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BEACON Senior News

Seeds of wisdom: the local advantage in seed selection and planting

Jan 29, 2024 10:16AM ● By Bryan Reed

Now that we’ve reached over 10 hours of daylight outside, the gardening season is officially upon us! As seed catalogs are released, it’s time to make a gardening plan. 

One strategy for gardening success is opting for plant starts that are ready for the soil. Unlike germinating seeds, this approach eliminates the need for space on windowsills or kitchen tables, allowing you to assess the health and vigor of the plant before purchasing it. Numerous local garden centers and farms sell a variety of plants for transplanting. However, this convenience often comes at a higher cost, making it an excellent option for small gardens or containers but less feasible for larger plots.

For those looking to cultivate specific varieties, sizes and colors of plants, purchasing or swapping seeds is a more cost-effective alternative. Planting from seeds opens up a plethora of crop options.


If you have seeds from previous years, now is a great time to do a germination test to make sure you’re not planting dead seeds. This simple test only requires a paper towel and a container. 

Place 10-20 seeds on a towel, marking it with the variety you’re testing. Dampen the towel and roll it into a container that retains moisture but has an air gap at the top. A Parmesan cheese shaker works well for multiple tests, allowing the shaker top to be propped open for air exchange and to prevent molding. 

Place the container in a dark, warm spot—on top of the hot water heater or in a kitchen cabinet are good options—and monitor for moisture. Spritz with a water mister if the towel dries out.

Around the anticipated germination date, usually within 7-10 days, unroll the paper towel and count the germinated seeds. You can roll it back up and give it an extra day or two to confirm all viable seeds have sprouted. If you have 85-100% germination, plant the seeds freely. For a 50% germination rate, plant two seeds per hole. A 30% germination rate means three seeds in a hole and 10% or less germination means time to buy new seeds. Better to know now than after planting them!

When it comes to seed selection, there are two options: hybrid and heirloom varieties. 

Hybrids came about by choosing the traits we like in crop varieties and then breeding them with other desirable traits, including resistance to diseases. However, due to their mixed genetics, saving hybrid seeds can be a gamble, as the offspring may express characteristics from two or three generations ago, which may not be what you desire in that crop. 

Heirloom seeds, on the other hand, offer stable genetics that have been passed down through generations. They are preferred for seed saving because their genetics remain consistent. The downside is that heirloom seeds can be susceptible to diseases, and they mature at varying rates. Additionally, they might require full ripeness during harvesting for full flavor. While these challenges can be managed by home gardeners, they present hurdles in large-scale production farming.


The next important decision lies in where to buy seeds. Currently, there is a significant push for localized seeds. Researchers from Colorado State University have been conducting variety trials in collaboration with national seed companies and local seed producers. 

Local seeds, originating from crops adapted to our unique climate, hard water and heavy soils are gaining prominence. Unlike most seed companies that source from producers across the country, with popular regions being Washington, Oregon and Wisconsin—none of which share similar growing conditions with Colorado—local seeds offer a tailored solution.

Additionally, opting for local seeds bolsters our local food supply by supporting producers in our area (contributing to economic sustainability) and by promoting crops that grow well in our region without extra water or fertilizer (contributing to environmental sustainability). 

Ongoing research is exploring aspects such as plant growth rates, first blossom set dates, harvest quantities, fruit size and overall plant vigor from both national and local seed suppliers. It’s promising to witness local seeds consistently outperforming nationally purchased seeds for the same crops. 


Send your gardening questions to Bryan in care of the BEACON, or email him at [email protected]