I am not spending a lot of money on seeds this year, and I hope never to again. Seeds are pretty cheap, over all, but they can add up over time. Here’s how I keep seed costs down.
Keep old seeds
Seeds have a lifespan, but it’s generally not one year (despite what seed packets claim). If you buy a pack of seeds chances are you can make that pack last a few years. Say you get a pack of cucumber seeds with 100 seeds in it. You probably don’t want 100 cucumber plants, so you plant just 15. Ten grow. You have plenty of cucumbers, and 85 seeds left for next year. And the year after. Congrats.
While you are at it, if you must buy seeds, do it in the fall when they all go on sale. They will be fine next spring.
When you grow a plant, it tends to gift you with more seeds. The trick is just knowing how to harvest them. Some seeds are easier to save than others, I don’t harvest seeds from every plant I grow. But I do harvest from pretty much all squash, melons, spinach, lettuce , peas, and radish. Oh, and sunflowers. They are easy.
You should know, of course, that if you are saving seeds from a hybrid plant, you aren’t going to get the same plant next year. No, you aren’t going to get spinach from a watermelon seed, but you may get a watermelon that looks or tastes entirely different than the one you got the seed from. It’s part of the adventure!
Also, if you keep saving your best seed over and over, eventually you will develop a new breed of that plant, which will be perfectly suited to your growing environment. The idea of that is so super cool to me.
Make the produce you buy grow
This goes hand in hand with the last one. I save seeds from produce I buy too. Especially from squash. I have a bowl full of spagetti squash seeds I pulled from a spagetti squash I got at the grocery store. Why not? And I have a rotten tomato I think I’ll try and harvest seeds from on my counter right now.
Seeds aren’t the only thing that will grow in your kitchen. When potatoes start to sprout, I put them in my potato pots. Garlic cloves starting to grow? Go bury them! Anything you buy with roots still on them (green onions , for example) can be planted and grow back. Pintrest is awash with articles on food that can be grown from kitchen scraps.
Once you have a bunch of seeds, why not swap your extras? You can arrange a seed swap within your friends group, or within a club, church, class, or work place. Or you can find ones already happening. Here in Denver a place called The Grow Haus does an annual seed swap that is epic.
This is one I have to learn more about, but you can grow new plants from parts of old plants. It’s called cloning. Yeah, I know, the future is now.
I have known people to grow a hundred tomato plants this way, only actually buying a few of them. It’s a great way to fill your yard with perennials too. But I don’t know tons about it, myself. I have lots of learning to do. That is what Pinterest is for.
Don’t buy organic seeds
Here’s a controversial one. Organic seeds are expensive. And I promise you, conventional seeds are not going to sprout and grow into a plant with Roundup residue on it. If you grow the plant organically, who really cares if pesticides were used on the parent crop? I mean, yeah, I want to support organic farmers, growers, and practices. But I also want to have access to gardening. Sometimes, Burpee’s conventional seeds are all I can afford. And that’s okay. It’s the poison sprayed on the plant you eat that’s dangerous. So, just don’t spray poison on your plant and you’re good.
A lot of people are concerned non organic seeds are GMO. I promise you, if you bought a GMO seed, you’d know. First of all, only a few varieties of GMO seeds exist, none of which are used in a common garden. There are a few varieties of GM corn, soy, cotton, canola, and sugar beet, for example. Buying them involves signing contracts because the seeds are the intellectual property of those who created them. It’s a process. If you just picked up a seed packet at your garden center and bought it, then it’s not GMO. You’re good.
Cross contamination is another concern, but the chances are pretty small. Most seeds are grown an harvested in pretty sterile conditions, usually indoors, specifically to avoid any kind of cross contamination. Think about it. If you are trying to produce a very specific hybrid seed, or even a specific heirloom seed, you don’t want random cross pollination with any plant taking place, GMO or otherwise. In fact, most hybrid seeds are harvested from clones of a single plant, because after two generations, hybrids seeds do not give you the hybrid qualities anymore.
And even if a seed farmer is growing cucumbers for seeds next to, say, a GMO corn field, it’s impossible for cross contamination to occur because it is impossible for corn to pollinate cucumber. It would be kind of like a dog impregnating a cat.
Now, I fully support what organic seed producers are doing, and there are some seeds you just can’t get anywhere else, but if you are on a budget, my advice is not to feel obligated to organic seeds. You’re going to get by just fine with conventional.
Those are all the methods I’ve used to get seeds for my garden for as little money as possible. I do end up buying a few seeds each year, and usually a few plants as well, but it’s usually a pretty cheap venture, over all. I hope as I get better at saving seeds, eventually it will be free.