Seed Selection Process Part 1: What Do I Have?

It’s January but if you are like me you’ve been rapidly perusing the seed catalogs about as fast as they come in looking for new and exciting plants for this year. It seems that each day a new plant catalog comes in the mail and I see all kinds of plants that I’d love to have in my garden, but the sad truth is I don’t have the space or the money for everything. I have to think and plan ahead and now is the best time to start that process.

What Seeds do I Have? Take Inventory!

The first step in my seed selection process is to figure out what I have. Ideally I would record every seed packet and envelop that I collect as I get them. Whether it is laziness or a state of perpetual busyness that just doesn’t happen.

My alternative is to spend a couple hours cataloging everything I have sometime during the winter and well before I need to order seeds. I accomplished this monumental task the other day and was astounded at the amount of seed I’ve collected some of it dating back to 2003 when I gardened on our back porch in a pot garden. (Nothing illegal there, I promise!) The likelihood that the 2003 seed is still viable is low but some seeds can remain viable for long periods of time.

Oragnize the Seeds

When going through my seeds I did a couple of things to make it easy to figure out what to order later. First I categorized the seeds by vegetables, herbs, and ornamentals. I also made a category for collected seeds which includes the various seeds I’ve gathered and stored myself. This made four easy categories to group my seeds into.

Names and Notes

Under each category I wrote the pertinent information about each seed which included the kind of seed it was (in some cases both the common name and taxonomic name as well as the variety), the year it was purchased, and in some cases how many seeds I had left. I used the last notation for only a couple varieties where I only had a few seeds remaining. That will just help me to figure out if I want to purchase more of that variety again to restock.

Discoveries and Realizations

In the end I tallied up enough seeds to cover 5 notebook pages from top to bottom with 114 kinds of seed.  Most of what I have is vegetable seeds but I had a surprising amount of ornamentals and herbs.  Many of the ornamentals were gathered from plants and not purchased which is a great way to maintain an economical garden

How does this help me?  If I look at the tomatoes I can count 8 varieties of seed that I can plant already in my collection: Big Boy, Brandywine, Viva Italia (Roma), Roma VFN, Better Boy, Beefmaster, and Supersweet 100 VF.  After looking at my notes I can see that the Roma VFN and Better Boy came from 2004-2005 and I only have 7 seeds left of the Brandywine. 

Since I have the Viva Italia in my collection I don’t need to worry about the Romas not being viable and since we have the Big Boy variety I’m not worried about the Better Boy.  They aren’t exactly the same but I didn’t plant the Better Boy at all last year and really didn’t miss them! 

My only concern with the tomatoes is the Brandywine seeds, with only 7 seeds I may need more.  Not necessarily for myself but I like to grow a few extras to give away, and the Brandywines tasted great last year.  By looking at my notes I can see that I may need more Brandywine seeds (which are heirloom tomatoes) and I may want to experiment with some new tomato variety.

If I can possibly get more organized (don’t we all say that!) I can get my notebook together and actually write important information about the varieties of seed.  Notations and details could be very helpful like: “Brandywine is a late performer”, “attracted bugs”, “produces more squash than we can eat, plant fewer,” or “so good the neighbor ran off with the tomato crop in the dead of night, set up alarm system next year”.

Now that I know what I have I can move to the next step in my seed selection process!

8 thoughts on “Seed Selection Process Part 1: What Do I Have?”

  1. Now that’s what I call A+ organizational skills. I couldn’t do that if my heirloom tomatoes depended on it! Wait a sec, let me re-think that…as good as they taste, maybe I could, or should! We usually start going through our seed boxes a little later than you, next month we’ll (read: my wife) start our inventory. (I’m guessing you know the damp paper towel seed viablility test.)

  2. Good Grief! That’s alot of work, I’m sure you are pleased that you went ahead and started getting prepared for spring. I thought I had a lot of seeds. Great job, can’t wait to watch them grow with you!

  3. TC,

    I figured that the earlier the better to get a handle on the seed collection. I may not have time later as I have some work in mind to accomplish before the growing season begins! The damp paper towel viability test is a good one although I usually just plant stuff and see if they come up!


    They won’t all go in the ground. I’ll see what I can fit in the vegetable garden. I’m hoping to expand it a little this year. It’s not hard to accumulate 114 varieties when you buy new seed each year for several years!


    I needed to do something to help with that winter gardener’s itch problem. Just thinking about planting helps a bit!

  4. You sound pretty organized to me. All my seeds go in a tin box and when I am planting I pull them as needed. A messy system.

  5. I sorted out my seeds last night. I have 3 boxes (lunch box size) so I was worried about the amount. I sorted mine into veg, flowers and seeds I had collected from the garden. Mine too are predominantly veg packets which I have used some of. I then sorted them by when they need sowing. I have started to mark in the catalogues what I want, then I will do a short list and then a shorter list!!!!

  6. I need to do the same thing Dave. I've been gathering my order sheets from various seed catalogs and then I remember the shoe box full of seed that I purchased last fall & from the seed swap I did in December. Oops! 🙂 Nows the time to get organized, thanks for the reminder.

  7. Dave…You sound plenty organized to me! Like Tina all my seeds are in this old cookie tin! Not messy, pretty coms to mind! This year I plan to keep the seed packets for collecting the seedsat th end of their season. Seeds of Change packets are designed to keep the seeds nicely. Gail

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