Choosing The Right Seed For Your Garden


Each year garden enthusiasts are faced with a myriad of choices when it comes to seed catalogues. If you’ve ever Googled “seed catalogues” you know what I mean. And because today’s gardeners are more discerning when choosing what to grow, with more choosing organic, non GMO, heirloom, and untreated seed, a few tips might help to ensure your seed to harvest experience is healthy and bountiful.

Here on Vancouver Island the hardiness zones range from a 5a Zone right through to a 9a. In other words, the island is quite diverse. Here in the Cowichan region we sit more between 7a and 8a.

As such, it’s best to choose seed that has been acclimatized to this area. Plants will be healthier, grow stronger, and yield more. To check out an online, interactive hardiness map, go to:

Seed that has been shipped from the U.S. or Eastern Canada has been selected for completely different climate and seasonal considerations. Though these seeds may have a high germination rate, they may not always perform through to harvest as well as they could. This has to do with how many days it takes for the plant to mature from seed.

For example, a tomato can take up to 90 days to reach harvest, whereas spinach takes 50 days. Waltham squash takes 110 days, and Sugar Ann snap peas mature in 56. The longer a plant takes to mature, the earlier it needs to be seeded and the more it will require warmer air and soil temperatures to thrive.

So if you start your own tomatoes from seed, West Coast Seeds recommends that you do so indoors 8 to 10 weeks before soil temperatures reach 12 degrees Celcius and transplant them into a bed with a cold frame after all chance of frost has passed. This is because soil temperatures under 12 degrees Celsius can damage the plant, or at the very least stunt its growth. If you don’t cover your tomato, you also run a higher risk of disease, botrytis, and bug infestations.

Locally grown and harvested seed will have resistance to these factors, and will in many cases not be as sensitive to our wet coastal climate. However, with all seed it is important pay special attention to the days to maturity number on the package or in the catalogue description.

When we take into account the number of days it takes a plant to reach maturity, we see that it is important to plan what will need to be seeded indoors, what will need cold frames when transplanted out into the garden, and how differing light and water needs will affect the layout and placement of your plants. There are many online resources you can use, such as West Coast Seeds’ regionalized, online planting charts at www.westcoastseeds. com.

Other things you may want to think about are whether or not the seed is certified organic, and whether or not it is coming from heirloom varieties. Organic gardening has several benefits, such as higher vitamin and mineral content, disease and pest resistance, weed competitiveness, and drought resistance. Heirloom varieties are open pollinated, will reproduce themselves through seed, and will grow true to type.

Once you have thought about all of this and decided what vegetables and annuals you would like to grow this year, the next step is choosing the company you would like to purchase from.

Here are a few local, and other, suggestions to get you started:

West Coast Seeds was established in 1983 by Mary Ballon, a nursing instructor at the University of British Columbia. This Vancouver company offers over 800 varieties of untreated, organic, and non GMO, non GEO, hybrid, and heirloom seed. Though the company changed hands in 2014 they remain committed to sourcing and distributing top quality seed that has not been treated with insecticides, fungicides, or other chemicals.

Salt Spring Seeds, founded 30 years ago by Dan Jason, grows all of its own seed and sells only from its most recent harvest. All seeds are untreated, open-pollinated, and non GMO. In his latest book, The Power of Pulses, Jason emphasizes the need to feed the world through “clean food and water instead of continuing to play havoc with the health and well-being of ourselves and all the earth’s creatures”.

William Dam Seed is an Ontario based company that was founded in the 40s. All
seed is untreated, but not necessarily organic. William Dam sources its seed from growers all over the globe and remains committed to sustainable agriculture. “At William Dam Seeds we believe that we all can make a difference in the world. Whether it be in improving the world with sustainable agriculture, disaster relief work and community building in developing countries, by growing a row for the local food bank, or educating the next generation of gardeners,” William Dam Jr., current president.

Baker Creek Seeds was founded in 1998 by Jere Gettle. Based in Missouri, the company boasts the largest selection of non GMO and heirloom varieties in the U.S. If you are cultivating large crops, this is a company worth looking into. They offer greater volume than most other suppliers and see themselves as a tool to promote and preserve European and Asian agriculture and culinary heritage. Baker Creek supplies free seeds to many of the world’s poorest countries, as well as to school gardens and other educational projects within the U.S.

Tamu Miles, Novelist, blogger, and employee at Dinter Nursery