JoAnne Skelly: Tips about seeds

Every viable seed is a mini-miracle of genetics and food supply because each is a potential plant. Sometimes we take seeds for granted and simply buy any packet of seeds. With more than 100 seed companies in the United States, there are many options.

When purchasing seeds, consider whether you want to buy seeds that are heirloom, hybrid, non-GM (genetically modified), organic, sustainably or traditionally produced. The term heirloom often refers to plant varieties grown before World War II or more than 40 years old. You can collect and save seeds from these plants year to year and will get a plant almost identical to the parent. Heirlooms often do not have the disease resistance of hybrids and might not yield as well as hybrids. Hybrids came into prominence in the 1950s because of their disease resistance, conformity and consistent sizes. These factors enhanced marketability and ease of shipping. Hybrid seeds are produced commercially and have to be purchased year to year because saved hybrid seeds rarely produce a plant like the parent. Some people believe heirloom varieties taste better. Some people want the predictability and success rate of hybrids they are used to.

A seed packet provides important information besides the name, variety, plant description and planting directions such as depth, spacing or light requirements. F1 indicates a first-generation hybrid. F2 is a second-generation hybrid. OP means it is open-pollinated and that the seed was collected from parent plants, heirloom in other words. Look for disease resistance information on the packet: V – verticillim wilt; F – fusarium wilt; N – nematodes; and TMV – tobacco mosaic virus. These diseases can decimate a crop. Note the number of days to harvest. Our growing season varies by microclimate throughout western Nevada, but the average frost-free time is from mid-May to mid-September. Plants with fewer days to harvest work best here.

Some important tips include buying seed packed for the current year for the best germination percentage. Also, look for traits that are important to you. Plant seeds at the correct depth and with the right spacing. Check out days to germination so you will know when to expect seedlings to emerge. Do you need to start the seeds indoors or can you direct seed outside?

In case you would like to buy vegetable transplants ready to go, the Greenhouse Project Plant sale is 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 13 on the east side of Carson High School. Enter off Saliman Road at the south end of the school.

JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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