Years ago, before In N Out Burger had locations in Utah, I was in one of their locations in San Diego. Their menu is quite simple, on one moderate-sized board, with three or four burgers, fries, drinks, and three flavors of shakes. I overheard the person in front of me ordering things that I didn’t see on the menu. The person behind the counter took the order in stride, and knew exactly what the customer was talking about. I asked about this, and found out that In N Out has a “secret menu.” You can order “3×3”, “Protein Style,” or “Animal Style” and so forth. Their website will tell you all about it!
In the same way, the common seed packet many times has additional information that may not be readily apparent to the casual observer. Read on, and you’ll have the “decoder ring” for many of the most common codes on seed packaging that you’ll be planting from as the 2014 growing season ramps up. Before we rush onto the not so well known stuff, let’s make sure you are getting full benefit of what is plainly stated on the packet and you may be overlooking.
First, you will see the plant type depicted and named. Usually, there is a botanical name shown as well. This is important to assure you get the precise variety you are looking for. A package labeled “Yellow Onion” isn’t going to give you enough information. Knowing which yellow onion seed you have is key because there are different day lengths (that’s a topic for an upcoming onion article), and adaptations to our locale.
Second, “days to maturity” (DTM) is listed. If the item is direct sown, and not usually started and then transplanted, then DTM usually refers to the amount of time from sprout to harvest. Plants that are started and transplanted into the garden (such as tomatoes and peppers) DTM generally refers to the amount of days from transplant to harvest.
Third, planting depth is shown. This is an estimate, and the looser and more open (friable) your soil is, the more forgiving the seed will be in reaching for the light. A good rule of planting depth is 2-4 times the diameter of the thin dimension of the seed. A watermelon seed, laid flat, is about 1/8 inch thick. Very small seed (such as lettuce) can be surface scattered and either gently raked in, or a dusting of light top soil can be put on top. Soils that form crusts after going through a moisture and drying cycle will retard germination, so prepare your seed beds with lots of aged organic material.
The last major piece of information is seed spacing, as well as “thin to” distances. I try to plant as close to the recommended plant spacing as I can so as to minimize thinning. I’ve also put two seeds where one was called for as a form of insurance to get at least one healthy start per seed position. To leave one, simply snip off one plant with a small scissors. Pulling up one in the thinning process is high risk as you’re likely to disturb the roots of the plants you are leaving.
If you are a “Square Foot” gardener, then you know that seeds “don’t care” if there are other plants behind or in front of them, or to the side of them, just as long as there is adequate space between each plant. This is a basic premise of SFG. The planting distance on the seed packet will also tell you the planting grid you use in each square foot. There are four basic patterns in SFG — one, four, nine and 16. Plants spaced 12 inches apart get one in a square foot. Plants spaced at 6 inches get four plants per grid space. Those requiring 4 inches of space are planted nine per grid. Lastly, those at 2 inches spacing get 16 plants in the square foot.
Now, let’s get to some of those “insider secrets.”
For tomatoes, you will find either initials “I” or “D” or the words “Indeterminate” or “Determinate.” Tomatoes by default are indeterminate, meaning they will grow and fruit throughout the season until the frost comes. This is great for fresh eating throughout the season. Determinate varieties are more compact, shorter-vined, and will produce fruit all in a short time — great for processing!
“OG” stands for “Organic,” meaning the seed was produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.
If you see “AAS,” that means you are holding an All American Selection. This is a variety that has been planted extensively in trial gardens across the nation and has proven to be superior and possesses highly desired traits. Our friend Diane Sagers will be doing a class on this year’s selections at the upcoming Garden Expo.
“Hybrid” means that two or more varieties were cross-pollinated to create a new variety with desired characteristics as well as vigor. Seed that is harvested from a hybrid will not grow next generation plants that keep all the characteristics of the hybrid parents. Instead, the plant will revert to varying blends of traits of the grandparent plants. OP or Open Pollinated generally refers to heirloom varieties that are very stable and will breed true one generation after another. Their seed will produce essentially the same thing the next season, but will adapt to local growing conditions over time because of so many pollen sources. Many zucchinis are a good example of this.
There are many plant diseases that naturally reside in the soil or can be “vectored” to them by wind, insects and birds. These include viruses, bacteria, fungi and molds. Many plant varieties have been bred to resist these diseases if the plant originally was susceptible to them. If resistance has been bred into the variety of seed you are holding, then you will see codes that indicate this. Space will not allow us to go into a complete listing; one that I saw recently had approximately 50 codes! Fortunately, we don’t need to worry about most of them. The most common ones that concern us is Verticillium Wilt, Fusarium and in some cases, very small worm like creatures called nematodes. If you see the initials of “V” or “F” or a combo of “VFN,” then you know that disease resistance has been bred in. VFN is resistance to all three.
With such a wide range of information, you could be overwhelmed and believe that there are too many factors against you to have you successfully garden. That’s not the case. Jump in! Have fun! Try different things, record your results in a journal and increase your mastery year after year. You’ll be glad you did.
UPCOMING GARDENER EVENTS
Learn how to prune fruit trees for productivity and tree health! Attend a Master Gardener public workshop by Wade Bitner on Wednesday, Feb. 26, from 7-8 p.m. at the USU Extension Offices, 151 N. Main, Tooele. With many years of experience in horticulture and apple orchards, Wade will take the mystery out of successful tree pruning by giving you systematic pruning steps for various back yard fruit trees, including apples, peaches, pears, apricots and cherries. There is no charge for this event.
Fruit Tree, Grape and Berry Pruning Demonstrations wil be held Saturday, March 8. Learn hands on how to prune apple, cherry, peach, pear, grapes, raspberry and blackberries. Session One will be at my home, 984 Ironwood Road, Erda, from 10 a.m. to noon. Session Two will be held at the Bitner home, 140 Durfee St., Grantsville from 1-3 p.m. Dress Warm!
Spring Garden Expo, Saturday, March 1. Registration at 9:30 a.m., event begins at 10 a.m. and goes until 2 PM. $5 Admission. Sessions include roses, turf, soil building, organic gardening, All American plant selections and self-watering containers. Main session at 1 p.m., Mike Pace, USU Box Elder County Extension Agent, “Fruit Trees in Your Back Yard.” Held at USU Extension Office, 151 N. Main, Tooele.
Jay Cooper can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit his website at dirtfarmerjay.com for insights on gardening, shop skills, culinary arts and landscaping.