Many of us remember the day we could stroll into a dime store and buy a packet of seeds for less than a dollar. In dollar stores, you may still be able to buy very cheap garden seeds, but they will have a low germination rate and won’t be the newest or choicest variety of whatever plant those seeds produce.
Seed prices have shot up, so it’s no longer a case of “plant the whole pack, seeds are cheap.” Some seeds are more costly than others of the same variety (same vendor) because they’re pelleted or treated with anti-fungal chemicals. Other varieties are more expensive because they’re recently bred and stabilized. It’s only right that the breeder should get extra pay for his or her work. If you receive “treated” seeds (usually colored a weird color, purple, electric blue, etc.), be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling those seeds.
Other seeds are more costly because the wholesale prices have risen. They’re bound to rise, with the increasing monopoly among seed sellers/pesticide vendors. For the past ten years, six companies have controlled 75 percent of the world’s seed and pesticide business, then two agreed to merge (Dow and DuPont), making it five companies. As of this writing, a Chinese company wanted to buy Syngenta (#3 in seeds, #1 in pesticides). The Chinese company, ChemChina, was number 7 in global pesticides.
If these mergers are permitted, the field narrows further. One connection between pesticides or synthetic chemicals is that they may be used to “trigger” genetic engineering in some seeds. The trigger for the “Terminator” seeds – those whose plants set sterile seeds – was tetracycline.
How does the home gardener cope? Saving our own seeds is an obvious answer. Saving seeds of annual food or ornamental crops is usually easy, but saving seeds for biennial or perennial crops is harder, since the plant must survive one of our winters to produce seeds the following year. Not just one plant, but at least three of the same variety if you’re saving seeds from cole crops such as broccoli, kale, collards, etc., to avoid inbreeding.
If you’re saving your own food seeds, lay hands on Suzanne Ashworth’s “Seed to Seed” for information on isolation, blossom bagging or caging to prevent cross pollination. Another good resource that includes collecting seeds from ornamentals is “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds” by Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough. Both also have innovative ways of collecting seeds from biennials that may not survive our winters.
Having seen photos of screen cages used at the Seed Savers farm in Decorah, Iowa, we built cages covered with fiberglass screen for chile plants. Chile blossoms are self-fertile, no insect required, but apparently the screen was blocking too much wind for extensive pollination. I could see I wasn’t getting a large crop of pods. As I studied one plant, I noticed a very determined bee tunnel under the cage and rise to the blossoms. That was the end of my caging efforts.
Saving your own seeds means you’re saving money, acclimating that crop to this area, and if you save the best of the best seeds, producing a superior variety of food, in time a landrace.
Not all seed vendors have gone sky-high with prices, though. Pinetree Garden Seeds has offered inexpensive seeds, most priced less than $2 per pack, admittedly including fewer seeds per pack than other vendors. Of late, though, many other vendors are including fewer and fewer seeds in each pack, so Pinetree amounts don’t seem small any more.
Other modestly-priced seed companies include Nichols Garden Nursery, Fedco, J.L. Hudson, and Sand Hill Preservation Center. Gurney’s used to be cheap, but beware. I see they’re charging $9.99 for a packet of Romanesco cauliflower seeds. Seeds from Italy charge a little over $3 per packet, but those are European packets of seeds, much more generous than any U.S. seed packet.
Snake River seeds has a good and growing variety of seeds available, at ca. $3 per pack. The number of seeds is generous, and the main advantage is that they already have been grown for a year in our area, so beginning to acclimate. They have seed racks in several locations in this valley.
Send garden questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.