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How to Read Seed Packets

Knowing what seeds to buy and when and how to plant them isn’t always obvious based on the seed packet or catalog. Learn how to read seed packets to maximize your garden potential this year, and to keep records for your specific growing zone.

Seed packets on a wire shelf.

In the current world we live in, it would be ideal to already have your seeds. So if you haven’t ordered your seeds yet, check out this post on choosing the best vegetable seeds for your garden and get them ordered ASAP (consider ordering enough for next year’s garden, too).

From there, learn when to start seeds indoors and how to start seeds indoors, as well as how to troubleshoot seed-starting problems. If you need to transplant your plants outside, you can learn how to transplant tomato, pepper and cucumber plants here.

Seed Packet Information

When reading seed packets there are a few things to know about first. But before we dive into this information, it’s our recommendation to buy as locally as possible.

If you’re trying out a new seed company, we also recommend always doing your due diligence and reading plenty of reviews. Here are our reasons for choosing Baker Creek heirloom seeds and their commitment to the Safe Seed Pledge.

It’s also important to know that different seed companies will put different information on the packets. There are no “rules” when it comes to what must be on a seed packet, which can make it difficult for new gardeners when getting started.

Because of this, we always save the paper catalog from the seed companies that we purchase seeds from each year. That way if we lose the seed packet, we can always go back and look at the catalog for more information.

Seed packets in a copper tin.

Plant Name & Variety

One of the most obvious portions of a seed packet should be the plant type and the variety. Plant types are the basic plant, such as basil, whereas the variety is unique. Just know that these varieties can sometimes change, which can add to the confusion when ordering seeds from year to year.

If you like a seed variety, keep a record of what it is and where you purchased it. That way if you go to buy that variety again next year and you can’t find it, you can contact the company with last year’s name to see if it has changed.

When it comes to herbs, knowing the latin name is crucial. Hyssop, for example has multiple varieties. When using hyssop medicinally, there’s a very specific variety that you’ll want to buy. So keep record of what these latin names are to ensure you’re buying the correct variety.

Man and woman sitting at a table, man holding up a seed catalog.

Picture or Drawing

For those new to gardening, it’s a great idea to buy seed packets that come with a picture or a drawing of what the plant should look like.

This can be especially important if you’re planting a cottage garden where it might be harder to mark what you planted where. A lot of times, when seeds sprout, they can look very similar, so once those plants start maturing, having a picture to compare the plant to can bring you confidence that you’re harvesting the intended plant.

Plant Descriptions

Plant descriptions will typically tell you how big the plant will grow (or the approximate space requirements). How deep to plant the seeds, how wide to space the rows (for market gardens). They may even specify the plant characteristics, for example, whether the zucchini plants you purchased are a vining/trellising variety or a bush variety. This is important to know because these will take up very different amounts of space in your garden and you’ll want to plan ahead for that space.

We love the seed packet companies that include this information directly on the seed packet. Some companies will have the description written on the website or in the seed catalog, but not the packet itself. In this case, we recommend jotting down that information in a notebook that you can take with you out into the garden to ensure your planting depth and seed spacing is optimal.

Furthermore, if you’re growing a trellising variety, you’ll want to have the infrastructure put in place once that plant begins to grow. We love utilizing our DIY bean tunnels to trellis plants up. They’re a very affordable option for the backyard garden.

Plant Designations

Plant designations include whether the plant is organic, a hybrid, heirloom, GMO, or open-pollinated. For more information on what all these things mean, check out our post on how to choose the best variety of seeds.

The “GMO-free” label has, in the past, just been a marketing ploy and was irrelevant because all garden seeds were GMO-free. Starting in 2024 however, the first GMO seeds are now available for sale to the home gardener so you need to know the potential ramifications of GMO seeds.

If you’re purchasing seeds grown outside the United States you’ll also want to make sure the packet has a Fair-Trade stamp.

Hardiness Zone

The hardiness zone only applies when you’re growing perennials. To know what perennials you can plant in your area, you’ll need to know which growing zone you’re in.

Before you buy the seeds, you’ll want to know if they will overwinter in your area.

You can grow the plant as an annual if there’s something you want to grow that typically doesn’t do well in your zone, just know you’ll likely need to replant it each year if it doesn’t overwinter. Though this isn’t ideal, it can be an option.

Lettuce seeds planted in rows and the seed packet in the foreground.

Planting Specifics

When to Plant

Once it’s time to plant, there are a few specifics that not all seed packet information has. When to plant is one of those pieces of information that may or may not be on the seed packet. Generally speaking, it will say something about “two weeks before the last frost”, or “after the last frost”, etc.

Seed Depth

Some other information that’s helpful to know is planting depth, spacing. There are general “rules of thumb” when planting such as “plant twice as deep as the seed is long.”

However, this doesn’t always hold true because we plant our carrot seeds deeper than that. So there are some variances even within the general rule of thumb. Learn how we plant our carrot seeds for maximum germination.

Tiny plants in seed starting pots.

Days to Germination

Knowing the days to germination is great information. If you get to day 10 and your seeds still haven’t sprouted when the germination was 4-5 days, you may need to restart your seeds.

Soil Temperature

Soil temperature is great to know, but also understand that sometimes there’s a specific temperature needed for germination and a different temperature for that plant to grow and flourish. Getting a seed to germinate, but it being too cold for that plant to grow won’t get your garden started off any faster.

A family planting seeds in a large garden.

Plant Spacing

When it comes to seed spacing, you can start with the general recommendations listed. But do know these are typically recommended for those growing in market garden formats. If you know you have very healthy soil and your soil can handle the pressure of growing crops closer together, then you can experiment with the seed spacing to fit more into a smaller space.

Spinach growing in the garden besides peas growing on a trellis.

Sun/Shade Needs

When it comes to your general vegetable garden, you’ll typically want full sun. However, when it comes to cool-weather crops like greens and brassicas, if you have some shady areas for them during the heat of the summer, this can help keep the soil cooler, extending the growing season for those plants.

It’s also important to know that partial sun and partial shade mean the same thing, but you’ll probably see them listed in different ways, so don’t let this confuse you.

If you’re working with a smaller area and you want to grow a variety of crops, it’s important to consider how big your crops will be once they’re fully grown. You wouldn’t want to plant corn next to tomatoes where the corn will shade out your tomato plants.

However, you can use this to your benefit by planting corn in front of spinach and that can work very well.

Two girls harvesting beans.

Days to Maturity

This number on the seed packet varies greatly. When the seeds are grown in a controlled environment, this is how long they’ll take to grow to maturity. However, if you have a cool spring, as we did last year or an abnormally hot summer, this number will vary.

This is the first year we’ll be writing down our own notes for how many days to maturity each plant type takes. This will be valuable information because where we live is unique to us, and where you live is unique to you. Keeping our own records from year to year will help us be prepared for when we should expect the harvest to begin rolling in.

A man and woman looking at Clyde's Garden Planner.

Clyde’s Garden Planner

If you’re new to gardening, we recommend getting a Clyde’s Garden Planner (use code “Homesteadingfamily.com” to get 10% off your order at checkout!). This planner contains so much information all in one place.

You can even buy a three-pack of these planners and keep one in the gardening bin, one inside the house, and an extra one to gift to a garden-loving friend.

Josh: Hey, you guys. This is Josh.

Carolyn: And Carolyn.

Josh: Homesteading Family and welcome to this week's episode of The Pantry Chat: Food for Thought.

Carolyn: This week we're talking about gardening, and specifically about reading seed packets and catalog descriptions and nursery plant tags and being able to decipher all the information that's on them so that you can grow a great garden this year. Because some of that information's really important to know before you get those plants into the ground.

Josh: Absolutely. And now is the time to be planning your garden, ordering your seeds, and just getting it together. Even if you're like this in a cold climate, northern cold climate, some of you are already well on it and the got starts going and might, if you're down south, you may even have some things out in the ground.

Carolyn: Yeah, we are actually even way up here getting ready to start a few really early plants that are going to get transplanted out into the cold frames. And so I'm excited about that. But really we're saying now is the time. In the world that we have at the moment it would have been really good to have already had your seeds. So, hopefully you already have them on hand. If not, get them now.

Josh: Well, and something we're not even talking about really starting to get ahead on your seeds actually year ahead and have a bit of a stock. And so while we're always ordering new seeds and keeping them fresh, we don't necessarily have the perfect long-term storage solution, but we have a pretty good one. It's good to just be staying ahead. I don't think we're having quite-

Carolyn: Absolutely.

Josh: Everybody's not quite as behind as they were. I'm not sure. I haven't been hearing that. I don't know if you are?

Carolyn: No, I haven't.

Josh: As they were say, a year ago, two years ago. But it'll come, it'll come again. So good to be ahead.

Carolyn: Always good to be ahead.

Josh: Yep.

Carolyn: Good.

Josh: Yeah, but before we get to that, there's just a little bit of chitchatting and bit of catching up to do.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Josh: We're just here once a month now.

Carolyn: Yeah, just with you and me. It's just once a month.

Josh: Yeah, you and I. But we are going to be bringing on more guests.

Carolyn: We are in fact. Coming up on the next regular Pantry Chat is Mary from Mary's Nest and she and I are having a great discussion about lessons we can learn and pull out of the Great Depression era and learn from some of our elders. And boy, has she got amazing stories. It is really fun. We have a great conversation. So anyways, that one is coming up in about two weeks, so it'll be good.

Josh: Along with, I'm going to be having on a lot of the STS instructors, our new instructors as they're coming on. I can't commit to anybody right at the moment, because we're in discussions, but we're going to be trying to bring on those instructors as well onto the Pantry Chat and get to know them a bit. So-

Carolyn: Some people don't know what STS is.

Josh: School of Traditional Skills. If you don't know what STS is, you're behind, guys. School of Traditional Skills is the online school that we launched last year to broaden the scale and the knowledge base that we're sharing with you guys to help you in your journey. I like to say to greater health freedom and security within this homesteading lifestyle. And so we have got instructors over at the school like Joel Salatin and Paul Gautschi from Back to Eden Gardening. Of course, Carolyn.

Carolyn: Sally Fallon Morell.

Josh: That's right.

Carolyn: Melissa Norris.

Josh: Melissa K. Norris. Brandon Sheard, the Farmstead Meatsmith. We just had on Dr. Patrick Jones on Herbal 1st Aid. And we've got Patrick Rohrman coming up soon with a class all about knives, homestead knives.

Carolyn: Yay.

Josh: Along with homestead design, I'm really excited about this one. Nicholas Burtner from School of Permaculture is going to be creating a homestead design class based from permaculture methodology for us as well. Those are some of the upcomings, besides a lot more stuff. We'll make sure there's a link down below to the School of Traditional Skills if you're not familiar with that yet. And I need to be careful not to bump the screen.

Carolyn: Stop wiggling the camera, honey.

Josh: Get excited. So anyways, but besides that, what's going on with you? Which I think starts right here with-

Carolyn: Oh, what's going on with me? I think, I mean, we can talk about this one first, because this is a big part of things that I like to do and I'm really excited about is our magazine here at Homesteading Family.

Josh: Getting thicker.

Carolyn: It is, this one-

Josh: It's getting more content.

Carolyn: ... is like 50-something page. I wish I could, I don't know, are you on the right?

Josh: [inaudible 00:04:47].

Carolyn: Look at all of this. That's a little hard to see, but it is cool. It is really neat and it's something that I really love getting to work on. This issue is all about convenience meals and so we really dive into convenience meals. And some of that is canning, learning how to can some convenience meals. We talk about cooking, we talk about Great Depression cooking. We talk about all sorts of amazing things, dehydrating, freeze drying. We cover all sorts of topics in here. So it's mostly, well, there's a lot of fresh cooking too, but there is a lot of how to preserve things, which is just something that's a little hard to get your hands on. Like how to preserve whatever the food is.

Josh: So like particular-

Carolyn: [inaudible 00:05:44]-

Josh: ... particular foods.

Carolyn: Usually we're covering one type of food, but we really felt like this time of year, it's a great time to start getting extra convenience meals on your shelf, or in your freezer, or maybe even just in the fridge for later in the week. And so we really dove into that here. This is, there's a baked oatmeal recipe in here that is amazing. We're enjoying it a ton at our house.

Josh: Absolutely.

Carolyn: Anyways, so I've been working on this. If you don't know about this, if you have not subscribed to this yet, I will put the link below because it is a monthly digital magazine. This is the only physical copy in existence. I just want to be really clear, yet we are working towards-

Josh: We'll get there.

Carolyn: ... a physical magazine, but it's going to be at least a year out. So don't get too excited.

Josh: Well, and for that reality to come, we need you guys to jump in and help with the digital. That's what helps growing it. It's getting thicker, it's getting more content in it. And the more subscribers we get there-

Carolyn: Absolutely.

Josh: ... the more we can absolutely grow this. Because while we love digital products, we also know, we love, you guys love physical products and want to have some of these things in their hands, but it's a big endeavor to produce this and we're doing it kind of grassroots, so yeah. Jump in and check it out.

Carolyn: So anyways, I've been working on that, but aside from that I'm just, I'm working on growing baby here.

Josh: Growing baby. You said-

Carolyn: I'm growing a baby.

Josh: She's got this app.

Carolyn: I'm growing-

Josh: This is-

Carolyn: Oh look at that.

Josh: Traditional living meets new technology and so she's got this app and said that he was a cantaloupe. But 18 inches, we were both like, "Isn't that more like a watermelon?"

Carolyn: Yeah, I've never seen an 18-inch five and something pound cantaloupe that I know. I don't walk around with a scale looking at cantaloupes either. So, baby's getting big. We're close, we're about 40 days as of this filming to the due date. So that is coming up quickly, which means I am in full blown nesting mode. We are organizing, we are cleaning. No place is safe from me at the moment in this house, and we're getting a lot done and just kind of getting ready.

Josh: You have some glowing. You have this-

Carolyn: Oh, thank you.

Josh: ... beautiful third trimester glow. Just affect your ... You're getting ready for motherhood and you're happy and healthy and-

Carolyn: And totally uncomfortable at the same time, so thank you. That is a lot of what I've been up to. What about you?

Josh: Got my feet up on the coffee table where I'm not supposed to and just kicking back.

Carolyn: Watching me work, huh?

Josh: That's right, yep. Oh, well, a lot of planning this time of year and one of the big thoughts on our mind this year is orcharding and perennials. We have quite a few trees that were here on the property and we've been doing a lot of infrastructure over the last several years. Increasing or implementing infrastructure changes, water systems, shaping land, besides all the normal stuff. And I keep wishing we got to get to trees, we got to get to more trees, we actually have a nursery with 50 something trees in it that it's a little random, but there are a lot of local trees from around here. And so really starting to think about that a lot to see what we can do this year. Along with just honing in as we've talked about in other Pantry Chats. What are our major projects and what are we going to focus on first? What can we do?

So, a lot of thinking going into that, along with just building the School of Traditional Skills. This is a lot of my wintertime work right now and we're building team. We've got just people coming on that are helping grow the team and lift the work a little bit, because it's been a lot of work for you. It's been a lot of work for me and a lot of others. So we're hiring, bringing new people in and then just finding instructors. And like I said, we've got a couple of them coming up. Couple more of the Dowdies. If you guys are familiar with Sean and Beth Dowdy are going be teaching some classes this summer. Very excited about them. Those are the ones I know I can talk about right now, because we're committed, along with some others. Just a lot of work on class planning, structuring these classes and then getting them filmed. I'm still traveling a bit this year. Actually directing and producing the filming of these classes.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Josh: Yeah.

Carolyn: It's exciting. It's exciting to see it all come together.

Josh: It is, yeah.

Carolyn: It's like a collection of the classes that I wish that I had when I started homesteading, but also the classes that I wish I had right now. I'm really excited because there's a lot of classes that I'm like, "Oh, I've needed this class for so long," even this far into my journey. So it makes me excited and I'm like, "Oh good, you're going to do that class," because I totally need to learn that skill.

Josh: Well and the biggest complaint we've had about the school, because you can't make everybody happy, is, "Where were you three years ago? Where were you five years ago? I needed just this, just this class set." And we're trying to build a school in a way that's helping you with the journey, not just random classes. As it gets a little bit bigger, we're going to do some more maybe sideways fun stuff and crafting and more of the crafting and some of those skills. But right now we're trying to build out classes that help you guys on your journey, accelerate the path. And we've heard that from a lot of people, "This is awesome. You should have been here five years ago." Well, we're here now.

Carolyn: I agree. I agree with that person.

Josh: We're here now and we'll get them up. It's a lot of work, it's a lot of production. This is not YouTube filming.

Carolyn: No.

Josh: This is professional high-quality filming with high-quality education to where we're not wasting any time. We're working through processes to help you spend minimal amount of time in front of the screen learning. I mean, that's part of it. But then to get you out there quickly mastering the skill. So that's exciting stuff. It's fun to be doing.

Carolyn: You could tell this is something we're really passionate about because we get excited starting to talk about it, even though we've been working really hard on it for the last couple of years. It still makes us excited. So if you haven't checked it out, the link will be in the show notes or in the description, depending on where you are watching or listening in here for the Pantry Chat.

Josh: Well, and before we move on, I want to say one last thing. Make sure even if you go over and check it out and you're not ready to subscribe, I know subscriptions are commitment. Make sure you get on the email list, because we are starting a blog there. It's going to be a very in-depth blog and like Homesteading Family it's going to have complimentary resources and knowledge base there coming. And we're working on getting a lot of that content out. So there's going to be a lot of education besides just the subscription model.

Carolyn: And there's a lot of free training.

Josh: Well yeah, there's like every month we've got a new instructor with a new skill just about every month. There's a community launching in April. So at least get over there and get on the email is so you stay up to date with what's going on and take advantage of the resources there as they're coming.

Carolyn: Okay. Question of the day. I actually put two on there today, but I think they're both for me so you can ask them.

Josh: Alrighty. Skydiving Comrade 1648 says regarding a whole year's worth of lard in one day video. My question is, "How many whole animals were needed to produce this much?"

Carolyn: Did you know I got to go skydiving for my 18th birthday?

Josh: You did.

Carolyn: I did. You were actually there. You got to watch me not die as I came out of the plane.

Josh: Thankfully.

Carolyn: But my brother took me skydiving for my birthday. It was pretty cool. Fun thing. Okay, how many whole animals-

Josh: Did you have a jar of lard in your hand?

Carolyn: I did not have a jar of lard in my hand, which is probably good because that's a lot of force coming against you. I would have lost the jar of lard.

Josh: How many animals did it need to produce as much? So you, do you remember how much large-

Carolyn: Two is what we butchered that year was two-

Josh: Those were two moderate size.

Carolyn: [inaudible 00:13:51]. But they weren't like small like the Kunekunes, they were moderate size.

Josh: They were moderate size, yeah. They weren't full size commercial pigs, but they were a lard pig, which is what we've gone to raising primarily.

Carolyn: Were those the, they were a mangely-

Josh: They were a mangely to Red Wattle cross, so definitely a lard pig. Maybe not as much as the Kunes but solid lard. And you had, what's that, 64 quarts? I forget. It was a lot.

Carolyn: It was a lot of lard and we're still using it. We've almost gotten through all of the shelf stuff and we're about nine months from where we did that. That was last May I think. And I still have some of the stuff. I like to stash some in the freezer, because if you start going over about that year mark, it can start to go rancid if it's just shelf stored. So I put a little bit in the freezer and then I pull that out at the end of the year to use that. We could probably get through. We just have to be really serious about, "This is the lard that we're going to use this year and then right about this date we need to do the next rendering," which we have a freezer full of raw fat that I need to render.

Josh: You need to do rendering here before we get to spring.

Carolyn: We do, so we are kind of back to that moment, but about two pigs for the whole family.

Josh: And that's a lot. I use lard in just about everything at this point. Unless it's table butter. We saved the butter for the table.

Carolyn: Yeah and it is amazing. You cannot tell the difference from well rendered lard to butter when it's inside something.

Josh: Yeah.

Carolyn: It just-

Josh: [inaudible 00:15:27]

Carolyn: Cookies. Quick breads the things you think that you would never want lard in because you taste it. Nobody does. It's a good use of it.

Josh: Yeah. Cool. Katherine Dave 5743 on the video. "How to strip and re-season a cast iron pan. I'm in Germany because I'm in the military and need to season our pans. I don't have access to a fire pit or a wood burning stove or a self-cleaning oven. Can I remove the old seasoning with steel wool?"

Carolyn: Yes you can. It just does require a lot of scrubbing. So scrub, scrub, scrub, wash, scrub, scrub, scrub. You just have to really get it down to its non-shiny, non-seasoned surface. And then yeah, you betcha you can do that."

Josh: Okay, cool. All right, good stuff. So we're going to get on to main topic.

Carolyn: Main topic.

Josh: And talking about seed packets, how to read seed packets, which sometimes can be a bit confusing. They're all a bit different.

Carolyn: They are all a bit different and sometimes you need to find this information actually in the seed catalog because it's not on the seed packets. Especially if you start working with smaller, more local companies. They may just have a standard seed packet and then somebody's handwriting on names, which we always recommend. Try to go local, as local as you can. Especially for something like seeds. If you can get good quality seeds from your local area, that is just absolutely ideal. But it can get difficult. And I got to say, some of the seed catalogs. I don't know if you've experienced that or you guys have. But you're reading along and you're like, "I know I need to have this amount of days for a melon. I can't have anything longer. And then it's like this one has the day length, this one has the day length and then this listing doesn't have a day length." Just randomly it's some information's available, some's not for different companies and for different plants.

And so it can be a little hit or miss. This what we're talking about today also applies to the tags that you might get in a nursery if you go to buy transplants from a nursery, some of this information's going to be on there. Again, some's not. And you're going to have to piece together the missing information the best you can. One quick tip I'm going to throw at you right at the beginning. I always save the paper copies for the year of the seeds that I order. Paper copies of the catalog for the seeds that I order from that company. That way if I need to go back and reference something and it's not on the seed packet, I can go find the listing for it in the catalog and that usually will give you more description. So, save those catalogs.

Josh: Make sure while local and regional is very important, you do want to make sure that it's quality. We're getting more and more options across the country, but you do want to make sure that you have good quality seeds. There's nothing more frustrating than buying all your seeds and getting 50% germination and knowing you've done everything else right. There's certainly other reasons you could have bad germination but you need good, quality seeds. So just make sure you understand your source. Do some research. If you find a new source, wow, they're regional, they're close, cool. Try to do some diligence and make sure that people are happy with them.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Josh: Yeah.

Carolyn: Definitely.

Josh: So.

Carolyn: Okay, let's talk about some of the information that you might run into.

Josh: Very basics across the top, it's going to be the plant usually. I mean, this is a Baker Creek Heirloom Seed. This is a strictly medicinal, so you can see ... I like how big Baker does it, you know right away when you see, it's basil.

Carolyn: You know what you're looking at.

Josh: Okay, it's basil. But here they're telling you this is valerian at the top. You probably can't read that. Adaptive's one of our favorite regionals and right down here they're going to tell you this one's beets. They're going to tell you the plant, then it's going to tell you the specific name, the variety like blue, what is that Blue spice Basil. That sounds good. Blue spice basil.

Carolyn: We should plant it.

Josh: We should.

Carolyn: One thing to note about the variety is those can change over time. The variety names, and sometimes it's kind of a marketing ploy like, "Ooh, let's call this one amazing instead of blue spice or something." Those can change, especially a non-patented seeds, which hopefully you're growing non-patented seeds. Something that does not have a patent on it, so it's open source. Somebody can change that name. Just be aware if you're tracking historically these seeds start having stories about what they've been called. So just need to be aware. It can change.

Josh: It can and things disappear and you got to look for it and you can't find it anymore because somebody remarketed it. Which in that case it is, I think it's importantly important, especially with herbs for the Latin designation, you're not going to see a lot of times on your regular annual vegetable garden seeds, the Latin designations sometimes, but hopefully you almost always see it along with your herbs like this valerian here, right?

Carolyn: Yeah.

Josh: That becomes really important. Carolyn can speak to that more about knowing the Latin titles when you're growing herbs medicinally.

Carolyn: Yeah, it definitely does, because you have multiple plants with the same names. Hyssop is a really good example of that. You have a Hyssop that's one type of plant. Then you have another Hyssop with the common name that's an entirely different type of plant and they're both named that in the common name. So when you get into something like a medicinal herb, you really want to be paying attention to the Latin names before you buy the seeds. Make sure you're getting the plant you think you're getting and you're trying to get.

Josh: Yeah.

Carolyn: So that may or may not, again, like Josh said, that's probably not going to be on your seed packets because do they have it on?

Josh: No adaptive has it in the description, which was the next part. I was looking to see their description because-

Carolyn: Some do.

Josh: Some do. Yeah. Which is nice, especially for those of you that really like to get into the details.

Carolyn: For your vegetables though. Your varietal name is not going to be on the Latin name, so just so you know. Another thing that can be really, really helpful, not necessary. You can see as we're looking at these two seed packets, they're two very different things is either a picture of the herb, a plant, or a drawing of it. Especially if you're brand new to growing something. I'm going to throw out a movie here, I think back of the movie Secondhand Lions where they end up planting a whole thing of corn, right? Because they don't know they're brand new gardeners and they all look the same and they plant a whole thing corn without realizing it. It can be really helpful to know what plant you're looking for in your garden. Especially if you're doing a cottage garden where maybe not everything's in straight rows and labels.

Josh: And descriptions can hence help with that.

Carolyn: Help too.

Josh: The strictly medicinal has a nice description down here, as does the Adaptive and the Bakers Creek does not have much of a written description. I think they do have more of a written description in their catalog though you were mentioning. It is helpful to get to understand the performance of the plant. A little bit of description of how it does and how it might do in your environment. Especially when you are going to pick a specific variety of beet, or tomato, or something.

Carolyn: It's actually extremely important to know because there's a big difference between zucchini that are veining and trailing, versus zucchini that are bush type. And they're going to take up a lot of different space in your garden. That's a big difference between those two types of things. So you really do need to get a basic description of the plant. Again, sometimes that means going to the catalog and looking for that information.

Josh: And so take the time, especially if you're new and you've don't know your varieties and you've got a certain space you're working with and you're doing a new garden. You need to know these things need to not just go by zucchini. You need to know what that variety of zucchini, how it's going to perform for you in the location, the space and everything else going on. And that's going to help you a lot.

Carolyn: Okay. Something else you're going to see in the seed packet, or the catalog, or the plant tag and you really, really, really need to get a grip on this particular thing, is your plant designations. And this is going to include whether your plant is organic.

Josh: Should be labeled if it's truly organic.

Carolyn: It should be, if it's been grown organically, whether it's a hybrid, or open pollinated, or non-GMO. Those things are all important. And we have covered this in detail. We actually have blog posts out about this. So I'm not going to go into all these things right now. I'm sure you guys have heard a lot of talks about it, but I don't want to get bogged down in what all these things are also Heirloom, that'll be on there. And then if it's grown, usually outside of the United States, there might be a Fairtrade label on it. I've never seen any Fairtrade label for something that's grown inside the United States. And I don't think there is a reason why you would do that, honestly, because of our labor laws here in the United States.

Josh: We general are supposed to have the labor laws that help ensure that we're doing things well.

Carolyn: Hopefully you're able to grow seeds that ... To grow plants from seeds that were inside your own country. But if not, Fairtrade is always a great thing to look at. Next is the hardiness zone. And this only really applies for if you're growing perennials like this Valerian right here, the centennial herb.

Josh: And you need to know your hardiness zone. So the whole country is mapped out in zones based on lowest experience temperature, which helps determine which varieties you can grow. And again, we're talking about perennials, the discussion's a little bit different for annual vegetables, but for your perennial herbs, your perennial fruits, your trees, you got to know your heartiness on. It's real easy to look up on USDA site somewhere I'm sure we can get a link for that down below if you don't know it.

Carolyn: This does not have it on the packet. So this is one you have to go to the catalog. So this is just information you really need to know before you even buy the seeds. Will this over winter at your location? And if not, some plants can be grown as an annual even if they won't over winter.

Josh: Yeah, they'll die back.

Carolyn: They'll die back.

Josh: The tops, completely die back. But they'll grow back from that.

Carolyn: Sometimes.

Josh: Sometimes it depends.

Carolyn: If you've grown as an annual, they might completely die off like tomatoes or technically perennials, but for most of us in the United States, they die back completely a 100% every single year and they're not going to come back.

Josh: We've got friends that are growing peppers as perennials up here.

Carolyn: They bring them inside?

Josh: Bring them inside.

Carolyn: That's pretty cool.

Josh: And so that's a whole nother discussion. But let's see. So, something else there. But okay.

Carolyn: Then oftentimes they're going to talk about when to plant, oftentimes. Sometimes maybe if you're lucky, they're going to talk about when to plant.

Josh: Well, and there's some things that go together with when to plant. I guess go ahead and start with that and then yeah.

Carolyn: Yep. That seems to be really hit or miss honestly. And information on catalogs, they kind of assume that when to grow your tomatoes or when to start your basil. And one thing that we've found incredibly helpful is a Clyde's Garden Planner.

Josh: Absolutely.

Carolyn: Yeah. It kind of takes all that information and it puts it into one, including a lot of the next things that we're going to talk about when it comes to information that may or may not be on the seed packet. So this is one thing that especially, again, if you're working with these companies that have the seed packets or the catalogs that are maybe a little shy in information, get yourself a Clyde's Garden Planner. They only cost a couple dollars and they just encompass all the information right here, so you don't need to go scramble and look for it.

Josh: Well, the seed companies, they're not going to give you this kind of chart where you can take your last frost date, last average frost date and then line up a planting schedule. So that's where you really need something, like Clyde's, especially if you're brand new. As you get to know your property, you kind of start to know those things. But we even come back and reference them at times because we haven't grown something in a while or just need a little help with strategy. So very, very helpful.

Carolyn: Well, and you're really bringing out a great point because the seed companies are going to say three weeks before your last frost date, when you have something like a Clyde's, you actually line up what is your last frost on the calendar.

Josh: The dates right here with that red line.

Carolyn: Instead of three weeks before or after your last frost date, you end up with a date you can write on your calendar, which is really-

Josh: Extremely helpful.

Carolyn: Really helpful.

Josh: Sure is.

Carolyn: Good.

Josh: Okay, so a few key other things that you want to be thinking about and which is kind of sprouting days, ideal temperature, seed depth, plant spacing. Is it frost hardy? How much sun does it need? These are all the ones that Baker Creek gives, which is really, really nice. Not all seed packets do that, but you need to know these things. You need to know the planting depth of the seed. Now, good rule of thumb is twice the length of the seed, but not always. I plant carrots deeper than that and I started getting excellent success with carrots. So, I tend to air a little bit deeper. But knowing that planting depth and then a lot of see this has it here, seed depth quarter inch for this basil. So, very good germination with that.

Carolyn: And again, the rule of thumb, the smaller the seed, the closer to the surface you plant it.

Josh: Generally. Yeah. Yep. I mean this tells you how long to expect it to sprout. Six to 10 days. It's very, very, very handy.

Carolyn: Yes.

Josh: Nice. Especially if you're new and you're like is it coming? Is it coming?

Carolyn: Or if you're starting at indoors or working with seeds that you don't know if the germination rate is very good, maybe your a little older seed and you get to that 10 day mark, it says six to 10 days and you're not seeing anything, it's like.

Josh: Got a problem.

Carolyn: You better start again.

Josh: Ideal soil temperature. That's real nice to know. Different varieties do well. Spinach will sprout as low as like 35 degrees in the soil. It doesn't grow very well. Because I've sprouted it going, oh cool, I can get spinach going really early. And yeah, it comes up and then it sits there. But nonetheless, it's very helpful to know because you could be planting seeds, they're not coming up and you're thinking your termination rate's bad when your soil's just too cool.

Carolyn: Right, exactly.

Josh: You need to know that about the variety that you're planting.

Carolyn: Now, all of the seed spacing things that they talk about, and that's another one that's on here when we talk about seed spacing, plant spacing, row width, row, what do you call that? Width and distance or something, I don't know.

Josh: Well, how far apart the rows are versus how far apart the plants are within their row.

Carolyn: All of those things are when they put them on something like a seed packet. That is a very, very general guideline. And those things should really, when you get into little bit more advanced gardening, they should really be determined more by your soil and your water and your climate and the actual situation of your garden than they are by a seed packet or the type of seed. And we've really found that true. Some things we can really pack in there, some things and in some locations you really need to give more space. Maybe you just don't have enough water.

Josh: Yeah, you're in a dry environment. We saw once in Mexico in a very dry environment rows of watermelons, the rows were 20 feet apart and the plants were 10 feet apart. Now American agriculture would just love that and think what a space waste of space. However, this was dry farming in a very dry environment. I think they're like 11 to 12 inches of rain a year dry farming. And those plants were huge and lush with giant watermelons on them. There's a lot of factors to understanding how you want to do it. But I think the takeaway, especially if you're getting started and you've got general good conditions and you're learning, just start with a general plant spacing that's recommended and then you'll learn as you go. And so that is useful to have and I think Clyde's even.

Carolyn: It does.

Josh: So a nice thing about Clyde's is it gives suggestions for a lot of varieties. Not everything in the book, but certainly helps you out with a lot of content.

Carolyn: We're talking a lot about Clyde's today and it's because we actually use this in our house every single year, and all through. This is actually the tool that we use and we love. So that's why we're talking about it and we refer back to it all the time is because we have one of these things like slid in every garden notebook that we have because we just come back to it all the time.

Josh: We have a few and Clyde's does give a discount. They're not expensive at all to begin with, but we do have a coupon code or something. We'll get that down there as well. And that'll give you a little bit off of the thing.

Carolyn: Some other things that might be on your plant tag or your seed packet, if not find out in the catalog, is how much sun versus shade a plant needs. Now when we're talking about your regular annual vegetable garden, for the most part you want a lot of sun, just like you want a sunny spot. There are times though that you might not, if you live in a very, very hot area and you're trying to grow greens throughout the summer, you may want some shade there.

Josh: Well, and your greens, a lot of your brassicas, they can go in a place if you've got a garden that does have not as long as direct sunlight, they can do well in those environments.

Carolyn: The general rule of thumb is that if a plant says on the packet that it needs full sun, we're talking six to eight hours of direct sun a day. If we're talking about part sun or sometimes it says part shade, yes, they're the same thing. It means more like three to six hours usually with a preference for the afternoon being the shade time when it's excessively hot. So just to give a guideline for that.

Josh: Well, the other thing this knowledge helps you do is strategize where you're going to plant your garden, especially the smaller space you have, you really want to maximize and be careful. You don't want say corn shading out your peppers or something that needs a lot of sun and a lot of heat. And so understanding the needs of the plant can help you understand how to lay out your garden and getting maybe some of the taller things to the backdrop once you know your position, I'm losing the right word. And get that planting in the right order so that things that are tall that need more sun, don't shade out things that are short that need more sun.

Carolyn: On the other hand, those tall things that need more sun can intentionally shade things that need a little less sun a little less heat.

Josh: You want to grow some lettuce through the summer that doesn't do so well in the heat, get it under that corn. And lots of strategies like that.

Carolyn: Lots of things you can do. Another really important thing to pay attention to, and this I'm finding more and more important for us. In fact, this year I'm going to be calendaring out and putting on the calendar this date, which I've never done before, and that's the days to maturity on a plant. I want to start tracking actually how long a plant variety-

Josh: So you're going to actually track them. Because we've planned and we've actually tried to plant, part of this is planting your planting season so that you stagger your harvest season. So that's part of it. I think what you're talking about is actually we haven't actually tracked it super well. How did it turn out real well in a very technical way.

Carolyn: Absolutely. That way I can have a real rough idea in the kitchen and for harvest to when I need to actually harvest something and be prepared to harvest something. So you guys, those are the top things that you need to look for either on your seed packet, your plant tags, somewhere. You need to look for those things before you order the seeds, before you buy the plant, or at least before you stick it in the ground so you can understand it-

Josh: Well, and as you're planting, you don't want to go do all the planting and then go do this. You kind of need to do a combination so that you're buying the right varieties for your garden plan. That's going to help bring it all together and help create more success in your garden.

Carolyn: Absolutely. We have a bunch of blog posts on these things for you guys so that you can actually get the written version of it. So we'll make sure to put those in the description below so that you can check those out. Including choosing seeds and when to start your seeds indoors, how to start them, things like that. So you guys, it's been great hanging out with you today and we'll see you in two weeks for an interview with Mary from Mary's Nest, and that will be fun.

Josh: Cool. Happy planning.

Carolyn: Goodbye.

Josh: Bye. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Pantry Chat: Food for Thought. If you've enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate and review.

Carolyn: To view the show notes and any other resources mentioned on this episode, you can learn more at homesteadingfamily.com/podcast.

Josh: We'll see you soon.

Carolyn: Goodbye.

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