I have just placed my seed order and have been reflecting on some of the lessons learned from my 2013 gardening experience. Even if they are no value to anyone else, putting them down
This first part is fresh in my mind ... ordering seeds. It has only been a few years since I have been starting plants from seed and, for some reason, I wrongly believed that seeds do not store well. Of course the germination rate will drop with older seeds, but some can be stored for years and still successfully germinate (lesson #1). As a result of my misunderstanding, I would grow many more plants than I really needed as I thought the seeds would just go to waste.
This year, I will grow fewer plants of each type which also allows me to try more varieties (I don't need to plant an entire packet of one type of tomato!). It's also reasonable to purchase a few seedlings here and there at the market or spring garden sales for those plants that I only need a few of (lesson #2). I also take advantage of mixed seed packets put together by seed companies so I can have several types of beets or zucchini in one pack rather than purchasing 5 or 6 separate packets. As you can see below, I'm purchasing a few mixed packs from West Coast Seeds including a multi-colour blend of cauliflower, a variety of beets, and something I'm very excited about trying this year ... the 3 Sisters Garden.
That being said, I will still grow more than I need as I have the space, I enjoy the process and I very much like to give fresh vegetables to friends (or local food banks!) that don't have the advantage of a large yard or don't have the interest in keeping their own gardens.
As for what to order versus saving seeds of your own, I am still trying to understand what plants can be properly grown from saved seeds and will try to save as many of these as I can. For example, if you grow tomatoes from seeds from a hybrid plant, you will still get tomatoes, but it may not be what you expected. So I focused on saving seeds from heirloom varieties last year. And in 2013, I successfully grew Lumina pumpkins from 2012 saved seeds. I saved seeds from the 2013 harvest of sugar pumpkins and okra, and recently set aside seeds from a spaghetti squash that I purchased at the grocery store.
I no longer need to buy packets of most herbs as I now have sufficient amounts of my favourite perennials (sage, rosemary, thyme, chives). But after my experience starting those herbs from seeds, I would not choose that approach again but would rather buy herbs at the garden store as seedlings (lesson #3). But I will always needs lots of basil and cilantro and it is more cost effective to grow from seed. They also grow easily from seed.
As for flowers, well ... I've always been more interested in vegetables, but I realize certain flowers can be very valuable for companion planting such as marigolds and nasturtiums (lesson #4). Where I want a large quantity of a certain flower, I will go with seeds; otherwise, it can be a lot of fun to shop around the local markets and pick a variety of annuals for planting.
I'll be sharing a few more lessons learned over the next month or so as I reflect on last year's work and prepare for the upcoming growing season!