Search for Seed Quality and “Seed Test Weight”

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I’ve been on a quest for the highest quality vegetable garden seeds that I can find among the seed companies I have patronized over the years. As recommended by David Forster at the first BFA meeting I attended in January 2015, and Nigel Palmer at our September 2015 BFA meeting, and also Dan Kittredge, BFA Founder, on multiple occasions, I have been contacting numerous seed companies to inquire about their “seed test weights”.

I have had email and phone conversations with the following:
Baker Creek Seeds, CT and MO offices
Fedco
High Mowing Seeds
Johnny’s of Maine
Pinetree Garden Seeds
Seeds of Change
Seed Savers Exchange
Sustainable Seed Company
Victory Seed Company

None of them acknowledged that phrase “seed test weights” , some even said they had never heard that phrase before.

Some of them did give me information on the criteria they use when choosing seed sources. They tell you in the catalog if they are non-GMO, Safe Seed Pledge, certified organic, etc… Generally they are looking for germination rate, and specifically they need to see 90% germination or better.

I found that some of them give enough information in their paper catalogs or online so that the consumer can deduce the quality of the seeds relative to size. I have only looked at vegetable seeds, so cannot speak to the information on herbs or flower seeds. Ideally, you want to get the least number of seeds for a given weight for a specific type and variety of seed.
For example, if you have 3 packets of Williams Naked Seed Pumpkin seeds, shown here Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 5.25.24 PM
all from different sources that all weigh 2 grams, and in pkt. #1 there are 16 seeds, in pkt. #2 there are 10 seeds and in pkt. #3 there are 20 seeds, you would be better getting pkt. #2 because each of the 10 seeds is going to be larger and plumper than the 16 or 20 seeds in the other packets. A larger seed will have more energy and presumably more nutrients within it so will grow a hardier pumpkin plant and, if you have provided the necessary conditions in your soil, a hardier and healthier nutrient dense pumpkin. For any given seed type you are looking for the least number of seeds in a given weight, such as per ounce or per gram, or per pound if you are a large-scale grower. Be sure to compare specific varieties such as compare Blue Lake Bush Beans in 3 or 5 or 10 different catalogs, but avoid comparing beans in general as each variety will have size variations. Unfortunately some catalogs have seed specs for “Spinach” or “Tomatoes” but not for individual spinach varieties or individual tomato varieties to give an example.

I focused on organic seeds. Some of these sources offer both organic and conventional seeds, and most catalogs label the organic ones. I have to say I was disappointed to find that some catalogs do not label or differentiate their organic vs. their conventional seeds even though they offer both in their selections. I personally need to know my seeds come from a chemical-free beginning and want to see them labelled as such. I would recommend consumers call or email their favorite seed suppliers and have a conversation about seed sourcing and seed quality assurance, and detailed labeling in catalogs. Do not assume a thing is organic unless you see it in print or until you have gotten it verified in some manner by the people who are supplying the seeds.

Here are my findings so that you can be a more educated consumer as well.

Catalogs that include both seed counts and seed weights:
Fedco – have a specific organic catalog listing online; print catalog pages have packet weight for seed varieties, look on website under “Additional Info” for seed counts

High Mowing Seeds – 100% organic seeds, website and print catalog has “seed specs” where you can find seed counts and weights in a variety of increments along with other good info.

Johnny’s of Maine – Green box on page of each veg. type has notes on Culture, Sowing dates, planting, etc… look here for Seed Specs to see seeds/weight.

Pinetree Garden Seeds – use search function online using “organic” to see only their organic varieties; was told via email they do not list packet or seed weights, only list seed counts.

Seeds of Change – 100% organic seeds; was told via email that packet weights are printed on the pkt. labels but are not tracked in their catalogs. They do show seed counts in their catalogs. They attached a Planting Guide from their 2012 Catalog which provided info. on the seed count per ounce. You would need to request this in order to figure seed weights.

Seed Savers Exchange – each seed variety shows count/weight in their catalogs

Sustainable Seed Company – on their website look under “Resources” to see seeds per weight.

Victory Seed Company – on website when you click on a seed type it gives pkg. weight and below in the description it gives seed count.

Here is an example of different seed weights.
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Looking at Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach, organic seeds:
Fedco 1400-2600 seeds/oz. (2000 average)
High Mowing 1550-3750 seeds/oz. (2200 average)
Sustainable Seed Co. 2100 seeds/oz.

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Looking at Royal Burgundy Bush Beans, organic seeds:
Fedco 180 seeds/2oz. pkt. = (90 seeds/oz.)
High Mowing 75-150 seeds/oz. (115 average)

Based on these numbers Fedco’s seeds are larger and therefore I would determine them hardier than the other two companies’. Doing these comparisons is somewhat time consuming so this might be another good opportunity to start a co-op of sorts. Get together with some gardening friends all armed with your favorite seed catalogs, make a big pot of tea, set out some munchies, and have at it! Many hands makes light work, as the saying goes!

Happy Seed Catalog Hunting Everyone!

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