Dakota Gardener: Great seeds lead to great gardens

Tom Kalb
NDSU Extension
Tom Kalb, NDSU Extension horticulturist

Do you want to grow a great garden this year?

You need to start with great seeds. Great seeds can lead to big yields, early harvests and delicious vegetables.

How do you find the best seeds for North Dakota?

There are a few key traits to look for.

Look for a variety that ripens early. This is especially important this year because we are off to a late start.

The description of the variety should say it produces high yields. We want a big harvest.

Look for varieties that resist diseases. Nobody enjoys spraying fungicides in the garden. I recommend you sow modern varieties because they resist many diseases.

This bring us to the issue of heirlooms. Be cautious about growing heirlooms. In general, heirlooms are less productive and much more susceptible to diseases.

The last and most important trait to look for is to find a variety that has been proven to grow well in North Dakota.

Since 2008, North Dakota State University Extension has worked with hundreds of families to identify the best varieties for our state. Our recommendations are posted on the website of the North Dakota Home Garden Variety Trials at

This year alone, a team of over 280 gardeners have received seeds of promising varieties they will test in their gardens this summer. You can join our team, too. Everyone is welcome.

Over 40 different vegetable and flower trials are available to participate in.

Our most popular trial this year is a comparison of snap peas. The best snap pea variety in our trials has always been Sugar Ann. It is productive, ripens early, tastes sweet and crunchy, and does not require a trellis.

This year we are comparing Sugar Ann to Snak Hero, a new award-winning variety that is reported to be very sweet. The pods of Snak Hero look like beans but have the taste and texture of peas. Is Snak Hero any good? We don’t know today, but we will find out after 100 families in North Dakota test it this summer.

We are testing melons developed in North Dakota, lettuce that can produce all summer long, premium quality beans, colorful carrots, squash with superior flavor, cucumbers that produce fruits without bees, pumpkins of all sizes and colors, and lots of flowers, too.

Each trial is a comparison of two varieties. For example, if you want to grow the snap pea trial, you will receive a packet of Sugar Ann and Snak Hero. You grow them side-by-side in your garden.

There is no complicated data to collect. You’ll receive a score sheet along with your seeds. Check off which variety germinated better, was healthier, ripened first, produced more and tasted better. Lastly, tell us which variety you recommend for gardeners in North Dakota. It’s that simple.

Gardeners in our program report they are introduced to new varieties, produce higher yields and enjoy healthier diets.

It’s a fun project for kids, too. About 300 youth participate every year. Parents say their kids spend more time outdoors, develop skills in science and eat more vegetables while doing these simple experiments.

Seed supplies are limited. To look over our catalog and order your seeds, go to the North Dakota Home Garden Variety Trials website listed above.

For more information about gardening, contact your local NDSU Extension agent. Find the Extension office for your county at