Five Super Seed Picks for Your Garden This Year

It’s 2021 at the time of this writing, but these seed varieties have been around for generations, so no matter when you find this article, these are time-tried and true plants that are always worth a look for your garden.

In This Article:
Five Super Seed Recommendations
Double-Duty Dual Purpose Vegetable Varieties
Simple Seed Saving for Starters

The time is right for planning your garden and ordering your seeds RIGHT NOW.

While in many parts of the country January seems like a pretty quiet and unlikely time to start thinking about garden planning and seed ordering, it’s actually the best time to get your order planned and purchased—and that is especially true this year.

Garden Seeds to Order

Seed companies are reporting five-fold increases in seed orders this year. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds had already closed its website for a period of four days or so twice, and has said this week that it will likely have to do so again. On top of that, they are experiencing shipping delays and alerting customers to expect their orders to take up to two weeks before they leave their facility.

This is not, of course, to pick on Baker Creek. One of the reasons they are having such issues is their reputation for quality and dedication to accessible, sustainable gardening and growing. The demand and challenges they are facing are certainly not unique to them; many seed suppliers have similar tales to tell. They’re simply one example. In fact, Fedco Seed’s website is also currently on hiatus with known delays in shipping (at time of publication—do check their site via these links!).

The moral of the story is, plan early and order early. The planning is important—in a year like this it’s not nice to overbuy and hoard seed you don’t need. As Fedco Seed says in their catalog, they’re not gold and those hoarded seeds can’t last forever. So take what you need, share what you can, and be a friend to fellow gardeners and growers.

Five Varieties of Seed You Need in Your Garden This Year

These seeds aren’t new to me or to seed catalogs this year. In fact, they’ve been around a really long time. But they are seeds that can prove even more useful in a year like this, each for its various reasons. They’re favorites I’ve come to rely on, that I think you will, too.

1. Seasoning Celery (aka Cutting Celery, Amsterdam Seasoning Celery)

Why you want it:

Celery is a heavy feeder and can be tricky to grow. Some locations have an easier time of it than others. Seasoning celery, however, grows more like an herb—it’s often compared to parsley in its growing habit. It needs less time to start than stalk celery and can be started just six weeks before transplant time (or even in the ground depending on location).

This is a shorter, leafier plant than traditional celery that grows slimmer stalks but it’s easier to grow and can be cut throughout the season and it will keep coming back. It has a long harvest period from spring through summer and fall and is frost hardy. This gives you nice celery sprigs for those summer salads as well as plenty to preserve for winter soups and stews.

Because its thinner, both the stalks and the leaves dry easily just by hanging. You can simply chop it and freeze it in a bulk bag, too. If you’re looking for large stalks this isn’t your ideal celery, but if chopping and cooking is your primary celery use, you’ll love the ease and versatility of seasoning celery. And it’s an heirloom, too! (So saving is an option if you know how to do it.)

Who has it:

2. Rutgers Tomato

Why you want it:

Rutgers is often dubbed the “Campbell’s Soup Tomato” because the famous soup company developed it. It is now considered an heirloom and is open pollinated (seed saver!). The plants are more compact than a lot of garden tomato bushes, topping at just around three feet tall.

Rutgers is usually considered an indeterminate tomato (fruits continuously rather than all at once), though some strains are listed as determinate (fruits and ripens all together) or even semi-determinate. Check your seed supplier—their description will tell you which strain they carry. It is a fairly short season tomato, needing just 70 to 80 days to harvest.

The best reason to grow Rutgers is that, on top of its reputation for fabulous old-world flavor, it is a great dual-purpose tomato—so you can grow both slicers and sauce/paste tomatoes without having to buy multiple types of seed and without planting more than one variety. All your tomato seeds in one reliable, time-tested bush!

When seeds shortages are on, good dual-purpose varieties are an excellent way to go (and some that, no matter the seed supply, saves space and money).

Who has it:

3. Italian Sweet Peppers:

Why you want it:

Italian sweet peppersmature around 70 days, so they’re among the first to harvest, especially of the larger pepper varieties. These multi-purpose peppers can be harvested at any stage from young and green to yellow to red and mature.

Italian peppers are excellent fresh, good for freezing, and easy to dry because they are a thinner-walled pepper. They’re also known to be excellent roasting peppers (especially if harvested when red).

Eight inches long, they are quite sizable. In my garden they’ve proven to be a more reliable and less finicky pepper, often setting fruit and bearing well throughout a long season even when bell-types and other peppers struggle.

Heirloom and open pollinated, so easy to save for next year, too!

Who has it:

4. Flashy Trout Back lettuce (aka Forellenschluss, Flashy Trout’s Back, Flashy Troutback)

Why you want it:

Flashy Trout Back is a great all-purpose lettuce, something between a leaf and a head lettuce. Technically it’s considered a romaine lettuce, but in my experience it is easier to grow than what most people think of when they think “romaine”.

The hearts are a little looser which in my garden means I’m not waiting for that perfectly tight head that sometimes makes me miss the right harvest moment all together. It’s known for being a little less resistant to bolting in hot weather, too.

This lettuce offers flexibility in harvesting in that it can be grown and harvested as a baby lettuce, or you can pick leaves at any stage as a leaf lettuce (and when treated this way I’ve even had it come back as something of a cut-and-come again type), or you can treat it as a head lettuce and wait for a fuller head. Odds are that you’ll do a bit of all three (and be sure to use any thinnings for baby greens!).

What Flashy Troutback has over other leaf lettuces is that it is a substantial leaf (the romaine influence), heartier than a lot of leaf lettuces.

Flashy Troutback is an heirloom, open pollinated variety that is most often found as an organic, so there’s a win-win. It’s an easy seed to save, so let a few go and have your stock for next year, too!

Who has it:

5. Watermelon Radish:

Why you want it:

Watermelon radishes are large radishes best harvested around 50 days and at around 2 to 4 inches in diameter (but babies can certainly be picked and eaten earlier). They are milder and sweeter than many radish varieties.

What’s even better about watermelon radishes is that they keep extremely well for many months (some in my refrigerator right now are going on four months and still look great!).

Because they are larger, they are perfect for slicing for snacking, dipping, and cheese and charcuterie plates.

Their name comes from their color—white to green exterior with red interiors that not only taste great, but look beautiful in a spread, too.

Many varieties are heirloom or open pollinated, but not all are, so do read your supplier descriptions if seed saving matters to you. They do tend to bolt when conditions aren’t right, so planting early or late in the season is helpful for best yields.

Who has it: almost everyone!

A Year for Dual-Purpose and Seed Saving

Rutgers tomato plants in garden

You’ll notice a common theme prevalent amongst the five seeds featured here—open pollinated, heirloom, and dual-purpose.

In years such as this and the next few years to come, when seed supply and demand is tight, it’s a good idea to look at least a little bit toward the future.

Dual and multi-purpose varieties can help us save time, money, and seed for someone else to grow and harvest—because growing your own food is a right no person should be denied! Think about tomato types that can be both sliced and sauced; peppers to eat fresh, roast, sauce, can, dehydrate, or freeze; beans that can be both shelled and dried…

Seed saving is looking toward the future and helping to mitigate seed supply shortages, as well as establishing yourself as more independent, self-sufficient, and sustainable without 100% outside reliance for your ability to grow your own food. Some types of vegetables are difficult to save for beginners because cross-pollination makes things tricky, but things like tomatoes, peppers, peas, beans, and lettuce are easy to save; as long as you are selecting reliable, sustainable open pollinated and heirloom seeds to do it so that your seed breeds strong, true, and productive.

These are all things to keep in mind when buying and ordering your seeds this year. The companies linked to in this article are quality companies that take pains to include open pollinated varieties of seed and encourage seed saving.

With the changeable nature of this year it is helpful to have options. I’ve linked to these companies because I’ve used them and know them to be good seed providers, though they are not the only ones. Certainly if you have a worthwhile seed suggestion to share, or a quality seed company to recommend from experience, please share in the comments.  

Happy gardening, and best to you this growing year!

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