Planning which seed varieties to grow, starts by checking your existing stock of seeds. Even though the packets may have been opened, provided they have been stored in cool, dry conditions, most seeds should be good for another season. More than that, you are chancing your arm! However, parsnip seed is best fresh each year.
Deciding which new varieties of vegetables to grow, is a past-time for a Winter’s night, spent looking through Seed Catalogues. Remember, many Seed Catalogues are now on-line, and sometimes the on-line catalogues have a bigger selection of seeds than their printed version. Each year, I like to choose a few new varieties to trial against ones that I already have grown and do well for me. It is also worth choosing varieties that are a bit different from the vegetables that you will readily find in the shops. For instance, you could try purple carrots, elephant garlic, Chioggia beetroot, purple, green or yellow cauliflowers, Romanesco broccoli, red and purple fleshed potatoes, yellow wax beans, multi-coloured chard.
The shorter growing season in Scotland and the North of England may require the sowing of seed varieties that need a shorter period of growth to reach maturity, from planting out till harvest. Very few seed catalogues give this vital information. It is particularly important when you intend to grow crops such as Sweet corn, Winter Squash, Butternut Squash, and Tomatoes outdoors. Similarly for the earliest Greenhouse crops such as Peppers, Aubergines, Cucumbers, Melons and Water Melons, and Tomatoes, check the number of days to harvest. When catalogues do give this information, bear in mind that the times that they give from planting out to harvest, will be based on ideal conditions probably in the south of England. In the North of the UK, I would add on an extra 10 days.
For Winter and early Spring vegetables you must start with suitable hardy varietiesof seed. These should be sown and planted out at the time suggested on the seed packet, making an allowance for a shorter growing season, if you are North of Manchester.
For the North of the UK, you may have to delay the date of sowing Spring vegetables for 2 or 3 weeks to avoid the seedlings being frosted. You may also have to sow winter vegetables several weeks earlier than stated on the packet, to allow the plants to be well grown before the onset of Winter.
Most over-wintering crops will require some protection from the wet, winds or pests such as pigeons or mice. In particular, broad beans and peas need fine mesh protection from birds and mice when young. Try starting broad beans and peas in pots in February in the greenhouse or cold frame, with protection from mice and slugs, and then plant out under cloches for early crops.
The cost of seeds is a small part of the cost of growing plants. Growing your own plants from seed is certainly much better value than “buying-in” the plants. In many cases you can buy a packet of seed for the same cost as 1 plant of an unknown variety, from a Garden Centre!! There is also no possibility of bringing in pests or diseases to your plot, along with the bought-in plant.
A large part of the cost of a packet of seeds, is the pretty envelope and the postage, not forgetting the cost of printing and posting of the catalogue full of pictures. However, there are now some on-line seed catalogues that offer the same seeds, in a sealed foil envelope, at about a third of the price. The sowing instructions are also on-line. The choice is yours!
For continuity of cropping, try sowing one half of the row of a vegetable in April and then again in July. Particularly useful for salad crops, peas and beans. Also try sowing a few seeds of several varieties of the same vegetable, that have different cropping times so spreading the period of cropping. There is nothing worse for the amateur vegetable grower, than to have a dozen of the same vegetable all ready for picking at the same time. The open pollinated (non F1) seed varieties, tend to have more variation in their picking times, while F1 varieties tend to crop all together at the same time.