Seed Catalog Savvy (cont)
By: Kathy Bond Borie
You can get good deals on seed, but, in general, you get what you pay for. Seed advertised as the cheapest could be low priced because it has a minimum germination rate or low purity. The germination rate is the percentage of seeds in a batch that germinated during testing, and this can vary depending on how the seed is harvested and stored. Purity reflects the degree to which the seeds in the batch are from plants that exactly match the variety description. Seeds with a high germination rate and high purity are costlier to produce, and the costs are often passed along in the price of the seed. For this same reason, hybrid seed is often costlier than open-pollinated seed. Some of this information may be on the seed packet itself; this varies depending on the company.
Save money on seed by purchasing packets that contain fewer seeds. Some companies, such as Pinetree Garden Seeds, specialize in small seed packets. Most of its seed packets cost less than a dollar, and many of them still contain more seeds than you'll probably use. You can buy enough seed for a 6-foot-square bed of 'Bloomsdale' spinach for only 40 cents. Or consider buying from companies, such as Johnny's Selected Seeds, Park Seed, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, that offer resealable packets. This makes saving seed from one season to the next more convenient.
You can also save money by limiting the number of companies you order from, since most charge a few dollars for shipping and handling. If you order only one or two packets from a company, you may find that shipping and handling cost more than the seeds themselves. Or consider a company such as Ferry-Morse, which offers free shipping on orders over $10. Most gardeners can exceed that amount, even after reason takes over.
One thing all seed companies have in common is the desire for your loyalty. Virtually every company offers a money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied with the seeds. Beyond that, many provide customer assistance from experienced gardeners. Toll-free numbers or on-line resources are a bonus if you have questions. Take advantage of a company's expertise, and by all means let it know if you have a problem with seeds or service.
Kathy Bond Borie is Co-Director of Educational Media for National Gardening.
Photography by John Goodman