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Column: Seed packets hold valuable information

A display of new garden seeds are available to purchase at many local outlets. (John Zvirovski / Forum News Service )

February is already half over and soon March will arrive. How quickly the gardening season is approaching us! If you go to your local nurseries and outlets, you will notice the planting material and stands of seed selections are already out waiting for you to thumb through the various packets to make your purchases. It is not too early to make plans and begin your seed purchases early. Not only will you have a better selection now, but you will have various price points in which to buy.

If you are an avid gardener, you already realize some seeds need to be bought early as they need to be started indoors to enjoy a long enough growing season once planted outdoors. Many varieties of vine crops such as musk melon, cantaloupe, squash, pumpkins and gourds need to be started early to ensure the produce ripens in the required time. Some of these varieties can take anywhere from 90 to 120 days to ripen. That is over three months after the plants have begun to grow. If the plants do not come up until the end of May and we get an early frost at the end of August or beginning of September, these plants could perish before the vegetables have ripened.

There are many varieties of peppers that also take a longer growing season in order to produce the best crop. Many hot peppers such as habanero, ghost pepper or large chile also need in excess of 90 days to mature and reach their desired levels of heat.

The experienced gardener knows all the tricks of the trade in order to get the best product at certain times of the year. But many of us are not avid gardeners and just like to have a garden of our own to produce our own fresh fruits and vegetables when we have the time and space. For those individuals there is plenty of assistance in the reading material behind each seed packet.

The front of each packet will display general information that will grab your attention plus a vivid picture of what the product will look like when you grow it. It will give the name of the plant, the company that packages the seeds, the price of the packet, what kind of sun exposure the seeds will need to be planted in and the total number of days needed for maturity.

The back of the seed packets have all the details you need to grow the seeds yourself. It will display a map of the U.S. with all of the planting times for direct seeding in the ground for your area based on the last average spring frosts.

Always pay attention to the “package for” date on the back. This is the date the seeds should be purchased and used by for best germination and results. As the years go on, these seeds will lose their viability and cease to perform as well, so make sure not to buy expired seeds. It will also list which country the seeds originated, which can be valuable for people who want to support local industry and growers.

Above all else, it will list the directions on how to plant the seeds in the garden. It will describe how deep to plant the seeds and how far apart each seed should be and how far apart the rows need to be for best production. It gives pointers on how early to start some of them indoors before placing outside as transplants. For many first time gardeners, it will even indicate how many days it will take for the seeds to emerge so you can keep an eye out for them.

Some packets will also describe the best garden soils for a particular seed type. Some prefer soils high in organic matter, while others prefer a poorer soil. Some prefer areas with consistent moisture while others perform a little better in drier conditions. These are all very helpful when you have particular problems within your own yard and need just the right things that will grow in those spaces.

Another valuable key to keep in mind is the amount of seeds you are purchasing at one time. Some seed packets may have hundreds of seeds while others may only have 10 to 15 in a package. Try to only buy in amounts that will be used during that year. In some cases, if you know your plant types, you can buy packages of mixed seeds such as a variety of hot peppers in one package. Others will have a variety of different lettuce types in a mixed green selection or even a wonderful variety of mixed herbs all in one package. These are great if you have limited places to plant your seeds or just enjoy many varieties of a certain vegetable.

It doesn’t take a master gardener to grow a good garden during the year, it just takes a little time and some research to find out what will work best for you in the upcoming season. These little packages have a lot of good information in a small space. Take some time this month to go out and read through some of the seed selections that are out in the market and start making your purchases now. Before you know it, you will be getting the garden ready for planting. It doesn’t seem like it now, but it will arrive quickly, so be prepared!