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Gardening: Consider length of local growing season when choosing seeds

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 29, 2018, 10:36 a.m.

Poblano peppers are shown. Gardener Pat Munts plans to plant poblanos in her garden this year. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)
Poblano peppers are shown. Gardener Pat Munts plans to plant poblanos in her garden this year. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)

Which varieties do I choose? This is the question that always comes to mind when I start selecting seed varieties I want to try in the upcoming gardening season. I have a lot of experience doing this, but I am still overwhelmed at times.

The first question I always ask is whether the variety in question will grow here. Our short growing season makes it difficult to grow vegetables that need more than 75 days to mature from their transplant date. As a result, I need to pick tomato, eggplant, pepper and melon varieties with the shortest days to maturity possible, or plan on providing protection both early and late in the season. For me in my notoriously cold garden, this means I don’t grow heirloom tomatoes like Brandywine or Amish Paste or serrano and cayenne peppers. This year I am experimenting with a poblano (ancho or chipotle) pepper that is supposed to take 65 days to ripen, but I am going to cover them with a floating row cover for a good part of the season.

Over the past few weeks, several of you have asked if it is better to buy seeds locally or from the catalogs. The answer depends on what you want to grow. If you just want to grow a good garden, then buying seeds locally is fine and saves you the cost of shipping, which even for lightweight seeds isn’t cheap. The local garden centers are more likely to carry varieties that have proved their mettle in our climate. The bigger centers are more likely to carry several brands of seed, so you have a reasonable choice between varieties.

If you want a specific variety or are looking for a wider range of short season varieties, you are probably going to have to go online or to catalog sources. The local supplies just can’t afford to stock all of the different varieties people might be interested in. I am partial to sourcing seed from Northwest companies first, followed by those located in the northern tier of the United States or southern Canada because they have either tested their seeds in our climate or ones that are close. My favorites include: Irish Eyes Seed in Ellensburg; Territorial Seed in Cottage Grove, Oregon; West Coast Seed in Vancouver, British Columbia; Ed Hume Seeds in Puyallup, Washington; and Johnny’s Seed of Maine. All of them carry a reasonable selection of organic seed and many abide by the Safe Seed Pledge, which states they unknowingly carry GMO seed. A downside to buying through a catalog is the prices can be two to three times what you would pay locally.

And don’t throw out leftover seeds. With a few exceptions, they are viable for two to five years if they are stored in a cool, dry, dark place in their original envelopes like a basement area where humidity and temperatures are stable. For more information on storing seeds and how to check if old seed is still viable, check out the Colorado State University Extension website at http://bit.ly/2n3fSEe.

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This version corrects a word in a sentence in the fourth paragraph. The said seed companies all abide by the Safe Seed Pledge, which states they unknowingly carry GMO seed.

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Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for over 35 years. She is co-author of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook” with Susan Mulvihill. She can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.


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