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With only a month of winter left and spring fast approaching I know many of you are already looking forward to those yummy tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and zucchini just to mention a few spring time garden delights. But one of the truths about farming or gardening is that what you harvest and how much of it is determined long before you even plant the first seed. This month I want to provide some hard learned lessons on how to choose what to plant in your garden.

If you are like me when I first started gardening I couldn’t wait to run down to the local hardware store or big box store to see what vegetable seeds had come out. When selecting your seeds there are several considerations you need to make. The first consideration is what type of seeds you want to use. If you want an organic garden then this is a simple decision, you need organic seeds. If you are not concerned about organic then simple untreated seed will do fine. You can also buy treated seed which generally has a colored chemical coating applied to the seed which is an anti-fungal substance to keep the seed from rotting in the ground before it sprouts. These are a big no-no for organic gardeners.

Another area of consideration is whether you want to use heirloom seeds which are all the rage now in gardening or hybrid seeds. Heirloom seeds offer you the opportunity to save seed because the seed will always provide you with the same plant and vegetable as the parent plant. Hybrids on the other hand are a seed produced by breeding two different varieties of a plant to get a certain desirable trait like flavor or disease resistance. The downside to hybrids is that if you save seed many times you will not get the same plant the next season. They may convert back to one of the parent plants. The down side to heirlooms in Florida in my experience is they often do not have the disease resistance or productivity levels of hybrids in our humid, hot Florida climate. So you need to choose based on your goals for your garden. In either case neither of these should be confused with GMO (genetically modified) seed. That is a topic for another time.

Once you have settled on the type of seed you want to use, now you can choose which kinds of vegetables you want to grow. When doing this it is critical you also consider the variety. Not all varieties of one kind of seed do well in one geographic location. One may grow well here in west Volusia County while it may do poorly in Orlando or along the beaches. This often involves trial and error testing. Each year we try new varieties of seeds to determine what the best ones for our location are. Often the varieties in the local stores are not the best choices. They are sent out from a central distribution center and stores all across the region get the same seeds. I have seen seeds in the stores that I know are suited for northern climates but will do poorly here. The same is true for fruit trees, seedlings and many other plants.

My suggestion is you find a seed company on line that you can have confidence in and order from them. Often they have specialists who can give you recommendations for where you live. My recommendation is either Johnny Seeds, High Mowing Seed (all organic) or Southern Seed Exchange. In addition a good seed company will test and provide you with germination rates on the seeds. After all it does no good to plant the seed if it doesn’t come up. The companies I have mentions all test their seed. A Minimum acceptable level of germination is considered to be 80%. There are of course many other seed companies you can work with but these are the ones we have the most experience with.

Having said that let me share with you some of the varieties we have found do well in our area and where you can get them.

  • Johnny Select Seeds: Green Beans (Pole) – Fortex, Beets (Golden)-Touchtone Gold, Broccoli – Arcadia, Cucumber – Marketmore, Lettuce – New Red Fire, Nevada, Starfighter,Summer Squash (yellow straight necked) – Gentry, Swiss Chard- Bright Lights, Tomatoes – Charger, Cherry Tomatoes – Black Cherry, Zucchini – Dunja
  • High Mowing Organic Seed: Cabbage – Impala, Carrots – Napoli, Cucumbers – Marketmore 76, Swiss Chard – Rainbow Blend. This is not an exhaustive list and other varieties may do well for you but these are the ones we have found work well for us.

For more information on Common Ground Farm visit us at CGOFarm.com or attend one of our free tours held each Saturday at 10am (No reservation needed). Happy planting and remember today is a good day to have a good day.