Choosing the best seeds for your garden

Now, that you have thought about the location of your garden in relation to the sun, shade, what is likely to grow, and what vegetables you like to eat, it is time to dig into the seed selection process a bit further. There are a lot of seed companies out there to choose from (with plenty on offer) and the whole choosing and ordering process can get quickly overwhelming! Knowing what you want certainly helps to simplify the garden seed search. But in order to find exactly what you want – and what is the best for saving your own future seeds, you’ll have to become familiar with how seeds are labeled.


Seeds labeled “heirloom” are saved from open-pollinated plants, which we will come to in a minute, but what makes each and every one of them stand, is their special value as an edible crop. Passed down through the generations, seeds of heirloom varieties are saved for several reasons:

  • specific/unique flavor
  • productivity
  • drought-tolerance and/or hardiness
  • adaptability

Some consider plants to be of heirloom quality if they have survived more than 50 years. Other heirlooms date back to 100, even 300 years! If you are seeking to preserve cultural heritage in your garden, heirlooms are definitely the number one way to go. With so many varieties available, it will be hard to choose!


Certified organic seeds are those cultivated using only organic gardening methods. Seeds in the United States will carry a USDA organic label, certifying that the growers have not used non-organic sprays, nor have they had anything to do with GMOs. At times you may find small growers who do grow their plants organically, yet have not found it feasible, or profitable, to pay for organic certification. If they are open about how they grow, and you trust that they are gardening out of love for the soil and saving quality seeds, then support those small companies every chance you get! When in doubt, ask questions about the growing process and use your intuition as a guide.
Once you find a trustworthy seed company, they will have a customer for life and you will have a backup plan – just in case your plants don’t grow as expected, or something goes awry with your own seed-saving techniques.


Even though heirloom seeds are always open-pollinated, open-pollinated seeds are not necessarily heirloom or organic. What this does mean, however, is that the seeds are “true-to-type”, meaning that the seeds can produce plants that both look and taste like the parent plant (provided that cross-pollination between different species does not occur). Open-pollinated seeds are an extremely important trait for those of us who want to preserve flavors that we know and love, for seasons to come.

Conventional and naturally grown

In short, conventional and naturally grown describe seeds that are not certified organic. These seeds will often be cheaper than organic and heirloom seeds, and they are most likely the kind you will find at your local hardware store or any shop selling garden seeds.
If that is all you can find locally, there is nothing wrong with starting your garden this way.
Take note, however, that if you consider your own garden to be organic, you’ll want to start with certified organic seeds, so as not to add anything conventional to the mix.
If your goal is to have totally clean vegetables, free of all toxins, it is best to refrain from planting cheaper seed stock.

Cheryl Magyar

An excerpt from  Buying Garden Seeds: Everything You Need to Know, Rural Sprout.

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