The Hort Report: How to read what is on back of seed packets and what it means

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The seed pack or container the bulk seed is in should have the name of what the seed is called, what the seed is expected to do, what it will look like and how it will taste. | Photo courtesy of Pat Greenwell

We’ve seen record-high temperatures in the past few days. It looks like we will be seeing more warm days in the next few weeks too. 

Many of you are starting to buy your garden seed from mail or online retailers, local stores or large garden centers. 

From the late 1960s to the mid 1980s, you could buy seed from the South Shelby FFA or many other youth organizations. Vitality Seed sold garden seeds to organizations to sell to people as a fundraising project. 

Herman Peeper was the South Shelby FFA Advisor. His FFA students sold seed to help raise funds to pay for the annual FFA banquet. Students would take Vitality Seed catalogs to people and sell directly to them, then turn in the orders at their vo-ag class. The students would come to class a few days later and see their orders sitting there ready for them to take back to their customers.  The students would then deliver the order and collect the money.

When I was a student, I really enjoyed doing this each spring. Visiting with people and answering questions about the seed was a pleasure. 

As a teacher working with Herman years later, I saw how having a fundraising project like this helped students learn several important life skills — how to work with people, taking orders, answering questions about the product you are selling, writing orders, filling out forms, being responsible for collecting and handling money.

When buying seed, know how to read what is on the seed packet and what it means. The seed pack or container the bulk seed is in should have the following information list on it. 

  • The name of what the seed is called, and what variety the seed is. For example, Peppers Bell Color Mix.  
  • What the vegetable seed is expected to do, like high yielding plant producing peppers for all your needs. 
  • What the vegetable you raised can be used for. 
  • What it will look like and how will it taste. 
  • When to start growing seeds indoors for transplanting outside, or when to plant outside directly into the garden. 
  • The germination date for the seeds once planted to come up. 
  • How deep to plant the seeds. 
  • Days from planting your vegetables in the garden to the date you can expect to harvest some produce. 
  • What planting zone you live in. This helps to give you some idea about when the best time of the year to plan on planting your vegetables.
  • Sometimes you will get information on how to take care of your plants once they are up and growing, like when you should be applying fertilizer and what type to be using on your vegetables.
  • The name and location of the seed company you are buying your seed from. You should always try to make sure to buy seed that is produced in North America. It’s best if it is produce from the same growing zone you are in. Sometimes this doesn’t work. 
  • The date the seed should be sold by is important for you to know. In a past Hort Report, I talked about how long you can expect the seed to be useable. Most vegetable seeds can last 3 years if not more when stored correctly. 

With warm weather we are, seeing weeds coming up. You want to let them bloom & flower for pollinators, so don’t kill them. Wait a few weeks until more plants start to flower.

I appreciate all your questions in the past and look forward to them in the future. Call me at 573-588-2040 at Shelby County Implement in Shelbina, Mo., or ask me anytime you see me. Also check out Greenwell’s Greenhouse Group on Facebook and ask questions there or email me at

Pat Greenwell is the owner of Shelby County Implement in Shelbina, Mo. He was a high school agriculture teacher for 11 years. He has taught adult vocational agriculture since 1987. He also is a research assistant at the Truman State University Ag Department Farm. 

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