It's time to order seeds

KINGMAN - If you're on the mailing list, all the new seed catalogs have arrived. That means winter is half over, and spring is just around the corner. It also means it's time to get your seed order in so you have the seeds like peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and other favorites ready to start. Remember, we need to plant vegetables, which we transplant six weeks before the last frost date.

Seed companies

There are so many seed companies it is hard to choose just one, and I don't.

One of the reasons for keeping a garden notebook is to keep track of which seed varieties from which company works better for you. Each year you should write down where you purchased the seeds from and what variety. If you were not satisfied with your results, simply try a different company or different variety.

Keep in mind the growing conditions in our segment of the United States is very different in comparison to the growing conditions in the majority of the states. Read carefully, look for seeds that do well under drought conditions, are disease resistant, and have short growing periods.

Speaking of growing periods, remember maturity is from the time you transplant, not from the time you start the seed. This is true for vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, egg plant, etc., but not for seeds you directly plant in the soil, such as carrots, spinach, and squash.

Bottom line: check out more than one seed catalog or seed company and compare. It's not always necessary to purchase brand names. Some of the smaller regional seed sources have special varieties best suited to our region.

Pay attention to the number of seeds in the package. If you are trying a new variety, why buy 30 seeds for $4.95 when you could buy 20 seeds for $l.65? Most of the time there are more seeds in a package than you will be able to plant.

Buddy up with a friend or neighbor. Check the shipping cost, many times it costs as much shipping to purchase one package as it does to purchase 10 or more, another reason to buddy up. Go online and type in "vegetable seeds" or "flower seeds." If you do not have access to the internet, the Extension Office has a printed list of seed companies. Yes, I have favorites, but I cannot endorse a specific company or companies.

What's the difference between organic, heirloom and hybrid seeds?

Organic seeds

USDA definition of organic in the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 is "produced and handled without the use of synthetic chemicals." Also, "not produced on land on which any prohibited substances, including synthetic chemicals, have been applied during the three years immediately preceding harvest of the agricultural product." In addition, this act contains regulations for certifying operations as organic. In short, organic seeds must be produced and handled by certified organic farmers, and they must not be treated with synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers.

Hybrid seeds

A hybrid is a cross between two different plant varieties to get valued attributes of each variety. They are the result of breeders who deliberately engineer new varieties of plants by combining the most desirable characteristics of parent plants, such as disease resistance, greater productivity, longer shelf life, uniformity, and improved color. Because of the way in which hybrids are developed, the process is labor intensive.

Hybrids cannot be saved from year to year because they have been crossed between two separate varieties, as the seed produced from those plants will either be sterile or start to revert back to the parent plant.

Heirloom seeds

There are heirloom seeds that date back to the 18th century, but there is no "exact" definition for this term. In fact, there have been entire books dedicated to this subject and still there is no agreement between gardeners as to what constitutes an heirloom. Even experts cannot agree on whether a seed needs to be in existence for over 50 or 100 years old before it can be classified heirloom.

What is agreed on is heirlooms are always open-pollinated cultivars or cultivated plants. This means that if the seeds produced from the plant are properly saved, they will produce the same variety year after year. In my opinion, heirlooms surpass hybrids by far in flavor, and some believe they ripen slower and are less disease resistant. I'll wait a little longer and watch a little more carefully to get that flavor.

In conclusion, I believe gardening should be fun. So why restrict yourself. Choose varieties that appeal to you, keep growing your favorites, but include a few new ones each year. You may find a new, better variety of a vegetable you like even more.