Bad seed: Plants not growing in your Northeast Florida garden?

I started the project so enthusiastically. I carefully vetted which heirloom cowpea varieties were historically significant and would grow organically in Northeast Florida, winnowed down the choices to a handful, and then put the seeds into a warm bath for the night, to soak before planting the next day in the hopes the embryonic plants would spring from their protective shells sooner.

Three out of four varieties of cowpeas grew — all but my all-time favorite Zipper Cream – small tender Southern peas that I wait all year to collect and simmer into a diaphonous pot likker seasoned with okra and cracked pepper.

But alas! The Zipper Cream Southern peas never showed up, even a week after all the other varieties were growing and thriving. I checked the drainage – excellent – and the soil was the exact same mixture of compost, potting soil and slow-release fertilizer all the others were enjoying. In fact, at least one other variety had far less rich soil.

It’s the bad seed

So what went wrong? It took me a couple of days to realized the problem wasn’t me. It might be the seed. So, I checked the package. Yep. The seed was from two years before – enough time for the seeds to lose their viability. Did you know that most seed that’s commercially sold has either a date the seed was prepared or the year for which it was prepared?

I hadn’t thought about that.

Luckily, I was able to contact customer service for the seller. I had been ordering from this particular seller for years because the company only sells historically and culturally significant heirlooms. Their customer service didn’t disappoint, a new packet was sent and now Zipper Cream juniors are happily gestating in the warm soil.

All of this is to say that if you experience a crop failure, don’t assume it’s you! It could be the seeds (or your kids!) Check the dates on the package and contact the seller. Most will happily refund you or comp you an exchange. Or, if you are in the habit of keeping seed for a while, make sure you’re not keeping it so long it’s no longer going to grow.

Recommended seed companies

I only recommend products and vendors that I believe in, and get 0 kickback from those I do recommend.

That said, here are two companies I enthusiastically recommend. I’ve bought from both companies for many years, and on the infrequent occasions there has been a problem, both companies have stepped in right away to make the order right.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Baker Creek deals almost totally in heirloom varieties, and specialize in seeds from the 1800s. (As you know, historic seeds are my jam)

They’re based in Missouri, where they’ve taken the concept of community farm/seed saving/green practices to the Google level. They’ve founded their own farm and company town in the Ozarks, for instance, host festivals and reach nearly a million farmers with their catalog, according to the company site.

For more, check out their website:

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

This Virginia-based company specializes in traditional and heirloom seeds that thrive in the Deep South. They’ve been instrumental in helping me develop my seed stock because of their regional approach. That’s not surprising, because the company is dedicated to seed saving. Their company values also include preserving non-GMO food and sustainable practices.

The site and the company voice is a little less friendly than Baker Creek’s, but their seed is reliable and germinates every time.

The website is:

Have you had a seedy experience?

Perhaps you’ve had a bad seed experience. Did you contact the seller? What was the outcome? Post in the comments below.

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