Want to have successful sprouting plants? Buy seeds where producers buy seeds.
I’ve been to several small organic farms in various states, spent time in college horticulture departments, and have heard from various county extension agents. You know what they all don’t do? They don’t buy their seeds from a big display at a store where you can also get a bunch of nails and caulk. They buy them directly from professional seed companies.
Most of us probably don’t know any different. I sure didn’t until my Extension Agent told me otherwise. The two main reasons why we don’t purchase seeds directly from professional seed companies is cost of the product, and availability.
For the price conscious among you it could be tempting to go the cheap route. Seeds packets can be expensive. Some may be $3, $4, or more each for a packet of seeds and that adds up quick when re-sowing a garden. So why pay that when you can pay $.99 at a big box store? Quality. There are hidden costs to a cheap packet of seeds that include time, effort, and maybe more money, because you chose a lesser quality product.
Secondly, we buy generic seeds from retail stores because, “If its in the garden section then its good for my garden, right?” Not necessarily. On a recent beach trip we stopped in at a dollar store for some emergency flip-flops and found an old display case of generic seeds tucked away in the back. Without doing the research, there is no way of knowing if those seeds would actually work well in growing conditions specific to that area: high winds, sand, and salt. Buyer beware.
To get this out of the way, there is a federal law that regulates how seeds are labeled and transported to help the consumer. This means seed companies have to print accurate information on their seed packets, and maintain a certain threshold of quality, measured in germination rates. This is a minimum. However, that doesn’t mean the seed packets have been taken care of by store-employees, are stored in climate-controlled areas, or are always rotated out for freshness as they should be by inventory control. Lastly, as I mentioned above, these display units are not necessarily particular to your area and growing zone.
And that is ok. Big box retail stores don’t work with specialty items because they don’t make any money on the 20% of people that need to purchase that special tool for their weird project. Instead, they make their money on selling to 80% of people that just need a hammer. This isn’t bad; it’s just business. But know what you are buying.
The same concept could be said about eating out. When you go to a new city, you could just eat at a national chain restaurant and get the same baby back ribs available in every other city, even though it is not a restaurant specializing in barbecue. Or, you can eat where the locals eat and get something new, exciting, and most importantly, good.
Seed companies specialize in seeds. That is what they do. They exist to sell you products that will help you grow plants where you want to grow them. Big box stores exist to sell you toilet paper, $5 movies, cheap clothes, carbonated beverages, and anything else you might need on average. They generalize. At seed companies, you’ll get all the extra information like pest resistance, varities, how to harvest your vegetables, and bonus information like that. At retail stores, the only information you’ll get is usually what was printed on the back of a seed packet. Can you grow from seeds purchased at a home improvement store, big box retail store, or even the dollar store? Sure, probably. Can you grow seeds that have been obsessively developed for quality and success for producers who make their livelihoods on that success? That is a safer bet.
In the next article in our #BlackThumb series, we’ll talk about which seed companies I prefer and why.