How Does My Garden Grow? - Part 3
What to Plant: Seeds or Transplants, Heirloom or Hybrid
The garden beds have been built and composted (Part 1), and the planting layout of the garden has been determined (Part 2). The next big question I faced in my garden planning was whether to grow from seeds or buy transplants, and whether to grow heirloom or hybrid vegetables. Being a newbie to vegetable gardening, I had a lot to learn and a lot of places to turn to for answers.
What's the difference between heirloom and hybrid? What's involved in growing from seeds? These were questions I had, and I spent the winter reading on these topics. I'm no expert, obviously, and I don't want to try to rewrite what others have written so thoroughly. I found Chris McLaughlin's book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Heirloom Vegetables, to be very helpful. I also found a good article at the Garden Frugal. Here's my own take on heirloom vs. hybrid and starting from seed vs. buying transplants:
Heirloom or Hybrid
In brief, as I understand it, heirloom plants are "open pollinated," which means they are pollinated by the wind, birds and insects rather than by controlled efforts. This gives them diversity in their gene pools, so that the next generation may not be exactly like its parent but will be true to its breed. Therefore, you can save the seeds from heirloom vegetables and plant them the following year. In general, heirloom vegetables have been around for 50 or more years. There are seed banks for the collection and preservation of these seeds, and nobody "owns" the breeds; they belong to the public domain.
Hybrid vegetables are a cross between two or more varieties or breeds. They are bred for certain desirable characteristics and are pollinated in a controlled environment. Many commercial companies experiment and develop these hybrid breeds and own patents on them. You cannot save and plant seeds from hybrid vegetables and expect their offspring to have the same characteristics as their hybrid parent.
I decided to plant heirlooms because I want to collect and use the seeds. Heirlooms are said to be more flavorful than hybrids because of the diversity of their genetic makeup. I love reading the names and the stories behind the heirloom seeds that have been passed down for generations.
Seeds or Transplants
When buying plants from nurseries and garden centers, there are not nearly as many selections of heirloom as there are of hybrid varieties. It became apparent to me that if I want to grow heirloom vegetables, I would need to grow from seeds. It feels a bit overwhelming to me, but I do like the idea of growing the plants myself organically, without the use of synthetic fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides. It would be easier to just buy plants and plant them outdoors when the ground is warm enough, but I'm willing to take on the challenge of starting my plants indoors and transplanting them later.
The next thing I needed to tackle on my learning curve was where would I buy the seeds. I asked some gardening friends for names of reliable seed producers. I studied their online catalogs and even ordered some catalogs through the mail. McLaughlin's Heirloom Vegetables book has an extensive directory of heirloom vegetables that is very descriptive and helpful. Mother Earth News provides a list of respectable seed companies.
My task was suddenly made easier when one of my neighbors stopped by, saying that she had seen the raised beds we had built and wondered what we were going to plant. She said she was interested in growing heirloom vegetables from seed and wondered if I would want to combine an order with hers. What a blessing! She contacted a few other neighbors, and soon there were five of us pouring over the catalogs. There are several good seed companies whose goals for growing organically line up with our own goals. We ended up ordering our seeds from Sustainable Seed Company.
By combining our orders, we were able to set up a neighborhood seed bank. Many of us were interested in some of the same plants, so we shared the cost of seed packets.
Since the seed packets remain in the neighborhood seed bank, I made envelopes to store my own seeds in. I bought 4x6 inch colored envelopes, cut them in half and then taped them closed with the seeds in them. (Pink for flower seeds, purple for herb seeds, yellow for root vegetable seeds, and green for above ground vegetable seeds.) I printed labels for the envelopes with information about growing the seeds.
If you're thinking about growing plants from seeds, I'd highly recommend you talk to some friends and see if you can go this route. I ended up with a greater variety of seeds for less money! Since we're all planting heirlooms, we can collect our seeds and add them to the bank. We may not ever have to purchase seeds again unless we want to try some varieties we don't have yet.
Next in my garden development, I'll be starting some of those seeds indoors!