Friday, April 20, 2012

Seeds and Stats: About the Variety Mix Seed Packets

This year we wanted to plant a nice mix of tomatoes, so we bought the Burpee Heirloom Mix packet, which contains 5 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Sounds great, right? How can you beat 5 neat kinds of tomatoes (some of which are tough to find on their own) to try out on the porch all at once?

This is the seed variety packet we purchased
Well, one issue I didn’t quite think through is that we would have no idea what we were planting. Sure, statistically if we planted 10 seeds we ought to get two of each plant. That’s assuming every seed sprouts, and that the 10 seeds are an equal mix of all 5 types. I figured that in practice we would likely get 3 of one type, 1 of another, and 2 of a few different types, but at least we would get 1 of each. If we were really unlucky we could get 4 of one kind, 4 of another, 2 of another, and none at all of the other 2 types. Or 5 of one type, and (well you get the picture).

This thought process also assumes that the seed packet itself contains equal numbers of each type, which seems to be a bad assumption. This was clear when we opened the Burpee bush bean mix package to start the seeds this weekend. Luckily, unlike the tomato seeds the beans were clearly three different varieties. The maroon bean seeds were reddish in color and the yellow and green bean seeds were two different sizes, albeit the same shade of white. Still, unlike the tomatoes, it was easy to separate the beans into  distinct piles so that we could be sure to plant all three types. We labeled the maroon beans and then called the other two types “Bean A” and “Bean B.” We’ll find out when they get beans which is green and which is yellow. In terms of the mix, rather than a true 1/3 of each as the packet stated there were far more of the smaller white beans than either of the other two types. It was not really a big deal (since we only started 4 plants of each kind) but it goes to show that we cannot assume the tomatoes followed a perfect 1/5 of each variety pattern.

Back to the tomatoes, which did not allow for any visual sorting method since all of the seeds looked the same. To be safe, we started the whole package, then potted the best 10 plants into larger peat pots. I guess we’ll just see what we end up getting once the tomatoes come (hopefully not all Evergreen since we also planted Green Zebras!). One nice thing about the heirloom mix is that the Brandywines stick out once the seedlings get to a certain size, since they have a unique “potato leaf” foliage that is different from just about any other kind of tomato. So that’s one type down and 4 to go. Also, it might be luck, but of the 10 plants we potted up exactly 2 were clearly Brandywines, so maybe the probability will work out after all….

Notice the difference between this Yellow Pear tomato seedling and the Brandywines below

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