Vegetable Garden Seed Question, by Jeff Rugg

Q: Can you suggest a way to buy good vegetable seeds? I can’t afford to get a lot of plants, so I buy seeds. There are several brands at each store, and I don’t know which will grow best for me. I always seem to have low success rates because of disease problems.

A: Plant varieties that have won an All-America Selections award should do well. Only the entries with the highest nationwide average score are considered to be worthy of a national AAS Award. Some vegetable varieties grow better in a hot, dry climate while others prefer a cool, humid region. The country is divided into six regions, and a variety that grows best in a specific climate might win one or more regional AAS awards. Vegetables are judged for such traits as earliness to harvest, total yield, fruit taste, fruit quality, ease of harvest, plant habit and disease and pest resistance.

When you see the red, white and blue logo of All-America Selections on seed packets, bedding plant tags or in catalogs, you can expect that plant to do well in your garden. Even AAS winners from several years ago are more likely to prove successful than nonwinners. They have had to do well at test sites all across the continent to win, and to do that they have to have some disease resistance.

Another good designation to look for on the label is “F1 hybrid”. This signifies a cross that is usually very vigorous and produces the most flowers or fruit. One of the best ways to cut down on the use of pesticides in the garden is to use varieties of plants that are resistant to insects and disease. Each year new varieties are released, so check the seed package label for information.

At first glance, the information on a vegetable seed package can be confusing. In reality, by reading the package, you will become an expert on that plant. The first thing you will notice is the picture. If it is a food, then the edible part is shown, and if it is an ornamental then the pretty part is pictured.

If the plant has any special disease resistance, it will be mentioned. Tomatoes that are resistant to fusarium will have a letter F behind the name, and as there is more than one kind of fusarium resistance, there may be more than one F, or it may be listed as F1, F2 and so on. Tomatoes can also be resistant to verticillium wilt (V), nematodes (N), tobacco mosaic virus (T) and alternaria (A).

The package will describe the best methods of growing the seeds. It will say where and when the seeds should be direct sown into the garden or started earlier indoors. It will list the proper temperature in each of these situations. It will tell you at what depth to plant the seeds, the proper spacing and if the seeds need to be exposed to light or dark conditions for best germination. The number of days it takes for the seeds to germinate may be listed. The number of days to harvest after planting seeds or small plants in the garden will be listed.

There may be a map on the package describing the best time to plant and grow the vegetables in your region. It may list how many days before or after the last frost date the seeds need to be sown in the spring, and how many days before or after the first frost date that the seeds need to be sown in the fall.

If the plant is an F1 hybrid, the seeds grown from this plant will not duplicate the parents. If the package states the plant is open-pollinated, it may have an OP on the label. If the package states that the plant is an heirloom variety or that it is open-pollinated, it will come back true to type year after year from the seeds collected by the gardener. F1 hybrids will not come back true to type from seeds collected by the gardener.

Email questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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