a season and one packet will set you up for a few years. Especially with something like tomatoes where you get 20+ seeds in a packet and you only start a handful of plants each year.
This really helps to cut back on the costs of ordering seeds, especially if you can store your seeds so you don’t need to start over completely every year.
As with most things these are guidelines, I’m not saying a 3-year-old pepper seed won’t germinate but statistically speaking you’re chances at success are better following these guidelines.
Seed Life Span
Buy Fresh Seeds Every Season
- Sweet Corn
- Swiss Chard
How to Store Seeds
For best results seeds should be stored in a cool and dry area. Green houses and wet basements are not great options.
I keep my seeds in black plastic index card boxes with silica packets and I keep them in my bedroom closet. I have 4 boxes, one for flowers, one for my transplants/seeds I start inside, and the other two for vegetables.
It’s not a perfect method but it works for me. The transplant box is divided up by weeks so when it’s time to start my seeds everything is together. The other boxes are split up by type.
How Many Seeds Do I Need?
The final question you need to ask when placing your seed order is how many do you actually need? This is going to be completely personal but I want to give you a few guidelines that I find helpful.
The main thing to think about is the yield from each seed. If you have 15 carrot seeds you’ll get (at best) 15 carrots. If you have 15 zucchini seeds you’ll need to buy a new home to hold them all.
When you have a 1 seed to 1 plant ratio it’s not crazy to buy 100+ seeds. This will include:
- Root Vegetables (carrots, beets, turnips etc)
- Head Lettuce
Next, we have the medium yield veggies, where you’ll get more than one from each plant but it’s still limited:
- Sweet Corn
- Winter Squash
- Dry Beans
And finally, we have the crops that just keep giving until they’re wiped out by heat, frost or disease (aka every cucumber I’ve ever grown thanks to downy mildew). These are the varieties that just keep going as long as you keep picking:
- Green Beans
- Leaf Lettuce
- Most Herbs
We’re going back to this but it plays an important role in how many seeds you want to buy.
Don’t buy a lot of seeds that will lose viability in a year, but if you know you love planting one particular variety of lettuce grab the bigger packet to save some money.
How Much you Eat
Seems obvious but you should be devoting your time and energy to the crops you eat. I will never be able to grow enough cucumbers to keep my kids happy and every year I buy another 2-3 varieties trying to find the one that will survive in my garden.
Overwhelmed with garden planning? Here are my best tips to help you know What Should You Grow in Your Vegetable Garden
On a similar note, I have this idea in my head that I need to grow one of everything, like one radish and one sweet pepper and one hot pepper etc. Which is actually pretty dumb because I don’t eat radishes or hot peppers.
I can’t even blame pinterest perfect garden for this, I’ve always been this way! Just incase you also need to hear this: you don’t actually have to pick one of every category in a seed catalog.
Check out my Vegetable Gardening page for more information or start here: