An Alameda Garden: Anatomy of a Seed Packet

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Anatomy of a Seed Packet

As I sort and sift through my box of seeds, gathering ideas for next year’s garden, one thing has become apparent—there is a lot of room for improvement in the packaging of seeds.

I appreciate that some seed companies are run on shoestring budgets, but I’m not sure that absolves them of the responsibility to provide adequate information about their products. And for the bigger companies, there’s really no excuse. I don’t know if there’s any way to gather this data, but I have to wonder how much money gardeners waste each year buying seeds that they prepare or plant incorrectly due to lack of information on the package.

So in an open plea to seed companies everywhere, here is a list of the essential elements I often find missing on seed packets:

  1. A photo. Yes, the botanical drawings are lovely and quaint, but I want a little more reality. And to be honest, I don’t want just one photo, I want two—a close-up of the flower or fruit, as well as a photo of the plant in situ. I’d settle for that second photo to be available on the company’s website, but the more you can show me right on the package, the more likely it is that I’ll be tossing that pack into my shopping basket.
  2. The full botanical name. Yes, Latin can be scary, but it helps. Really, it does.
  3. Germination requirements. It’s not enough to just state the planting depth and width and when to plant. If seeds require filing, nicking, soaking or chilling in order to germinate and that information isn’t on the packet, you’re inviting people to waste their time and money with your product. Let’s not do that.
  4. Harvesting information. I’d be more willing to try new and unfamiliar varieties if the seed companies would give me even the slightest clue when and how to harvest. It isn’t always obvious. What will the fruit or vegetable look or feel like when ripe? Can I expect multiple harvests from one plant? Come on, just a hint...
  5. "Best Used By" date. Every reputable seed company stamps their packets with a "Packaged for 20--" date. But it would be great if they’d also add a "Best Used By 20--" date to tell me that those 2009 lettuce seeds won’t last beyond 2011, but the 2009 tomatoes could be good until at least 2013.

It’s true that you can often find all this information on the Internet if you go searching for it, but not always, particularly for rare varieties. Call me silly, but I think it should be right there on the package. And who knows this information better than the people who are selling these seeds?

So what company comes closest to achieving excellence in seed packaging? Without a doubt, it’s Renee’s Garden. They don’t usually include the botanical name and they use illustrations rather than photos (although their website includes plant photos), but their packs are well-written and informative, so much so that they even add an extra flap to contain the additional details. They often include general notes of interest about the plant as well as tips for using or cooking the harvest. Their 2009 seed packs include a “Sell By” date in addition to the “Packed For” date—useful for the retailer, not so much for the gardener. Still, the amount of information they provide on their seed packs far exceeds that of any other company I’ve seen.

I understand that Baker Creek is in the process of upgrading their seed packs, going from generic packages to variety-specific packs with photos and more details, to which I say “Amen.” Let’s hope that other seed companies will be following suit.

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1 comment:

  1. I agree. But because our climate in CA is so different for everyone else's in the country, sometimes the instructions aren't much help anyway. Seed Saver's is my go-to for veggies and they seem to do a pretty good job for explanations.


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