20: Episode 20 – sourcing seeds

Where to source seeds? There are more options than you might think.

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Sourcing Seeds

Today we’re going to talk about seeds and where you should be looking to source your seeds for your vegetable garden. There’s lots of options available to you and some of them are obvious and some of them perhaps not so much. We’re going to run through them in order of what people are probably already doing.

The Six Best Ways to Source Seeds


We’re going to start with online. I imagine that’s where a lot of people buy their seeds and there’s pros and cons of ordering your seeds online. The first thing is that you’re ordering from a global community, so it’s very easy to buy any variety you wish. That has ups and downs, because it’s not necessarily the case that the seeds are going to be suited to your climate and it’s also far easier to buy seeds from somewhere that perhaps doesn’t have the highest standards. I’ve found that when you buy seeds online, you have a slightly lower germination rate and things like that. So, that’s something that’s worth bearing in mind.

Garden Centers

The next option down the list, insofar as how readily people tend to do it, would be garden centers and shops that sell seeds. Garden centers are great because they also have quite a wide availability. The only downside at the moment with garden centers is, depending on where you live, you may not actually have access to them with the current pandemic. I know that where we are, you’re literally not allowed to open up if you’re a garden center. You might be able to do online purchases from local garden centers where you can go and collect them, but it’s certainly a restriction at the moment.

One huge advantage though of garden centers, when they are open, is that they’re far more likely to be selling the sort of seeds that are produced in such a way that they’re going to be suitable for your environment, for your climate. Another advantage is that, generally speaking, there will be a member of staff there that you can speak to and get a little bit of advice from.

Seed Banks

The third way of procuring seeds, and this is one that perhaps more people are unaware of, are seed banks. There’s lots and lots of different types of seed bank setups and different areas will have different availability, but it’s certainly worth doing a search and finding what seed banks are available in your local area. Seed banks are a great place to communicate with other people who are doing something similar to you and to get advice on what type of seeds to get, but the reason I love seed banks is the ethos of community and they can quite frequently actually be a way of getting free seeds.

Generally speaking, how a seed bank works, or at least the seed banks I’m familiar with, is there’s a communal pool of seeds and you go along and you take whatever seeds you want. They’re also referred to a seed libraries in some cases and I’ll explain why here, because effectively what you do is you borrow some seeds, so you withdraw a packet of seeds from the seed library and then at the end of the season you return the seeds in the form of seeds that you’ve saved from your plants.

This is a fantastic, sustainable way of growing, because it perpetuates the seed varieties – there’s no actual outlay; the only outlay is in your time. It also encourages community and it encourages you to perhaps go slightly outside your comfort zone with saving the seeds, and it helps you to learn some more skills. And of course everybody that’s going there is in the same boat. They may be slightly further up the stream than you insofar as experience, but they all are doing the same as you are. So, not only is it a great way to initially get your first lot of vegetables growing at no cost, but it’s also a great way of upskilling, because everybody there is going to have the knowledge and be more than willing to help you learn how to do your seed saving.

Saving Your Own

So, my fourth way of procuring seeds is saving your own. Now, the whole ethos of self-sufficiency is one around perpetual systems that keep themselves going and don’t require inputs, and there’s nothing more perpetual than the system of growing your own plants, saving your own seeds and then growing your own plants the following year from the seeds you’ve already saved. It’s the best way of keeping your own seeds. Not only does it guarantee that you’re going to have varieties you’re familiar with that grow in your area, but it’s also going to allow you to select the best plants for the saving of those seeds.

Something to be aware of when you’re saving seeds is how different plants germinate. Different plants will germinate in different ways that can hybridize across species. One of the things to be aware of, for example with tomato plants, if you’re growing four or five different types of tomato plants in the same space, then the seeds you’re saving from those tomatoes are very likely going to be a genetic mix of those plants, and this can happen across species and different plants are differently susceptible to this. Some plants are very rigid and will only pollinate amongst themselves, others will cross pollinate. It is something that you should do your own research in into the different varieties you want to grow, but it shouldn’t put you off the idea of saving seeds

Things like beans and peas are the easiest seeds to save because they literally do all the work for you. All you need to do is leave a few of the beans or pea pods on the plant, let them dry just as mother nature intended, and then harvest them later than you’re harvesting the ones you’re going to eat, and they’re ready to be sown the following year. Keep them nice and dry, and in a cool place out of light and they’ll just sit there quite happily ready to go the following year.

Local Gardening Community

The next place to source seeds, and this is another favorite, is to ask your local gardening community, that can be your neighbors, it could be your family members. But anyone who’s growing their own plants and has done so for some time is probably saving at least some of their seeds, and in most cases they would be delighted to share some with someone else.
So, it’s a great way again of connecting that community and getting hold of free seeds.

I certainly recommend you start reaching out and trying to start those connections if you haven’t already, because especially now there’s so many people out there that are keen gardeners and they are struggling for these connections because everything’s changed. No one is operating in the way that we did six months ago. So, it’s a great time to try and forge these new connections, even though it might be difficult to do it with social distancing rules and what have you. Just pick up the phone, or speak over the garden fence.

Perennial Plants

The final option for where to source seeds is that you don’t have to source seeds for your perennial plants. If you introduce more and more perennial plants, then that’s less and less seeds that you will need to introduce every year. So, when I’m talking about perennial plants,
I’m thinking of things like asparagus, artichokes, all these things that can deliver fresh veg
for you every year, but you don’t need to actually be sourcing those seeds every year. Those are great things to have in your garden. Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t save seeds from these plants to propagate more, of course you can, but it means that you’re not necessarily needing to sow those seeds every year.

Choosing What Seeds To Grow

Those are my quick thoughts running down where to source seeds. In the next section, I’m going to talk about the things that you need to be thinking about when you are actually choosing the seeds that you’re collecting.

So, once you know where you’re getting your seeds and you’re going to start choosing which seeds you’re going to purchase, the sort of things you need to think about are different varieties within species. You might want to think about early and late varieties so that you can extend your season. So, you can get some early varieties of something in the early end of the season, and then have a second crop of late varieties coming along after them.

The second thing is locality. Now, local is always better. It’s definitely something that’s worth looking at. A variety that is proven to grow well in your area is definitely worth far more of your attention than an unknown variety from somewhere else in the world that you’ve no idea how it’s going to actually adapt to your climate.

The next thing you might want to consider are seeds of plants that have been specifically bred for resistances to certain diseases or things that they might be susceptible to. There are lots of plants out there that are resistant to bolting and if you’re someone that thinks, “Well, when it comes to harvesting I might not have as much time as I would like to go and harvest as readily as might be perfect,” then you might want to go for an anti-bolting variety, so they’re going to stay harvestable for longer.

And the final thing I wanted to say is, and I’ve already touched on this several times about locality, it really is worth speaking to people who are having good success growing things in your area.

So, that wraps it up for this article. Hopefully you found something in there that’s thought-provoking, makes you think slightly differently, or you might have learned something new.