Seeds or starts? Measuring success…

July. Everything is blooming, producing, ripening. Every day is harvest day. In addition to the constant filling of baskets and prepping the bounty for dining or preserving, it is a great time to assess the harvest and the choices I made earlier in the year.

In spring, the seductive seed catalogues and racks of seedlings in the garden shops make it easy to over-shop. I used to come home with more seeds and starts than I needed, and was often disappointed with my choices. Now, I take a somewhat more disciplined approach, although I still succumb to the instant gratification of bedding plants.

During the growing and harvest periods I consider the yield, health of the plant, flavour and colour of the product. Does this variety deserve precious garden space next year? Did it produce well? Do we like the flavour/texture/size? The Warba potatoes yielded well, but I harvested them too late and they are huge – not the nuggets I love. A lesson for next year. I buy my seed potatoes from a nearby organic farm, and am always happy with the results. I planted three varieties of garlic. Two performed poorly, and the third variety produced big bulbs that were damaged by soil fungus. I will plant that variety again, but in a different part of the garden.

I grow snow peas, snap peas and shelling peas from seed. Robert says he doesn’t like peas, but the fresh snow peas disappear as quickly as I pick them. I don’t like this variety – the plants are bristling with tendrils and the flavour is bland. Robert loves them. I may plant them again as they were trouble-free with high yields and have a fan. Personally, I prefer the Oregon Sugar Pod varieties of snap peas, but sometimes the plants are unwieldy and require extensive staking.

I grow West Coast Seeds beet blend – high yield, great flavour. Other varieties have not done as well in my garden. However, I don’t grow carrots. There are too many wire worms in some of my beds, and carrots don’t perform well here. Trial and error. I love rutabagas, but for the third year in a row I have had limited success and may not plant them in the future.

Growing from seed is much cheaper than purchasing starts (seedlings) and you can grow the varieties you want. The varieties available in starts tends to be limited to known performers from the nurseries’ perspective; good germination and steady growth. However, they may not be the highest yielding or best tasting options. And they may not be best-suited for your growing conditions. When I buy starts it is usually because I only want a few plants (brussels sprouts) or don’t have good success growing from seed (artichokes). I don’t buy starts from some large chain stores, as they can be treated with pesticides, and prefer plants from local nurseries that are better suited to our climate. We are fortunate to live near farms that sell organically-grown seedlings.

If non-GMO or organic is important to you, take care in your choice of seeds and starts. Be sure your choices are suitable to your growing conditions, and don’t be afraid to experiment with new varieties. West Coast Seeds is my go-to for most things – they are non-GMO seeds that have been selected for the coastal climate and their catalogue is full of great gardening tips. Full Circle Seeds is a local source of organic seeds that always perform well.

In assessing the garden’s performance during harvest, I hope to make better choices next spring when the seed catalogues are full of eye-candy and the garden shops are calling my name.