Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Starting a frugal garden, Part 1: How to find cheap sources of heirloom seeds

Four years ago when we were preparing for our first spring here, I enthusiastically surveyed seed catalogs online and placed an order for over $65 worth of heirloom seeds. The idea of growing different varieties of heirloom plants appealed to me, and while I was very happy with my seeds, I have since come to realize that there are much cheaper ways to buy them. Heirloom seeds are all the rage now, and for good reason: unlike hybrid seeds, you can save the seeds produced by the plant for next year's garden.

I have found great heirloom varieties for 20 - 25 cents a pack at places like the Dollar Tree and Walmart, but a few weeks ago I also found a display at Menards for Valley Green seeds at 10 cents a package. They are normally 25 cents, which is also a good deal, but for 10 cents, I had no trouble picking out 14 different vegetables and flowers. As I looked up each variety, I discovered that they were all heirloom, open-pollinated varieties, which means that the seeds they produce can be saved for years to come.

Here are some of the varieties I bought:

Chicago Pickling Cucumbers
Red Corn Poppies
Vates Collards
Cherry Tomato (variety not specified except that it says heirloom)
Gray Stripe Sunflowers

My square foot garden two years ago. At the time I took this, I was around 8 months pregnant, my husband was graduating from law school, and he had yet to find a job. I was so glad to have this garden as an encouragement. 
Some people argue that the size of these seed packages are smaller than typical packages, or that the seeds may not be as high quality. So far, I have not found either of these things to be an issue. For one, I don't really need to plant 250 Swiss Chard plants - 4 to 8 will do just fine, as swiss chard is something that provides a continual harvest all summer and fall.

The same goes for zucchini plants. My first year here I bought a four-pack of zucchini plants at Walmart on sale and only planted two of them - they went crazy and we had several zucchini coming in every day. Now I know that a pack of 10 zucchini seeds is more than I even need.

I have also never had an issue with the quality of the seeds. I grew Genovese basil from the Dollar Tree that grew just as good, if not better, than my seeds from Baker Creek. And again, I only need so many basil plants! I would much prefer to have a little bit of fresh seed every year than five years worth of seed that gets older each time I plant it.

Next week I will share some simple seed-starting tips that I have used to start all kinds of vegetables, herbs, and flowers in my basement under a simple workshop light, and also in milk jugs outdoors!

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