When you’re learning to grow plants from seeds, the information on the seed packets can be overwhelming—or too vague. Plus, the information you are looking for might be anywhere on the packet. In my ideal world, every seed company would work together to come up with a standard format. But for now, I’ll show you how to find what you need to know.
If you want to know when it’s too late to start seeds, this shows you what you need to know.
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Seed Packet Wisdom
While I wouldn’t rule out a seed company just because the package is lacking info (there are lots of great seed companies with somewhat unconventional packaging!), I sure wish they were more helpful. When you’ve got the packet in your hand and you’re ready to plant, you want complete information at your fingertips.
I’ll walk you through this Burpee seed packet (it’s a good one) and show you what I look for. If your seed packet is missing any key info, you’ll want to get it before you start planting.
How to Read Seed Packets
Let’s start with the front of this packet for Burpee Allsweet Watermelons. I’ve marked the important areas A, B, C, D.
A. Oblong type – tells you what shape this watermelon will be.
B. Burpee – (Company name) I like to know who the seed grower and distributor are. Read up on seed companies and find ones you like. I have a list of online seed sellers I like here. My top choice is local, organic seed growers. This way I know the seeds are appropriate for my gardening zone, and the plants have been successful in organic gardens (like mine). Also, if seeds are truly organic, they are not genetically-modified (GMO).
C. Watermelon Allsweet – The beauty of growing your own fruits and veggies is diversity: the variety of choices. Many types of fruits and vegetables available from seed (and from seed banks) are not actually sold in grocery stores. Modern agricultural practices favour growing fewer varieties on a mass scale, with the emphasis on ship-a-bility and shelf-life over flavour. We miss out on some much delicious food this way.
Take your time and learn about all the choices available for your area. At some point you’ll stumble upon some heirloom varieties that will become garden essentials.
D. USDA Organic – Again, this is a standard I look for: organic or equivalent to organic (some excellent growers do not apply for organic certification). Also, one thing that varies greatly between companies is how many seeds you get for your money. Unless the number of seeds is provided on the packet, it’s nearly impossible to tell based on the weight listed unless you are really familiar with the seeds and can estimate the quantity that way.
Here’s the back of this seed packet:
This is where Burpee is really helpful:
E. Traits This description tells you what to expect with this type of watermelon: how large it should get, what it will taste like, and the fact that it’s resistant to two common problems: fusarium wilt and anthracnose.
F. Sowing Info – When to plant the seeds (these ones are best in spring, after danger of frost has passed), how far apart to plant the seeds, how to tuck them in (“cover with 1″ of fine soil”), and when to expect them to pop up (germinate). That’s a lot of good information packed into a few sentences.
Some seed packets also list germination rates, which is very helpful for fussy seeds. For example, a germination rate of 80% means that for every 10 seeds you plant, you should expect 8 of them to actually sprout.
G: Diagram – Seed companies that show picture instructions win big points with me. It’s a quick way to understand that:
- The watermelons will need full sun.
- The seeds are planted 1″ deep.
- You can put 2-3 seeds near each other in a group.
- From the time the seeds have sprouted, it will be 90-104 days until you can harvest the fruit.
This last bit of information about how many days it should take is essential. It tells you how late into the growing season you can safely start the seeds without risk of losing the fruits to a killing frost.
This is how you calculate it for your area:
Sample Planting Schedule
10 days for seeds to germinate
+ 104 days for the watermelon to mature
= 114 days from seed to table.
Look up the typical first frost date where you live (example: October 1).
Count back 114 days (example: October 1 minus 114 days = June 9).
The latest you could safely start the watermelon seeds is June 9 (unless you have polytunnels or some other way of extending the season).
And, with this sowing date in mind, make sure your crop likes that planting time. We know the watermelons can be started in spring after last frost so they’ll be fine in June (where I live). Some crops such as peas and kale prefer cooler weather and are better off in the early spring or fall—always check what seed growers in your area recommend.
If a seed packet doesn’t have all this information, at least you know now what questions to ask before you start digging.
- Cheers for the seed companies that provide thorough, clear information.
- If a seed packet does not tell you what you need to know, it’s best to do your homework first.
- Make sure you like the company, their growing practices, and ensure that the seeds are appropriate for your area and non-invasive.
- Check how long the plant will take from seed to table and make sure you have enough time before first frost.
- Take note of the recommended growing conditions (including sun) to be sure the seeds will be happy in your garden.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛