How To Read A Vegetable Seed Packet

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To learn to grow your own food, you must first learn how to sow seeds.

Starting your first garden and especially sowing your first seed can be daunting especially when the seed companies use different designs and information. Some seed packets are literally a small plastic bag with the seed name on it and expiry date.

Others may give you a wealth of information from when to sow those seeds, the best conditions to provide and the best tips from the seed companies to really help your seed thrive. When you add this different approach to the add issues of so many methods and techniques to master, how do you know where to start?

You start by learning to read a seed packet

Reading the information on a seed packet can be confusing when there’s so much variation from company to company. I’m going to explain the most common information to look out for to help you get to grips with your seeds.

Why sow your own seeds?

Growing your own seeds is a simple way to grow a wide variety of plants  for very little money. There’s a bazillion reasons why sowing seeds are better than buying in big plants from;

  • saves you money
  • more control over what you grow
  • a better balance of how much to sow to meet your needs with varieties you enjoy
  • its also better for the environment
  • it’s also a lot more rewarding and Fun!

So, if you’re going to sow seeds then you need to learn how to read the information on a seed packet. It can give you lots of information to help make sowing your chosen seeds a lot easier.

How to read a seed packet

To start with, go straight to the back of the packet. Here you will find lots of information to help you.

The plants name

At the top of every seed packet  you will find your plant’s name and variety. Here you can see the plant is a Pea and the variety is Meteor.

Some times there can be a botanical name ir the plant can be labelled at F1 or F2 which means it is a hybrid variety chosen for its special qualities and reliable growing. However, these do not grow well from saved seeds so if you intend to save the seeds to grow next year. You should choose a variety that allows you to do this.

Heirloom varieties are old traditional varieties that are still grown. They tend to crop over a longer period of time instead of commercial varieties that crop in one go. They have unique qualities too such as growing taller, more flavour or disease resistance. The seeds are be grown, saved and then re-sown the next year.

12 step planning guide for your first garden

This seed packet may also tell you if your seeds will only grow for 1 year, grow over 2 years flowering in year 2 or come back every year. This is more common in flowering plants but there are a few vegetables such as asparagus that are perennial.

  • Annual. The whole life cycle takes place in one year such as these peas or courgettes.
  • Biennials. Complete their whole life cycle over 2 years, the first year growing strong roots and leaves and then the second year flowering and producing seeds
  • Perennials. Come back year after year, each year the grow their leaves, flowers and seeds before dying back over the winter before starting the process again in Spring. Strawberries and asparagus are a good example here.

On this seed packet you can also see some fantastic advice on the overall size of the plant, and the space it needs to grow, What the benefits of this variety are and when to sow and harvest it. The fact its a dwarf variety is good to know for those wanting to grow in pots or small space gardens.

A Plant description

This area gives you a basic description of the plant you want to grow. This section of the packet gives more information on how to actually sow the seeds. It tells you the depth to sow your seeds and what care they need.

This is a guide of the most common way to succeed with these seeds, however don’t be afraid to try different things. If you are growing a small salad garden for example. It might be best to sow your peas in gutters or cardboard tubes until you have space free in the ground or pot. You can still follow the depth advice.

The plant description also gives you important about caring for the seeds and when to expect the seedlings to appear. in this case its 10 to 18 days.

This packet is fantastic, it also gives tips about how to grow the peas on well and what support they might need. Placing twigs are a support for the peas to wind around even giving advice on sowing more than once to make sure your harvest can produce for as long as possible.

In most seed packets you should also be able to find information to help you work out how to,

  • whether to start them indoors or outdoors
  • If you need to grow your plant in sunshine or shade
  • how much water the plant will need
  • what depth to sow seeds
  • when the plant should be harvested
  • top tips from the seed company. 

The bottom of you packet…

The bottom of the packet shows you when the seeds were packaged and when to sow them by. Some seeds last almost forever and others like parsnip seeds are best to be bought new each year.

Try to use the seeds within the time as they have been tested and showed a decline in effectiveness the longer they are past the use by date. However, in the past I have used out of date seeds to sow indoors over winter as microgreens or in our salad bowl gardens. This means sowing them thickly so if a few refuse to germinate its not a big deal.

You will also notice on this seed packet it has a botanical name squeezed in right at the bottom. This is usually beside the plant name at the top but its handy to know as it helps you ensure you have the correct variety. It makes finding more information about that variety a lot easier.

You can also look at the front of your seed packet

On the front, you will usually find a close up picture of the variety you have chosen. I feel it would be better having a picture that shows you more of the growing plant and not just the crop. It is still useful to give you an idea of what your crop should look like.

There’s is also a picture of the seedling of this plant on the reverse which is useful when sowing a lot of seeds. You know which are weed seeds and which are the seeds you want. You don’t want to be weeding out you pea seeds and have nothing to show for your effort.

This is a simple guide to what information you might find on your seed packets. So,  next time you want to grow something make sure you read through the seed packets first and note the information you need to remember on your 12 Steps to your first veg garden ‘Plant info sheets. You can download yours here

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