Friday, January 4, 2013

2. How To Read A Seed Catalog

Growing up on a farm and being a gardener I forget sometimes that everyone is not as familiar with gardening terms as I am. So needless to say I can not imagine the confusion of opening a gardening seed catalog and not knowing so many of the terms. I thought I would do a post and try to explain some of the more commonly used terms. These are very simple and broad definitions to some of the most used terms in a seed catalog as I understand them.

Variety In most seed catalogs today you see the term variety and cultivar used interchangeably. A variety is simply the name of a plant or version of that plant. For instance you may have many varieties of tomato. I prefer the "Brandywine" variety tomato. 

Open pollinated are seeds that will produce plants just like their parents or "true to type". This is important if you plan to save seeds as they will produce seeds that can be saved from year to year and will produce plants with the same characteristics as their parent plants.  Take that "Brandywine" tomato that I like. I save seed every year and the following year the seeds that I plant produce another plant of "Brandywine" tomatoes. If you save hybrid seeds they may come back true to the original plant but they also may not.   

Heirloom are open pollinated varieties that have been around for many years. Many heirlooms have been grown for generations. As a gardener I personally prefer heirlooms. Because I grow open pollinated heirlooms and save my seed I spend a portion on seeds and shipping every year despite planting a very large garden.  

Organic are seeds that are grown on a government inspected and certified organic farm. They are grown totally without chemical fertilizers, pesticides and treatments of any kind. Organic seeds are usually a little more expensive but if you are committed to organic growing you can always buy a small amount of organic seeds and then grow and save your own over the years.  

Hybrid the offspring of two plants of different varieties most often produced through human manipulation for specific genetic characteristics. Many hybrids today are a product of years of breeding and research by seed companies and universities to produce plants that are resistant to certain diseases or have traits that are desirable for improved shipping , taste and shelf life. Hybrid seeds are usually more expensive than open pollinated and seeds saved may not come back true to variety.  

Pelleted seeds are simply small seeds such as carrots that are coated with a white clay material to make them easier to see and plant. Once planted the seed coating melts exposing the seed below. 

Annual A true annual is a plant that completes its life cycle in one year. This means it goes from seed to seed and then dies off, during the course of one growing season. The whole mission of an annual is to produce fruit, seed and propagate. Most common garden vegetables are annuals.

Biennial takes two years to complete its life cycle. During the first season after sowing, it produces leaves. It then overwinters and the following year produces flowers. Beets, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, collards, endive, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, onions, parsley, parsnip, rutabaga, salsify and turnips are all biennial vegetables.

Perennial is a plant that lives for more than two years. The term is often used to differentiate a plant from shorter lived annuals and biennials. Perennial vegetables include garlic chives, asparagus and rhubarb.

GMO's  according to Wikipedia are plants, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering techniques, to resist pests and agents causing harm to plants and to improve the growth of these plants to assist in farmers efficiency. In most cases the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in this species. Examples include resistance to certain pests, diseases or environmental conditions, or the production of a certain nutrient or pharmaceutical agent. 

I personally prefer to steer clear of all GMO's if at all possible because of a concern for health safety. I also believe that they should be required to be labeled clearly in all food products no matter how small the quantity under all circumstances. That is my personal choice.

Please feel free to share any questions or seed catalog terms that you personally have had problems understanding in the past.

Tomorrow's post: How to determine which variety is right for you.

Blessings from The Holler

The Canned Quilter


  1. By the time we are done reading your info posts on gardening we all should be pros . Excellent info .Thanks for sharing ! Have a great day !

  2. Once again, thank you for the information. Very much appreciated.

  3. Thanks for this post, CQ. Annual, Biennial and Perennial have always confused me.

    I agree with you about GMO's, too..
    Have a blessed weekend!


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